By Blaine Newnham
The reviews are in and Donald Trump has proclaimed his new Trump International course the world's best.
Well, some of the reviews.
At the entrance to the course, just up the coast from Aberdeen, there is a standing green and gold clock to be confused with those given by Rolex to U.S. national championship venues.
Trump has made his own, just as he made his own coat of arms - Never Give Up in Latin - and immediately got at odds with his Scottish ancestors.
Trump's mother, you see, was born in Scotland, and he had looked for years for property in the dunes to build a golf course.
After considerable wrangling with environmentalists, Trump opened the International last summer. It is American in that it is financed by an American - estimates say Trump could have spent $100 million buying the land and building the course. It also has a spectacular practice area (Royal County Down in Northern Ireland has two moldy nets in which warm up.)
There are pictures in the temporary clubhouse of Trump and Michael Jackson as well as Trump's picture on the cover of Time magazine. It is truly a tribute to Trump, and done first-class in every way.
Even the price for a round mirrors the boss - $315 for a round of golf plus a caddie fee. The Old Course at St. Andrews is $242 a round.
But this is not an American course unless you want to compare it with those at Bandon Dunes and Chambers Bay.
My playing partners, both from the Northwest, thought the course to be more spectacular - and better - than either Bandon Dunes or Pacific Dunes.
Although the dunes are taller here than they are at Bandon, except for a couple of holes they simply don't come into play. The dunes are towering spectators to a course that basically has very little of the links quirkiness that you come to know and love playing the 100-year-old British courses.
After a hard winter and worse spring, the course is not ready yet to be judged fairly. It is not up to links speed. The greens were sticky, the fairways over-seeded and healing.
Make no mistake, the design by celebrated British architect Martin Hawtree matches the surroundings even if it doesn't take advantage of them.
Trump wanted the best course his money could buy, and to someday be validated for spending it by playing host to a British Open or a Ryder Cup.
In that vein, the course is very difficult, especially in a strong wind. The 18th hole is 585 yards from the white tees into the wind with nine bunkers surrounding the green. I'm still trying to get there.
The fairways aren't particularly wide, not like Bandon Dunes or Chambers Bay, and the beach grass growing on the dunes quickly gobbles up balls.
It is obvious that the design wants to meet the approval of top players, touring professionals. There simply aren't the bumpy fairways, or hidden bunkers, or blind shots you expect from links golf but the pros don't want.
My sense is that Trump didn't build it for what Mike Keiser, the Bandon owner, calls the ``retail golfer,'' the guy who is a 15-handicapper, loves the game, and has time and money to enjoy it.
Trump is looking beyond that. And the course is nearly as big as his ego.
It covers 600 acres of what has been called the Great Dunes of Scotland. No carts or cart paths here as in old school, but fairly long walks between holes as is part of modern architecture.
My sense was there were too many forced carries and elevated greens for this to be a real links course, the way Chambers Bay is. There aren't as many interesting shots to play, the essence of links golf. You know, hit it here to get it there. Use your imagination.
But, my, it is beautiful. One par 3 is right on the beach, another over the corner of a dune with the North Sea in view.
The holes I liked best were that par 3 over a dune, No. 6, and the par-5 10th hole through a valley of dunes. But there is nothing as involved with the dunes as the sixth and tenth holes at Chambers Bay.
You don't see the exposed sand you do at Bandon Dunes or have the expansive ocean views. The course is very green, even down to the paths leading from one hole to another.
In a way, it reminds you more of Arizona or the areas outside Las Vegas, stark sandy hills contrasted with lush turf.
It may prove to be a championship site. Clearly the course is long enough (7,400 yards) and difficult enough to earn one.
But first golf establishment will have to get over Trump. Now he's trying to build a second course on the site as well as block the huge propellers of a proposed wind farm.
Down the road a bit we stopped to have dinner at the Cock and Bull pub. Trump had eaten there during construction of his course.
One of the waiters, when asked about Trump, acknowledged that the American had tipped him once with $100 bill.
A couple of Scottish golfers raved to me about the course, and the pending impact of it on the economy.
"Terrific, fantastic," they said.
Many others are disturbed that he charged $315 a round when the course was in such poor shape. That will change, but will attitudes.
Maybe the world is ready for Donald Trump's invasion of golf's sacred kingdom. He's put a beautiful foot forward, but perhaps left those of us who don't have the money to afford it or the talent to play it somewhere out there in the dunes.
Revised: 05/15/2013 - Article Viewed 18,627 Times
Written By: Blaine Newnham
Thirty five years as a sports columnist - last 23 in Seattle - during which he witnessed five Olympic Games as well as Tiger Woods four consecutive major championship victories. He covered Willie Mays when he played for the San Francisco Giants, Steve Prefontaine when he ran for Oregon, Ken Griffey Jr. when he debuted for the Seattle Mariners. He walked 18 holes with Ben Hogan at the 1966 U.S. Open, and saw Larry Mize chip in to beat Greg Norman at the Masters. He has written two books, including Golf Basics for Barnes and Noble and played everywhere from Ballybunion to Bandon Dunes, his most recent trip in May, a nine-rounds-in-seven-days gambol from Dublin to Northern Ireland and back. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wa.
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