What a way to start the 2011 golf season! Love him or hate him, "The Donald" certainly does love golf, and that passion definitely comes through in the design and attention to detail at his signature course in LA. A couple of high level takeaways from my day at Trump National: 1) Bring a camera because the views from this course are spectacular, and 2) bring alot of golf balls because you will lose them. Lots of them.
From the first sights that you get of the course perched atop the cliffs looking out over the Pacific Ocean, you get the feeling that you are going to have a special day. Getting to the course was a snap, and from the minute you pull into the driveway fronting the clubhouse, you are well taken care of, in true Trump fashion. From the valet to the pro shop staff, everyone I met was very friendly and eager to talk about the course. They are all very proud of what they have to offer, and rightfully so. I had a couple of great conversations with Manny, the starter, who gave me the lay of the land before I went out, which was much appreciated! The carts have built in GPS and come stocked with two bottles of "Trump Ice" spring water, complete with Trump's picture on the label. The locker room is more than adequate, with nice size lockers available for players' use. All in all, it is definitely a top-notch facility. You can also see the Pacific Ocean from every single hole, which is a rare thing even for a true ocean golf course, so one of the first challenges that you have to overcome is not getting distracted by the incredible views!
The course is an incredibly difficult track, no question. Ten hours after I finished, I am still looking for my first flat lie of the day. We played from the white tees, which is only about 6,000 yards, but there is no doubt that it was the most punishing 6,000 yards I have ever played. This course is about target golf in its purest form -- you simply cannot try to overpower Trump National. First, on many holes there is absolutely no advantage to hitting driver. Second, there are so many blind landing areas, and the landing areas narrow so significantly right where your driver would land that on most holes driver is a risky proposition. The course's severe slops are a great protection against people trying to use length to beat the course into giving up some low scores. You have really got to think your way around this course, which makes for a fun and interesting round. I bet if I add up the amount f 6 or 7 irons I used to tee off on a par 4 all of last year it would not equal the amount of times I did it today. The more I think about it, it was probably a great round to have at the start of a season because it forces you to be patient, play smart and take what the course gives you -- an important lesson that we could all benefit from and use to our advantage throughout the season!
As an example, on the first hole I hit a 6-iron off the tee (first swing of the year a 6-iron -- talk about a knee knocking experience) and had only a sand wedge into the green from about 125 yards. But the ball was about a foot above my feet, and I was looking at an approach shot over water to a severely sloped green with a waterfall (yes, a waterfall) behind the green. Not an easy way to get out of the gate!
There are two other ways that the course protects itself against the mashers: 1) the course is extremely narrow, and 2) the greens are simply brutal. There is trouble left and trouble right on every single hole. The way the course is laid out, there are no holes that you can just blow it out left or right and track it down and still have a shot into the green. A pull or a push off the tee will probably find you in a losing battle with an environmentally sensitive area, where more likely thank not, your ball will remain from that moment until the end of time. There is so little margin for error at this place, and so much slope in the fairway that even well struck shots don't need to look too far for trouble. The greens, in a word, are slippery. They were running 10.7 on the stimpmeter, far faster than the greens you will find at your local muni. They are also large and full of ridges and mounds that play havoc with your line. It takes a few holes just to get used to the speed, and longer putts are especially difficult because you are not only concerned with controlling the speed but you are also often dealing with a foot of break to boot. They were silky smooth though and rolled true though.
There are more than a handful of memorable holes. For longer hitters, the par 5s are all reachable in two, but given the bunkering and hazards, it is tough to be too aggressive. Its the kind of course where you need to pick your spots if you want to attack. When you get to 18, be sure to walk back to hit one from the black tees. The black tee box is about 150 yards behind the white tees, on an elevated tee (about 40 yards in the air) that provides an expansive view of the whole course, right next to the ocean. Its a spot that will give you chills. The shot on the left is a picture while standing on the 18th. It is a 512 yard Par 4, and plays every bit as long. There are some great par 3s as well. The 11th calls for a downhill shot of only about 130 yards, but it offers one of the coolest views on the course, and it looks like you are hitting it out into the Pacific. Another in a long line of breathtaking shots you will get to hit while playing here.
Value and Overall Satisfaction
The course is expensive -- no doubt about that. I paid $215 for the round, which is a steep price to pay for a round of golf and probably outside the budget for many people. But I will tell you that I believe it was worth it, and I am glad I played there, and if you get the chance, I think you should too! It is also the kind of course where you would be well served to pair up with someone who has played there before, because there are plenty of subtleties that you could only learn by playing there. Luckily, one of the guys I played with had been there before, and his advice saved me at least five shots. Local knowledge here is king. It was a great day on a great course. I wish I could have played a little better (I grinded out an 87), but for the first round of the year on a tough course, I will surely take it.
Next up, Torrey Pines on Thursday morning! I think my MasterCard is going to do some damage in that pro shop!