Located in Rancho Palos Verdes on a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean, Trump National Golf Course boasts ocean views on every hole. But the history of this course did not start with Donald Trump — the real story here is how this course was resurrected from the dead after the Pacific Ocean claimed three of its scenic holes several years ago.
Imagine you’re teeing up your ball. As you get ready to kill a massive drive, you survey the topography and — double take — you notice the hole is gone. And so are two others. Though you might think Mother Nature had something to do with the collapse of the holes, evidence suggests construction vehicles cracked a sewage pipe, which slowly leaked water underground. This eventually caused the surface to, quite literally, float off the side of the cliff and into the Pacific Ocean.
The resulting legal difficulties drove the owners of the course, originally known as Ocean Trails, to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Never one to pass up an opportunity, business mogul Donald Trump bought the course for $27 million and began a massive reconstruction project, resurrecting the three holes in an effort that can only be described as amazing. The course, which reopened late last year, is now one of the most beautiful in California. With planned clubhouse renovations and potential development of overnight accommodations, it’s set to become a world-class corporate golf retreat.
True, it’s a bit of a drive. From Beverly Hills, it took me a full 45 minutes to get to the course on a Sunday morning, but the drive was well worth it — the course is spectacular.
Per his signature style, Trump put his stamp on the course by renaming it the Trump National Golf Course. At the same time, he said “You’re fired” to the Pete Dye design. While some of Dye’s design elements remain, Trump wanted to put his own mark on his namesake. It may seem shocking in light of the massive mudslide caused by heavy rains here a couple of years ago, but — as Trump style prevailed — the design includes a massive man-made waterfall (on Hole 1) similar to the signature waterfall on Trump’s course in Westchester, N.Y. Other changes include the enlargement of nearly every green and trap on the course.
“Donald Trump has always had a passion for golf. He took this one step further by creating a one-of-a-kind experience in Los Angeles at Trump National,” said Carolyn Kepcher, managing partner of Trump National Golf Courses.
Mike Van der Goes, Trump National general manager/golf director and a PGA pro, told me about the cost of the sand that Trump selected for the traps. “White crushed limestone, the same sand used at Augusta National, was shipped from Georgia to California. When I received the bill, I almost fell off my chair. It was at least four times the normal cost.”
But it’s what Trump wanted for his signature California course.
Hole 1 (380 yards, par 4)
My foursome was the first out that Sunday morning and, as one of my partners said, it was “like playing golf with the president.” In other words, it was as if the Secret Service had cleared the course — there was not a soul in front or behind. Then, as we came to the first hole and saw the massive Trump waterfall on top of the elevated green, our smiles turned to more-serious looks. You can take a driver, but you really need to consider your second shot, since there is water just in front of and behind the green. It’s nearly impossible to stop your ball. Most of our second shots were wet.
Hole 4 (180 yards, par 3)
Hole 4 has a long and narrow green, which is guarded on both sides by bunkers — the one on the right runs the entire length of the green. Two smaller bunkers protect the left side, so accuracy off the tee is an issue. A prevailing crosswind from the Pacific Ocean can carry your tee shot on this downhill par-3 into the bunkers.
Hole 7 (580 yards, par 5)
The par-5 holes at Trump National are monsters, averaging more than 568 yards each. This one is the second longest from the tips. There is no option but to swing away with your driver, as you have to clear about 200 to 280 yards of “junk” before you hit the fairway — the left side is lined with brush and the right slopes devilishly down. Favor the left side and psych yourself up for a clean, straight, long second shot to have a decent chance of hitting the green in three. Don’t be fooled by the false front of this green, and beware the pot bunkers in the back.
Hole 9 (509 yards, par 4)
This is the front side’s longest par-4 — yes, I said par-4. Even from the white tees the hole measures 450 yards. The hole is set up as a dogleg left, and those trying to cut the corner will find a bunker waiting to greet them. The 120-yard-long bunker leaves little room for the adventurous, but, despite looking narrow from the tee box, there is plenty of width for the driver. The green is guarded by a lake, which extends some 50 yards into the fairway along the left side. Two near-perfect shots will land you on the green in regulation.
Hole 10 (400 yards, par 4)
A slight dogleg left and the barranca brush that divides the fairway may separate the men from the boys. Even big hitters will find it difficult to fly over to the second fairway from the tips, but it’s doable from the other tees. The smart play is to aim for the boulder on the right of the “environmental area” and go for the longer approach to the green. Your approach shot will be into the prevailing wind, to a small green with several bunkers in the front.
Hole 13 (452 yards, par 4)
Lateral hazards line both sides of this fairway, creating a difficult tee shot — which is also blind off the tee. The fairway appears to be the narrowest where most drives land, so careful consideration is needed. Favor the left side off the tee and make sure you have the pin placement for the day, because this is a very deep green. The right side is protected by a series of bunkers from about 90 yards into the fairway.
Hole 17 (240 yards, par 3)
This par-3 is nearly a par-4 from the tips, and even from the white tee measures 189 yards. There is water behind the green, which stems from the waterfall and the resulting collection pond. What comes more into play, however, are the five bunkers along the entire left side of the green. You also need to carry the environmental area nearly the entire way to the green, where a small landing area allows the lucky ones to roll onto the green.
Hole 18 (512 yards, par 4)
Is Trump a masochist with the long par-4s? The average golfer is going to find them difficult to par, since they require two perfect shots. Hole 18 is no exception. If you fancy bunkers, this is the place for you: 13 of them line the left side of the fairway and three more are on the right. The target off the tee is the bunker farthest right. The green is deep and, depending on the day, pin location will determine the club used for your approach shot. If the tee shot is not long enough, your second shot is into the prevailing wind, turning this par-4 into a par-5 for most players.
TRUMP NATIONAL GOLF COURSE
1 Ocean Trails Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
tel 310 265 5000, fax 310 265 5522
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