TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND | Once the new King Robert the Bruce course at Turnberry had been officially opened on Wednesday and the guests had started to disappear, Eric Trump and his wife, Lara, apparently took to the course for 15 quiet holes on their own – and never mind that Lara is more than seven months’ pregnant.
Earlier in the day, Eric, the son of the US president, had admitted to one newspaper correspondent that there were “crazies” who gave the entire family, including Lara, abuse on Twitter. All of that, though, was said to have seemed a million miles away when the couple were on the links.
“That’s the thing about this place,” said one of the employees Thursday. “The Trumps love it. We’ve had other owners, usually big corporations, but it was never the same. What we’ve got now is a family concern.”
The opening ceremony could scarcely have gone better. The media had no idea what form it would take and, when an actor dressed as King Robert the Bruce appeared over the brow of the hill on to the eighth green, even the most gnarled of cameramen emitted a disbelieving “Oh my God.” The King then fulfilled his duty in cutting the ceremonial ribbon with his sword.
For sure, it made for pictures which stuffed into second place the concurrent “magazine row” concerning President Trump. (By all accounts, staff at the hotel had been told not to display a Time magazine cover – it was of Donald Trump, dated 2009 – which was said to be a fake.)
With all the kerfuffle in connection with the course opening, Ricky Hall, Turnberry’s head professional, had never had the chance to play the finished links for himself. Thursday, though, was his day off. The wind was howling and the rain horizontal but it made not a jot of difference. He set off just the same and he came in beaming. “It’s in fantastic condition – greens, bunkers, everything. The new holes (here he was talking about the ones around the coast) have lifted it to a new level.”
He selected the 586-yard 11th, played from an elevated tee on Bain’s Hill, as “the most dramatic.” And the 451-yard ninth as “arguably the finest hole on the property.”
The latter, he said, was also a hole where history buffs might be moved to regale their playing companions with the story of how Robert the Bruce learned the art of trying and trying again (in his bid to beat the English) by watching a simple spider at work.
“What happens here,” said Hall, “is that one man after another prefers to keep trying to make the carry over Kintyre’s Cove with his second. The guide suggests that people might do better to play safely round the side of the cove and treat the hole as a par-5 but it’s not what too many men want to do.”
As applied on Turnberry’s famed Ailsa course, Martin Ebert, the architect who worked in tandem with the president during the design stage, has cleared trees and gorse and done everything possible to make the most of the breathtaking vistas across to Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. The lighthouse makes many more appearances than it ever did, with the same applying to the remains of Robert the Bruce’s castle. Both courses, incidentally, share the lighthouse as a halfway house which also – and this is a delightful touch – serves passing walkers.
Dave Cannon, from the famous company of Getty photographers, may have photographed all the finest golf courses in the world but he will tell you that he has never seen “a finer No 2” course than the King Robert the Bruce.
There were plenty at Turnberry to suggest that the R&A, while they are keeping half an eye on the Ailsa as an Open Championship venue of the not-too-distant future (one of 2022, ’23 or ’24 seems the most likely), might even now have the other half eye on its companion for an Amateur Championship.
Where the King Robert the Bruce course is every inch a match for the Ailsa is in the manicuring not just of the greens and tees but every walkway. “It’s a Trump expectation,” said Colin McKellar, the resort’s golf operations manager. And it’s one which probably does as much as anything else to give these courses the edge.
President Trump, as everyone knows, doesn’t like mess. Remember what he did with Michael Forbes’ untidy pigsty, the one that was ruining views from Trump International up in Aberdeen? He hid it behind a fake sand dune.
Even the old runway, which was introduced to the Turnberry estate in the war years, is set to have a coat of tarmac to bring it up to scratch.
Arguably the main feat concerning the King Robert the Bruce course is that Trump Turnberry has succeeded in fulfilling its original plans. Namely, to produce a links which would be good enough to have residents wanting to play it as well as the Ailsa rather than head, say, to a Troon, a Prestwick or a Western Gailes up the coast..
Not only is that likely to happen, but comparisons between the two will assuredly make for the best of conversations in the “Duel in the Sun” bar.