Monday, 5 August 2013

Trump International Golf Links Scotland - Course no 610

The new Trump International Golf Links Course was clearly the centre piece of our Aberdeenshire trip. Polly and I played it on 2 August 2013, having read and seen most of the varying media coverage about Mr Trump's Scottish development. Could it really be the greatest golf course anywhere in the World? - we'd play it and try to form our own views. We'd booked to play the Trump as a 2-ball, but we'd been paired up to play with a couple of outstandingly entertaining and genial American guys, one of whom was husband to Stacy Lewis's coach. Adam and Chris had already played at Carnoustie and other Scottish links courses in recent days and were over to watch Stacy play in (and subsequently win!) the Ladies Open Championship being played over the Old Course in St Andrews.

Parts of the course, including all of the greens, were being micro-tined and sanded so Polly and I were able to book our tee time for £125 each, a welcome £70 discount on the normal price. The course was still in great shape, even if the fairways and greens were slower than might be expected of a true links course.  The new Trump Course is certainly visually outstanding and presents an exceeding difficult challenge, even from the White Tees, from where the course plays to 6329 Yards, Par 72.  This is certainly the best course in Aberdeenshire, well above the likes of Murcar and Royal Aberdeen, and amongst the very best that Scotland has to offer but the greatest course on the entire planet?  I'm not 100% qualified to make such a judgement, but I'd dearly love to meet whoever is qualified to make such a mind-bogglingly sweeping statement. Whoever they are, have they really traveled the length and breadth of the planet and assessed every course?  If so, how long did that take and how many courses were assessed under which criteria?  

This new course is built on the coastline amongst naturally occurring sand dunes ("The Great Dunes of Scotland" apparently), and has clearly been designed and built to become a genuine links course of the highest quality.  It certainly looks the part superficially but the whole place was just a bit over-manicured for my taste.  I'm not an expert on grass types but the grass used for the fairways appeared to be too broad-leafed and densely matted than the typical fescues that are to be found on our links courses, producing fast-running fairways in the recently dry conditions. Indeed, our new American friends commented that there was surprisingly little run on the fairways and that the vivid green, dense and lush fairway grass looked more like parkland types they'd find back home, rather than the tightly cropped and fast-running golden brown turf that they'd played on the day before at Carnoustie. Maybe the ongoing course maintenance work had helped to produce such playing conditions, but when we'd finished playing one of the golf operations team advised us that over-seeding of the fairways with finer grasses was still planned and that in time the pace of the fairways would be greatly increased as the course matured fully. Maybe so, but in the meantime, the course is "work in progress" and some way short of what I'd expect a true links course to look and play like at this time of year after the recent dry and hot weather of recent weeks. This is clearly one of the very best courses that I've played in Scotland, but it's not yet fully mature, so who knows what it may become.  

We played here in bright sunshine with just enough wind to make it a real challenge for all of us.  The scoring was pretty poor all round, which I'd put down in part to the surprisingly slow fairways and greens (as affected by the course maintenance work I've mentioned) and some poor play generally.  Truth be told, the course beat us all quite convincingly, even if Polly and I took a couple of £'s off our new friends in a 4-ball better ball Stableford match. Find a bunker, go offline into the rough, miss a shot or misread a putt and this course will seriously embarrass far better players than me.  Adam, Chris and I opted for the White tees, but we could have chosen  any of 6 options, from the Red up to the Black.  And if you ever play here, have a look at the 18th Hole from the Black Tee, as shown here. " Awesome!" as Adam said succinctly. A mere 651 Yards into the wind from a severely elevated tee, with the North Sea to your left and Scotland to your right. The fairway starts around 40 yards beyond where my best drive would land on a calm day.  We played the 18th off the White Tee, a mere 586 Yards into a fresh southerly 2-club wind, so the hole was playing more like 610 Yards.

When I play new courses it's usually relatively easy to identify the signature hole or pick a personal favourite.  Not so here.  I suspect that the 18th might be the "official" signature hole that summarises perfectly what this course is all about.  However, there's not a weak hole on the entire course and as we made our way over, around or through rows of massive dunes almost every new hole prompted "That's just awesome" or similar comments from one or other of us.  Few of the other holes are visible from the one you're playing, so most stand on their own, adding to the theatre of this wonderful place.  We certainly stood on the 3rd tee for a while, as shown below, admiring the sea view and wondering just how we could play this 147 Yard Par 3.  The wind was coming at us from the right side, but the plateau green looked pretty small and what you don't see is that a river runs behind the green as a barrier between the green and the beach.  I'd hit a 27 Degree Rescue through the green onto a narrow shelf just short of the river, but a good pitch from there gave me an easy tap in for my first (or more accurately, my only!) par.

Surely that was the signature hole, until we climbed up to the 4th Tee.  Off the Black Tee, this is a 563 Yard monster of a Par 5, slightly uphill, with a river all the way up the right side of the narrow fairway, and 11 bunkers to avoid in the last 110 Yards, as shown below.  The Stroke Index 1 Hole. We were playing from the 460 Yard White Tee, but after coming to grief in one of the bunkers, my first 8 (there would be 3 more!) was on the card.

The 6th was another great Par 3, as shown here, with Polly at her Red Tee.  This played to 165 Yards off the White Tee and looked hugely difficult, but there's far more room than you might expect behind the dune on the left of the hole.  My trouble was hitting it far enough to clear the dune in the first place.  Double bogey, but at least I hadn't lost a ball. Meanwhile, Chris I'm afraid was still ensuring that Titleist had another bumper sales year.  I got to the turn in 51 strokes.  Disappointing, but none of us was scoring well and Scotland V USA Stableford match was even, with all to play for on the Back 9.

This is the 10th, another great hole.  This is a 495 Yard uphill par 5, stretching to 573 off the Black Tee.  With the wind directly behind us, we were heading roughly North.  I'd hit a good drive up the middle, but this is a view from the lateral water hazard to the right of the fairway, where Chris had lost another ball. Your second shot has to avoid 5 fairway bunkers and unless you're a big hitter, your third shot will be blind, with the green tucked to the left behind a large sand dune.  I was on the 3 but left my first putt quite short (the green had been tined and heavily sanded) and I had to settle for a bogey after 3-putting.

This is the 13th, a West-East running 178 Yard Par 3, played slightly uphill.  The wind by then was whipping across this hole from the South, adding to our difficulties.  I hit a good drive just short of the green, but Polly hit a great drive to within 15 feet for an easy par.  We were easing ahead of our USA opponents!

This is the 14th, as seen from the Gold Tee.  This looked so inviting that Adam Chris and I played from here, making this Par 4 a daunting 410 Yarder (Polly's tee was 155 Yards nearer!) I'd hit a great drive and had only a 7 iron to the green, which I miss-hit, so another bogey.

This is the 16th, a 157 Yard Par 3, playing uphill to nearer 180 Yards taking the headwind into account.  I found one of the 7 bunkers protecting this green, but I was right up against the rivetted face and a good 6 feet below the green.  Double bogey from there was actually not bad!

We couldn't resist climbing up to the Black Tee on the 18th and if you ever get the chance to play here, you'll probably be drawn to so the same!  The 360 Degree view from there is just stunning, almost on a par to the 7th tee on Gullane No 1, still my favourite view of golf in Scotland.

Polly and I managed to scrape a narrow win against Adam and Chris - go Scotland!  Polly also beat me in our match, taking the running score to 6-2.    My own score here was a lamentable 105, net 94 with 34 putts, wildly adrift from what I'd been hoping for. And the 18th? A tremendous hole but way too long for me to reach in 3 blows.  I took an 8, a greenside sh--- with a wedge being the final ignomony.  I'd have been happy with a 7! We'd all loved the course - a truly great experience. I'd love to play the course again in a few years once it has fully matured. In the meantime, I'm really glad that I've played it. You'll need to make your own mind up about where this course stands in comparison with the World's greatest courses, but it's certainly well worth playing, even at £195 a head.


  1. I appear to have upset some readers of this blog by including in my original blog entry about the Trump course references that with the benefit of further reflection I accept went beyond a simple story about playing this particular course. I have now deleted those references from the blog and a number of comments that readers had offered on points now withdrawn. I've moved on to further courses and my journey continues. I'm just a golfer trying to raise funds for Cancer Research UK by trying to play every course in Scotland.

  2. I do not think you said anything wrong to be honest. You are doing a great job and well done on your achievements so far. Such a shame people couldn't see it for what you are doing for charity and not to use for their groups vendetta against a certain person. No matter what you posted,you would have received complaints from the group tripping up trump. Anyone who can write this.... "Sandra Keith He's a golfer folks. Whacking little balls around all day doesn't do much to stimulate his little grey cells" are capable of posting some very vicious posts. All the best with your goals for charity.

  3. Hello Alan McPherson, I admire your fundraising efforts, I am also pleased you took on board some of the comments people made and revised your piece. As someone who has battled both a pre-cancer condition and the way the Trump organisation has behaved at the Menie Estate where this course is, I would like to let people know that the residents have been treated appallingly. I walk the course fairly often; I know the residents. This was an area of importance to the scientific community and a haven for rare forms of wildlife; this status has been greatly compromised by the 'stabilising' of the sand dune system, the only movable system in the UK. I've written on the subject; and the Anthony Baxter / Richard Phinney documentary tells the full story. There are moral issues with playing here as far as I am concerned; they should be noted. Finally, if you read the plaque which is at the front of this blog, it indicates these dunes are the world's largest - they are nothing like it. All the best, Suzanne Kelly

  4. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment, and for your positive support for my fund-raising efforts, but as owner of this blog I've decided not to allow comments that go beyond purely golfing issues. The various people who have commented to date, either anonymously or by giving their name do of course have every right to express their views, as do I of course, and without abuse being directed their way from those who don't share the same viewpoint, for whatever reasons. However, I created this blog so that I could write about my own experiences of going round every golf course in Scotland. Accordingly, the blog is all about golf courses and golf in general. I don't want it to become a platform for supporters and/or critics of this development to air their views, with me stuck in the middle. I'll let the 2 comments made on 8 August stick to the wall for a couple of days at most, just as I allowed some earlier more abusive comments some air time. However, I'll be deleting these 2 comments in due course, along with any further comments that I feel go beyond the purposes of this blog. I'm sorry if that sounds somewhat dictatorial, but I really don't see any alternative.