Donald Trump details his golfing ambitions, dustups with Jack Nicklaus, the USGA and Golf Digest

Trump National Golf Club, Westchester
Hunter Public Relations
Trump National Golf Club, Westchester
Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.

OPENED 2002
ARCHITECT Jim Fazio
PAR 72 (7,361 yards)
INITIATION FEE $350,000
ANNUAL DUES $18,000
MEMBERS 250
RANKING Unranked

Most members, whose numbers include presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, take a cart and a caddie. There is a swimming pool, tennis courts and a fitness center. The food is hearty, and there's a wedding almost every weekend. This is where Trump plays most. He has a 250-acre estate nearby.

It was clear that Trump loved his Westchester course, in the vicinity of Westchester Country Club, site of an annual Tour event, and Winged Foot, where Trump is a member. He talked about an underground pumping system, the millions he spent on a waterfall, how much Clinton enjoyed playing there, how the Tour would like to move the Barclays Classic from Westchester Country Club to his course. He described in detail how he defeated Rinaldi one year in the final to win the club championship, which is amazing because Trump looked like a golfer who could maybe break 80 and Rinaldi looked as if he could break par anywhere, but strange things happen in golf, especially on your home course, and most especially when you've built it yourself. The design is credited to Jim Fazio, but Trump, by his accounting, had done a lot to shape every hole. It was obvious Trump believed the course also belonged on the Golf Digest list. (Golf Magazine, which also ranks golf courses, is a member of the SI Golf Group.) "I have people coming up to me all the time saying my New Jersey course is the best course they've ever played, but I think this one is every bit as good and maybe better," Trump said.

At the turn he slipped into the clubhouse for a few minutes where a foot-high stack of tax documents awaited him. He signed a few of them with his distinctive, thick up-and-down signature and said, "Golf is a small part of my business. One, two percent. But you know why I spend so much time on it? Because I do what I want and I like it."

Before I go on, I ask you to accept a blanket apology. . . .

This whole expanding business of playing fancy golf courses and comparing them with other fancy golf courses, there's something appalling about it, and it yields some of the most pretentious writing and conversation you'll ever come across. It's an embarrassment of riches, just being able to play courses where you can putt on the tee boxes and a man stands there waiting to rake the bunker you've just sullied. Everybody enjoys the old grillroom question, "If you could play only one course for the rest of your life, which would it be?" You de-fend your choice and have a good time doing it. But when the tone is definitive, as if there are correct and incorrect opinions, that makes my skin crawl. I see golf courses not only as great playing fields but also as large-scale works of art. It was obvious after only nine holes with Trump that he does too — he likes to say that he finally gets gardening — which is why he likes to build them. All I'm doing is offering my own reaction to the places I went on my Trump tour, as your proxy.

O.K., then. I found the Trump course in Westchester to be cramped and too difficult, with too much water in play and too much out-of-bounds. My overall impression was that there were too many things that could go wrong, on almost every hole. Having Trump as my tour guide may have made the course feel even more cramped. I'm sure it didn't help that I picked up on nearly half the holes, spending five hours getting on and off the triplebogey train. It also didn't help that Trump gave me a splitting headache, with his laborious analysis of what his course had done for local real estate values.

Later, when it was just Mike and myself, I asked him what he thought. Now Mike Donald, you should know, is pathologically honest. He's insightful about golfers and courses, and he's exceedingly direct. Ask any Tour caddie, player or official, circa 1980â€"98. Mike's an independent. He thinks for himself.

"It's excellent," Mike said. He praised the expert placement of the bunkers and the many good hole positions on each green. "How about that number 9, straight up the hill? That's a beautiful hole. And then that downhill tee shot on 10? That's beautiful." He went through the whole thing. "A lot of Tour courses, you can't even compare them with this Trump course. I was blown away."

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