Trump Goes Public in Los Angeles

No. 11 at Trump National, Los Angeles
John and Jeannine Henebry

Of his many trademarks -- the giant Trump towers, the catchphrase "You're fired!" the high-flying lifestyle and high-rise hairstyle -- Donald Trump may be best known for perfecting the art of sincere hyperbole. Trump's saying his latest course might outshine Pebble Beach may be a bit over the top, but then nobody expects understatement from The Donald.

One thing's for sure: Trump takes his golf seriously, and so should you. He has made no bones about his desire to bring a U.S. Open to his imposing new Tom Fazio course in Bedminster, New Jersey (conveniently located a half-mile from the sanctum where such decisions are made, USGA headquarters in Far Hills). The Bedminster project is Trump's third private club, after Trump International in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Trump National in Westchester County, New York -- and it's one of three Trump grand openings on tap. But this brassy age may best be remembered, at least by public-access golfers, for the eagerly awaited unveiling of the only Trump track in America that anyone can play: Trump National Los Angeles.

Make that "eagerly re-awaited." Back in June 1999 -- just days before its ribbon cutting -- the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Trails Golf Club, set along a striking stretch of California coast, suffered a catastrophic landslide. The heart of the oceanfront 18th hole, and for that matter of the course itself, toppled into the sea, opening a gash in the bluff 1,700 feet long, 400 feet wide and 70 feet deep.

Environmental regulations held that no earth could be trucked in or hauled out of the site, so the neighboring ninth and 12th holes became expensive, scenic dirtpiles. The course opened as a 15-holer and stayed that way for five years. Its original owners spent $20 million and went bankrupt trying to save it.

Enter The Donald. In 2002, Trump bought the property out of receivership for $27 million (a steal for 215 acres of SoCal oceanfront) and to date his repair bill has totaled some $40 million. A few weeks ago, surveying his nearly completed triumph over cataclysm, the billionaire smiled. "This is the most-designed, most-engineered golf hole in the world," he said. "Not to mention the most expensive."

The site is as golden as a Trump-trimmed tower: Every tee and green presents a full-frontal view of the Pacific. Trump National Los Angeles may not have all the nooks and angled lookouts of Pebble's oceanfront, but perhaps no course in America holds so fast to the coastline. In fact, until Trump took charge location was the course's sole virtue; the track itself was a bit of a Dye-saster.

Trump's Golf Kingdom
Trump International Golf Club
West Palm Beach, FL (1999)
Architect: Jim Fazio
Private; membership $350,000

Trump National Golf Club
Briarcliff Manor, NY (2002)
Architect: Jim Fazio
Private; membership $300,000

Trump International Golf Club
Canouan Island (July 2004)
Architect: Jim Fazio
Public; greens fees $200
784-458-8000

Trump National Golf Club
Bedminster, NJ (September 2004)
Architect: Tom Fazio
Private; membership $175,000

Trump National Golf Club
Los Angeles, CA (early 2005)
Architects: Pete Dye; Jim Fazio
Public; greens fees $195-$300
310-265-5000

Ocean Trails was one of Dye's lesser layouts. The founders used 120 acres for homesites and left the great architect a mere 180 for the course. Dye fashioned an uninviting 6,400-yard routing tricked up with Himalayan mounding, blind shots, forbidding carries and waste areas that encroached closely on the fairways.

Rather than bring Dye back, Trump enlisted Jim Fazio, Tom's brother, who had designed Trump's tracks in Florida and New York as well as another on Canouan Island in the Grenadines (see "Trump Golf, Island Style"). Trump sacrificed 20 homesites worth about $25 million, giving Fazio an extra 35 acres to widen fairways, eliminate blind shots (Trump loathes them) and stretch the course to a muscular 7,200 yards. More homesites were X'd out to make room for a dual-ended, 100-station practice range and three elaborate on-course water features that cost $5 million, including the behemoth behind the first green, where golfers park their carts in a cave and walk through a space in the waterfall to an island green.

Landslide Victory

You don't need an engineering degree to understand how Trump rebuilt the 18th hole -- but it wouldn't hurt.

First, the face of the bluff was stabilized with 116 "sheer pins." Those are 20-foot-long, 36-inch-wide steel tubes with 1 ½-inch walls. After filling the pins with high-density concrete, workers excavated 1.5 million cubic yards of earth and dug six 100- to 150-foot-deep slots at the base of the crevasse. A layer of bentonite, a bluish mineral that gets slippery as soap when wet, helped cause the slide, so Trump's men dumped dirt into the slots, then added millions of square feet of a geosynthetic fabric used to build dams (cost: $8 million). The process was like making a huge layer cake: Now six 120-by-20-foot sheets cover each section of dirt, their ends attached by giant staple-like steel prongs. Total cost: $61 million. "If I'm ever in California for an earthquake," says Trump of his new 18th hole, "this is where I want to be standing."

To rebuild the 18th, workers excavated 1.5 million cubic yards of earth and dug six 100- to 150-foot-deep slots at the base of the crevasse. Reinforced backfill Going low: the finishing hole in 1999, after the landslide

Trump Golf: How Good Is It?

We asked the panelists who rank GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 Courses in the U.S. and the World what they think of Trump's tracks. Selected responses:

  •   "I've played Trump International in Florida and found it like its owner -- extravagant, over the top and self-indulgent. This isn't to say that some of the holes aren't terrific."

  •   "The design at Trump National in Westchester is very natural and classic. Course conditions, especially the putting greens, are just perfect."

  •   "I played Trump's Florida course and felt like I was in Disneyland. Too many gimmicks, but beautifully manicured."

  •   "Some of the holes at Westchester are spectacular. The Florida course is challenging and the experience is first-class."

  •   "The course in West Palm Beach is as ill-conceived as anything I have ever seen. There are no 40-foot waterfalls in Florida."

  •   "At Trump International in Florida, the gaudy front gate set the tone for the experience, exhibiting the taste of a Columbian drug lord. The Donald may have a waterfall, but that's the only thing that compares with Shadow Creek."

  •   "Played Westchester twice and thought it was excellent! The maintenance and practice facility are world-class, and the holes are extremely demanding, yet fair. It offers the best architecture of modern courses, yet still has that essence of an old classic."

  •   "Given my preferences in golf -- natural, traditional, low key -- and my distaste for The Donald's self-promoting ways, I was hell bent to hate the Florida course even before I saw it. But the course was excellent. It reminded me a great deal of Shadow Creek. They moved a ton of earth and the tree budget must have been extraordinary. The vast majority of holes were darn good."

  •   "I have been to all four of Trump's U.S. courses, three of them in the last two months. Trump National in Westchester is way too tight, and the waterfall is too much for the site. Trump International in Florida does have some good holes, but again there's too much going on for such a small site. The landscaping and water features are overdone, but I do have fun playing there. Trump National in New Jersey is the only course that has enough space. A real parkland course, with lots of maintained turf."

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