The land that Trump Bedminster was built on was formerly the estate of John Delorean, the colorful auto magnate who was famous for his "Delorean DMC-12" with its distinctive gull-wing doors. The land was destined for the Donald since it was bought from a bankruptcy sale.
Thus far in my travels I have only stayed overnight at four courses. Lytham & St. Annes Dormy House was the quintessential understated British experience. I have also had the privilege of staying overnight in the spartan upstairs bedrooms at the majestic National Golf Links of America. My third stay was in the magical Sand Hills cottages. My fourth (of hopefully fifth) stay was at the 'cottages' at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. For those keeping score at home, the fifth course I plan to stay overnight at is Augusta National.
Trump National has carved out a unique position among the world's better known golf courses. I played the Golf Club in Ohio this past summer and was struck by the founding philosophy of the club, which is golf only. The club history states that the Golf Club, "...was not founded as a family recreation or amusement center. It was founded as a men's club without the need for starting times and with the excitement and turmoil which too frequently results from the crowds attracted to a multipurpose sports or recreation club." After reading this quote the first time, I thought to myself, they're exaggerating: turmoil? crowds? at a golf course? Trump National had not yet been conceived or built when this was written, but they nailed it and I can now see why they went golf only.
The "cottages" and pool area at Trump National
Donald doesn't do anything small, and he certainly didn't at Trump National. The sprawling complex is over 500 acres and has a large clubhouse, which was formerly where Delorean lived. In addition to being a 36 hole golf facility, there are equestrian trails, tennis courts and a helipad. There are also the cottages and the pool area, which seats over 100, and several other out buildings on the expansive property.
Trump Bedminster was the fourth "old" course to reach the world rankings. The renowned "old" course at St. Andrews leads the pack, with Sunningdale and Walton Heath, whose "old" courses were built in 1901 and 1904 respectively, being the other two. Ever the clever marketer, the Donald opened the "old" course at Trump Bedminster in 2004 and the "new" course in 2008.
If you have an eye for detail you may have noticed the Trump crest affixed at the top of the main brick tower in the middle of the cottages. The man is a master of branding so get ready for Trump everything once you get through the Trump branded guard house at the entrance. Trump overload is about to begin. From now on it's all-Trump, all-the-time.
Almost everything you see and touch at Trump Bedminster is branded Trump. This includes Trump water (the greatest), Trump mattresses in the cottages (the greatest), Trump chocolate next to your night table in the bedroom (the greatest), a machine that sucks water from under the greens like at Augusta, which is amazingly branded Trump Air (the greatest) and there is Trump Vodka in the bar (the greatest). Bien sûr. Hanging in the clubhouse is a replica of the Donald Trump star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's not possible to give a full rundown of all the Trump branding present througout the property, but you get the idea.
Among the more amazing things Trump did when he took over the property was to build a massive addition to the clubhouse which features an oversized ballroom and outdoor deck. The fountain at the back of the clubhouse right next to the sixteenth tee would be over the top anywhere else, but feels right at home here. Of course, the Trevi Fountain is a kiddie pool compared to this fountain, since it's the greatest in the world.
The Golf Course
Trump National was built to host a major golf championship. The course is 7,590 yards from the tips with a slope rating of 76.8/151. It is not a particularly good walking course given the hilly terrain and the long distances from some greens to the next tee box. If you like the feel of big golf complexes that host major championships such as Medinah, you will like Trump National. In addition to its length, the course also features very high and penal rough.
The course was routed by Tom Fazio, and his name is listed on the scorecard as the designer. He was assisted by his nephew Tom Fazio II, who supervised the construction, and the Donald essentially co-designed the course, with his strong mandates about almost everything.
The elevated third green, #1 handicap hole, par four 435 yards
The course begins with a benign 537 yard par five, followed by a 355 yard par four. They are the #15 and #17 handicaps respectively, so it is an easy start and the only break you will get all day. The third hole is the hardest on the course and is 435 yards long and plays to an elevated green. The fairway gets progressively narrower as you approach the multi-tiered, tilted green, seen above.
The fourth hole is a 170 yard par three that plays over water. It is the first of three par threes that have a forced carry over water, as the seventh and sixteenth also play over water. The fifth hole is a big, uphill 425 yard dogleg left that sweeps around the slightly rising hillside. The sixth plays parallel to the fifth, playing down the hill.
The sixth hole from the tee with peninsula green, 381 yard par four
You can see the peninsula green down the hill to the right in this view from the sixth tee box.
The sixth green with the par three seventh green in view behind it to the left
The shot to the green is an intimidating one, yet the green is very large front to back, which you don't realize when hitting your approach shot. The seventh hole is a par three that plays over the same water that the sixth green is situated in.
8th hole approach shot to the green over a ravine
The eighth hole is a good 535 yard par five that plays over a ravine to an elevated, well bunkered green. The pictures above and below show the approach shot and the view looking back from the green.
8th hole looking back from the green
The 10th green, a 397 yard par four
I thought the back nine the harder of the two, even though it is shorter in total yardage. The tenth hole plays on elevated ground above the clubhouse with the large green seen here, above.
The 12th hole, a 392 yard par four that plays uphill
The twelfth hole was my favorite on the course, a 392 yard par four that plays sharply uphill. See the beautiful and well placed bunkers guarding the left side of the hole. The tee shot, like many at Trump Bedminster, is over a ravine with a forced carry.
The 13th green, 405 yard par four
The thirteenth is also a good hole. You tee off from the highest point on the property and have a forced carry over water. The hole is a sharp dogleg left and plays 405 yards up a slight hill to a long narrow green, seen above.
The course has a Florida-style finish. The last three holes all have water in play around the greens. It is very much like P.G.A. National, TPC at Sawgrass or Doral in this regard. Donald clearly thinks that water makes an exciting finish.
What was the design philosophy at Trump National? Aside from the obvious mandate to build a course to host a major, it looks like the key factors were:
1. Forced carry shots over water (to the greens) and over ravines (off the tee)
2. Generally large, elevated greens
3. A course from the penal, as opposed to strategic, school of design
4. Very high and demanding rough
The short par four seventeenth is one of only a few downhill shots to a green and one of the few risk-reward holes: it is 312 yards and offers many interesting ways to play the hole depending upon how aggressive you want to be both off the tee and with a watery approach.
Net-net, I think the course is unnecessarily hard. It's trying to prove that it is tough enough to host a major. The rough is just too hard for all but scratch level golfers. If the rough were cut and some of the water holes were filled in, it would be a better course. It would also be more consistent with the other great courses in New Jersey such as nearby Somerset Hills, Pine Valley and Baltusrol, all of which have normal rough and very little water hazards. It's just not in character for this part of the country. A singular focus on hosting a major championship has led to golf design reductio ad absurdum.
Who's to tell whether the course will ever host a major or not. Perhaps it will, since it's better than Baltusrol. Or perhaps Trump Westchester will, since it's better than Winged Foot. Or maybe Trump Los Angeles will, since it's better than Riviera. On further thought, perhaps Trump Palm Beach will, because it's better than Seminole. Or, the more I think about it, it will probably be the yet-to-be-built Trump Scotland that will host a British Open before all these other Trump courses, because it will no doubt be the greatest course ever built when it's done.
There are some people that find Trump to be contrived, ostentatious, flashy, tasteless, tawdry, vulgar, garish, excessive and cheaply showy. My advice when going to Trump is to suspend belief and take it for what it is. With its engineered look, fake ponds, lush manicuring and over-the-top showmanship, it is a bit like Disneyland: it's an adult theme park with Donald as the theme. A traditional club or course this is not. It's a showcase. A made-for-TV spectacle. Like Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Trump National is an outlier and will not be confused with any other club or course you've ever played.
I know there is a large contingent of Donald haters out there. In fact, I consider myself a reformed Trump basher. Certainly it's easy to make fun of the Donald since he's his own caricature. Trump is a simulacrum of himself.
Take a deep breath and think for a moment. You do have to give the guy credit. He has balls. His sense of confidence and bravado are unmatched. He's a hell of a marketer, salesman and promoter. How can you criticize the only man on the planet who believes his eye can single-handedly pick the most beautiful women in the world out of a lineup? Donald once told Vanity Fair that there is no such thing as bad publicity, that all publicity is good. I'm not sure Tiger Woods would agree with Donald's sentiments after breaking the New York Post record of being on the cover twenty straight days.
Mastering P.R. is one of the secrets to the Trump empire. His looks, his hair and his over-the-top statements are designed to be controversial so Donald can remain in the limelight. His objective is to maximize his cash flow and net worth; not to be taken seriously. On this level, he is a smashing success.
Why do I exclude myself from the Donald haters? Wouldn't it be a bit hypocritical of me to criticize a pompus, brash New Yorker who takes strong positions, is full of himself and is never wrong?