Introducing a new championship links course in Scotland is a rarity these days and for someone like Donald Trump to adopt this as a project made it’s realization even more unlikely. As with all things Trump the creation of the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland bruised a few egos, ruffled a bunch of feathers, and alienated a lot of locals. But in the end a first class links course got built on a marvelous a piece of links real estate. The quality of the result is attributable to the creative genius of Martin Hawtree who drew from this narrow strip of coastal dunes a memorable collection of 18 holes for the ages.
The Aberdeen region of Scotland has a rich history of great links golf with iconic courses like Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay as well as lesser known gems like Murcar and Fraserburg among others. The addition of Trump International simply ups the credential a notch and probably increases the likelihood of this neighborhood becoming a regular stop for prestigious events like The Scottish Open or other European Tour championships.
Hawtree was blessed with a stunning piece of land abutting the North Sea with sea grass covered sand dunes the size of office buildings. Places like Enniscrone, Ballyliffen Glashedy, and the European Club in Ireland come to mind as you stare out at the expansive range of these imposing dune fields. If must have been a challenge for Hawtree to simply decide where to begin.
Defying the traditional out and back approach to links design he placed the clubhouse in the center of the property and tracked four holes south with the sea on the left and five holes back on the inland side. The back nine does the opposite with four holes working up the inland side to the north before the last five meander up and down among the coastal sand dunes coming back. Though you rarely see the sea it’s proximity provides a steady wind influence lurking over top of the high dunes.
Trump wanted a stout championship course so he could woo a major championship but something playable enough for the retail golfers who would foot the bill for it’s existence every day. To this goal there are six sets of tees and 112 tee boxes which might seem like a bit of design overkill. In reality this volume of teeing grounds allows the greens keeper to set up each hole to play to the same level of challenge for every caliber of player. It also affords a flexibility in daily course set up to match the prevailing wind direction and intensity and make the severity of the challenge consistent in all conditions. You just may need a GPS device to assist in the location of your tee box.
From the tips the measure is close to 7500 yards but if you pick the appropriate tee you should find a manageable golf challenge. First glance at the blue tee scorecard reveals three of the four par fives are 500 yards or less and only five of the par fours are 400 yards or more. But the devil is in the details (see link at the bottom for hole-by-hole detail) because the routing vis-à-vis the prevailing wind can make the effective playing length much longer. Hope is that once the course sets in a few years they let the fairways firm up and this lengthening will get mitigated as it does on all links courses.
The first impression you have after you get over the scale of the dunes is how green this place is for a links course. The quality of the grass in the walking areas between greens and tees would be the envy of the highest end country club in the states. The emerald color actually takes away from the links character and Americanizes the course but again I am sure this is what the boss wanted.
Bunkering is the next thing that will capture your attention. Cluster bunkering in some fairways and green approaches makes a number of those holes appear like an arcade game. But in fact there are a greater number of holes with very sparse bunkering, often a single bunker at the green’s edge, so the use of sand is by no means overdone. Having said that, the bunkers out there are fierce. Many are funnel deep, revetted bunkers that can exact a full stroke toll where a sideways escape is the only way out.
As with many links courses the greens are massive to provide the opportunity to make approach shots more manageable based on the day’s wind direction. Hawtree segmented these greens in a way that there are often three greens within the green so the proper angle of approach requires forethought based on the day’s pin location. Raised surfaces with fall offs, collection hollows, and a few nasty bunkers demand approaches with conviction or else you can spend the day inventing recovery shots you never imagined.
The good news is that everything you encounter, driving areas and green complexes is right in front of you. No blind shots, very few severe uphill shots, and plenty of bail out room where you need it. But as discernable as your targets are many are fraught with existential topography and hazards that can have their way with your best intent. You will encounter the full array of mounds and hollows, severe bunkers, furry sand dunes, and even marshy wetlands. The wetlands seem a bit onerous and out of character on a links course and may be where he stepped across the line.
The course opens with a relatively straight forward five par that puts almost all of the above into play out of the gate. The pressure ratchets up quickly with a burn bisecting the second followed by the postcard par three third-the only place you witness the sea first hand all day. When you get to the perched tee at the par four 5th you are sure you have stepped into a J.R.R. Tolkien novel….there have to be trolls and hobbits lurking in these surrounds. The 6th makes you feel like you have been transported across the Irish Sea to European Club south of Dublin-this hide-n-seek par 3 is pure Pat Ruddy. From 7 to 9 you get the full challenge-a short technical par four and two brutishly heroic par fours before you get a chance to catch your breath and an Irn-Bru at the turn.
The inward nine follows a similar pattern with a straight forward five par followed by a couple of manageable par fours and a very linksy par three. The wow meter jumps to double digits when you step on to the tee box at 14. What rolls out beneath your feet simply will take your breath away. A beautiful midrange par four brings to mind Royal Country Down, fairway swaddled between dune ranges with the North Sea peering over the top.
Another tantalizing short par four before you turn back south for the final run. There is no let up from here to the house you have to play your best golf of the day because you are likely playing into the wind. The par three 16th will test your trajectory and distance control with a well protected green that is 45 yards long. In spite of it’s handicap designation, the 17th into a two club wind may be the hardest hole to par since the Road Hole at The Old Course. There is one last Kodak moment is ahead, walk to the top of the back tee on 18 where the hole measures 651 yards and a sea of 18 bunkers, count em, stands between you and the final green. Maybe there is a bit of Trump showmanship in this one but it is a very interesting finishing hole.
Trump did not cut any corners in the creation of his golf nirvana and the fare you pay will indicate that. Unlike most venues in Scotland there is an elaborate practice ground with a full driving range, wonderful short game preparation area, and expansive practice putting greens at your disposal. The Trump Links clock overlooking the range, the black and bronze signage throughout the course, the classic stone bridges that cross the burns, and even the cherry wood trash cans with the Trump International Crest remind you that this is a Trump creation. The Donald would have it no other way.
Architect: Martin Hawtree (2012)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 72 6602 73.8 140
White 72 6329 72.3 133
For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 5: Trump International Links