Trump Scotland Hole by Hole
This is my fifth post from a fall 2022 golf trip to the northeast coast of Scotland put together for a group of eight by Platinum Golf Scotland. We played our first three rounds out of Inverness before moving to Aberdeen for the next three starting with the absolutely amazing Cruden Bay which I described in the last post. Today we are going to play one of the most controversial courses in all of Britain, Trump Scotland. I will do my best to remain objective about the course and leave my sentiments about the man out of it. Our group has previously played two of Trump’s European courses and been suitably impressed. As I described in this post on Turnberry he did turn the fortunes of that storied course around and the people in the area are grateful for it. Doonbeg in southwest Ireland is a bit of a different story. There he acquired a modern course originally designed by Greg Norman that was simply too difficult for the average golfer. While the redesigned course is definitely worth playing, I questioned the sustainability of the entire operation which is simply overbuilt.
Building of Trump Scotland
The story of how the course we are about to play got built is a long and sorry saga that started back in 2006 when Donald Trump pitched a proposal for a huge development just north of Aberdeen in an area known as the Menie Estate. The development would include not only a golf course, but a 450 room hotel, hundreds of luxury homes, recreational facilities and a lot more, creating according to Trump, an economic boom for this part of Scotland that was being weaned off North Sea oil prosperity. The only problem was that the golf course was to be built amid the Foveran Links Site of Special Interest, a huge coastal dune system that had environmental protection. Despite this and with promises from Trump that the dune system would not be harmed, the go ahead was given.
Long story short, the course got built and nothing else did. And the dunes lost their protected status. You can read a much more detailed account in this story from the London School of Economics. What’s done is done and we are here to inject some of the economic prosperity Trump promised.
The course was designed by Martin Hawtree who is a third generation golf architect in a firm that has roots that go all the way back to James Braid. Hawtree is primarily known for his redesign work on classic courses such as Lahinch, Portmarnock and restoring several Open holes on courses like Royal Birkdale and Liverpool. He was the one tapped by Trump to redesign the Doonbeg course to make it more amenable to the mid-handicappers who make up the bulk of visitors to these type of expensive venues. He does not have many from scratch courses to his credit and certainly Trump Scotland is his most widely acclaimed original work.
Trump Scotland lies a mere 10 miles (16 kms.) north of Aberdeen and it only takes us about fifteen minutes to get there from The Chester Hotel. Driving in you pass the former Menie Manor which is some distance from the clubhouse. Trump renamed it after his mother and it is now MacLeod House and only available to parties who rent the entire building. Nearby is the smaller MacLeod Lodge which does accept single room reservations. These are the only lodgings in the Trump Scotland complex. Don’t even ask the cost.
By Trump standards the clubhouse is quite constrained and tasteful. No huge fountain with a gladiator like Turnberry.
The pro shop is well equipped if a bit overwhelmed with items with Trump’s name on them.
The practice facilities are excellent. As you can see we are here on an overcast and windy day and there are very few other golfers around.
We meet our caddies at the first tee, one of whom, I kid you not, is named John F. Kennedy. They are very enthusiastic about our upcoming round and are great ambassadors for the course which they maintain is the best in Scotland. According to the yardage book which has an introduction by Eric Trump of all people, it is the best in the world! Well let’s find out if this is another typical Trumpian boast or if there is an element of truth to it.
Heading to the first tee I see this sign which is pure BS and I’m not talking about the claim that some people might think it is the best golf course on Earth.
I’m talking about the claim that these are the world’s largest sand dunes. I’m sorry Donald, but these are mere pimples compared to the world’s largest sand dunes. This is what a really big sand dune looks like. This is Big Daddy, a sand dune in the Namib Desert that I walked up a few years ago. It’s over a thousand feet high and is not even on the top 10 list of world’s highest sand dunes. So enough with the easily disprovable lies.
OK, I promise that is the last disparaging remark I’ll make about the Trumps. From now on it’s just about the golf.
Trump Scotland #1 – 443 Yard Par Five
From the tips Trump Scotland plays a ridiculous 7,428 yards, but there are six sets of tees and we opt for sensibility and will play the green tees at 5,845 yards.
The first hole has a remarkable similarity to the first hole at Doonbeg which is also a par five that features a green tucked under a large semi-circular sand dune covered in fescue. I have to admit that standing on this first tee my thoughts were that this is a stunning looking hole. Not only is there a complete contrast between fairway and rough that is immediate, but the various hues of green and brown literally define links golf. Clearly the challenge here is going to be keeping the ball on the fairway.
This is not a long par five so using a wood off the tee makes sense. The fairway bunkers are actually in play on the second shot, not the drive as it might appear. A conservative second shot will leave this wedge to a relatively small green.
The first two photos show all you need to know about the conditioning at Trump Scotland. In a word, superb, probably the best of the courses we played on this tour. The greens are quite fast and having a caddy definitely is advisable to assist in reading them.
Playing within your limits on this hole will give you a good chance to start off with a par.
#2 – 360 Yard Par Four
Another amazing looking hole, #2 features Menie burn crossing the fairway at a diagonal angle that brings it into play on the left side of the fairway, but not the right for most mid-handicappers. So you want to stay on the right side of the fairway, but then there’s bloody gorse if you are too far right. This is an intimidating looking tee shot, but there’s actually a lot of room to land safely as long as you strike it decently.
Assuming you do hit a good drive you will still have a good 150 yards to a very undulating green. Any miss must be to the left or else you’ll find one of the bunkers or the fescue. This is not an easy hole by any means.
Trump Scotland # 3 – 143 Yard Par Three
The first par three is a nice reprieve after #2 and club selection is the biggest concern. Avoid the bunker and par or better is very much in the equation. In the background you can see three of the offshore windmills that Trump famously tried to have removed because they would detract from the golf experience. He didn’t succeed obviously and no, they don’t detract from the experience.
This green is the closest you come to the North Sea on the course.
#4 – 441 Yard Par Five
For this hole I chose to photograph it from the elevated green looking back at the fairway. It’s a short par five with Blairton Burn running down the entire right side and is the #1 handicap hole at Trump Scotland.
You must stay on the fairway, so keep the driver in the bag and use two woods to give you this approach to a small and severely contoured green that just begs to be three putted.
Trump Scotland #5 – 317 Yard Par Four
This short par four has trouble seemingly everywhere. The bunkers on the right and left are both in play off the tee so once again keep the driver in the bag and use a wood or even a hybrid. On the other hand if you have the balls let it rip and hope for an easy approach shot to a receptive green.
BTW it should be obvious by now that Hawtree has tucked these greens in a manner that being long is not an option. There is simply no room for error behind any of them.
#6 – 140 Yard Par Four
Thank goodness for small mercies. The pin on this hole can at times be tucked behind the dune on the left, but today it’s totally visible on this uphill par three that plays much longer than its yardage. We are fortunate that the wind today is more a breeze than a gale, but even so this hole is more like target golf than most links par threes.
Trump Scotland #7 – 201 Yard Par Four
I’m really not sure what Hawtree was thinking when he designed this as a par four. Even from the pro tees it’s only 281 yards which would bring albatross into play should they ever hold a pro tournament here as Trump and Hawtree have expressed hopes of doing. Yes the green is tiny and surrounded by swales, but still, it’s a birdie hole for anyone but a duffer.
#8 – 422 Yard Par Four
I sure hope you got your birdie on the last hole because you’ll almost certainly cancel it out with a bogey or worse on this longest par four at Trump Scotland. The trap on the right is in play off the tee, but not the one on the left for most of us. You do need length here so driver is required as is a sold wood on the second shot. The only good news is that there are no bunkers around the green so that if you hit a low second shot there is a chance of rolling on or at least getting close.
Trump Scotland #9 – 394 Yard Par Four
This is another tough par four with no trouble off the tee except for the bunker on the left. The problem is the second shot which must find a long narrow green guarded by multiple bunkers, two of which that you cannot see from the fairway.
Unlike most older links courses, Trump Scotland returns to the clubhouse after nine holes with the front nine on the north side and the back nine to the south side.
#10 – 458 Yard Par Five
This is yet another visually stunning hole at Trump Scotland. It’s definitely a three shot hole for most as the fairway gets narrower and narrower as you approach the green once again tucked in between dunes on three sides. There are also a bevy of bunkers awaiting anyone who wants to play the hero and go for it in two.
Instead a wood off the tee followed by a hybrid should keep you safe and leave this wedge shot to the green which is multi-tiered and actually a lot bigger than it looks in this photo. Altogether a terrific hole to start the back nine.
Trump Scotland #11 – 361 Yard Par Four
This hole is the most severe dogleg on Trump Scotland and requires a precision drive. The left side bunker is very much in play off the tee and the fescue awaits anything that drifts to the right. This is probably the toughest drive on the course as you do need to use a driver to get enough distance to see the green on the second shot. Even if you hit your drive perfectly the approach is no easy shot with very deep bunkers on the left and a severe drop off to the right. There just is no avoiding the difficulty that this hole represents and bogey is more than acceptable. I could easily see even the best golfers coming up with a big number on this hole.
#12 – 328 Yard Par Three
This is a scaled down version of #11 with a much easier drive, albeit uphill, to a generous fairway. No real worries here about being able to see the green on the second shot, which although small is a much easier approach shot than the previous hole. It’s almost like Hawtree planned two back to back holes with similar layouts, but presenting much different challenges. I’m glad he put the hard one first as getting a par here is very much an antidote to the probable score on #11.
Trump Scotland #13 – 148 Yard Par Three
A lovely par three that has a quite elevated tee box that provides this look to the green. One of the few holes at Trump Scotland where you afford to take an extra club and not worry too much about what’s behind the green. This one has a nice backstop although today’s pin placement is probably in the most difficult spot it could be. The sensible play is to go for the middle of the green and hope for a birdie putt. Par should not be an issue if you play it smart.
Note the grass walkway leading from the 13th green to the 14th tee from which you can get views of the North Sea. The good thing about walking Trump Scotland is that you come upon the championship tees first which are always the most elevated and provide the best views.
#14 – 307 Yard Par Four
At only 307 yards you would think this would be another easy par, but in fact it’s the #1 handicap hole on the back nine. However, there is a tremendous difference from the back tees to the ones we are playing, over 138 yards. From up there the fairway looks incredibly narrow and at 445 yards this is a monster par four. From our tee it should be an easy par. The bunker you can see is actually halfway down the right side of the green. You can play this two ways from here. Either just keep it in play with say a five wood and leave a full wedge in or try to bomb it and have the chance to have a short bump and run for a birdie putt. I chose the former and did get a par while the big hitter in our group (I won’t say who) tried the latter, found the fescue and carded a six.
Playing from the green tees this is the third chance in a row for par or better and we are about to head to the easiest hole on Trump Scotland. I’m really starting to love this course.
Trump Scotland #15 – 319 Yard Par Four
This is actually a real good risk reward hole. The bunker on the left is 165 yards away and a well struck drive will easily clear it leaving a short second shot to a narrow green that slants diagonally from right to left. The problem is that this is the worst angle from which to approach the green. A more conservative approach involves going down the right side where the look to the green is much better. The problem there is the bunker on the right which is reachable so the drive better be accurate.
Strangely enough, while this is the easiest hole for low handicappers and scratch golfers, it is actually rated the #12 hole from this tee which is much shorter. You don’t see that very often.
#16 – 142 Par Three
So if #15 wasn’t the easiest hole for us then which is? #16 as it turns out, but I might quibble with that. There are no less than seven bunkers guarding this green. However, it’s an uphill tee shot to a very large green and usually into the prevailing wind. The key here is to take enough club and if you do, the green will hold and par is on the table.
Trump Scotland #17 – 364 Yard Par Four
This is another risk reward hole. The conservative player will aim well to the right where there’s a ton of room and be left with a mid-iron in. The gambler will go directly over the most left hand bunker which is 164 yards away and if successful be left with a much shorter approach. The problem is a huge gulley on the left that runs all down the side of this hole. If you end up in there the green might not even be visible and the recovery will be difficult. For me this is a hole where the risk is not worth it.
This is the approach shot you should have if you play it safe off the tee. Everything kicks left once you are past the bunkers leaving this uphill shot to a big green.
#18 – 557 Yard Par Five
For me this was definitely the signature hole on Trump Scotland. This is the view from the championship tee box from where the hole plays a mind numbing 651 yards. This is the spot where you’ll want to get your picture taken. This is our group sans me, with our caddies John F. Kennedy and Michael Porter, who BTW were simply excellent and a lot of fun to be with. This is also the best place to get a view of the North Sea and the beach that runs along the entire length of this massive hole.
For mere mortals this is the view from the green tee box where the hole ‘only’ plays 557 yards. You’ve heard of the song 16 Candles, well this is the hole with 16 bunkers. Shockingly, I had a par on this hole just by avoiding those bunkers. The fairway is so wide that it’s not hard to do on the first two shots, but the third one, which will still entail at least a mid-iron, requires clearing the five that guard the front of the green. I’m still not sure how I managed it, but needless to say it was a great ending to a great round of golf.
There is no question that Trump and Hawtree have accomplished what they set out to do in creating Trump Scotland. It’s certainly capable of hosting the Scottish Open some day, yet it’s a very enjoyable course for your average golf tourists like our group. The bottom line is that Trump Scotland is a must play, even if those are not the largest dunes in the world.
In the final post from this Scotland trip we’ll play the venerable Balgownie links at Royal Aberdeen. See you there.