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

Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Hunter Public Relations
Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Fla.

OPENED 1999
ARCHITECT Jim Fazio
PAR 72 (7,300 yards)
INITIATION FEE $450,000
ANNUAL DUES $18,000
MEMBERS 321
RANKING Golf Magazine Top 100 in U.S. (73rd)

Home of the LPGA's ADT Championship. Trump converted a dead-flat piece of land into one of the hilliest properties in South Florida. Trump is there most weekends from Thanksgiving to Memorial Day.

"You know we had Vijay here," Trump said. "What a great guy. He absolutely loved the course."

The USGA headquarters in Far Hills is only a few miles from Trump's Bedminster course . . .

and Trump talked about the first USGA championship that the club would be holding, the joint (boys and girls) 2009 U.S. Junior. It would be played, Trump explained, on two Trump Bedminster courses, the Tom Fazio course we were playing and a second one, now under construction, designed by Tommy Fazio, Tom Fazio's nephew and Jim Fazio's son.

In the men's locker room, on darkly stained doors with gold hinges, there were lockers bearing the names of several USGA executives. Working at the USGA is about like working in a university, in terms of salary and benefits, and the initiation fee at Bedminster is $350,000, with annual dues of around $18,000. The club's not meant for those living in the genteel poverty of golf administration.

"Do you have corporate memberships here?" I asked Trump.

"No," he quickly answered.

"What about for the USGA guys?" I asked.

"For them I do." It meant this: The top USGA executives were welcome at the club as honorary members. Certain USGA executives have enjoyed such privileges at various nearby oldline clubs, clubs owned by their memberships. But Trump's a new kind of personality for the USGA, and his course is a new kind of course.

Later Trump talked about the changes he'd make to the course to prepare it for a U.S. Open. In Trump's company it was easy to get swept up in his vision. He described how he could make the course as long and as tight and as difficult as the USGA wanted, and he pointed to the club's vast fields that could be used for parking and corporate tents.

Trump was enjoying the company of Mike Donald, who had once been a shot away from winning a U.S. Open, in 1990. Not only did Trump know, from his unusually good memory, some of the details of that Open, he also understood what Mike had endured, emotionally and physically, in nearly winning the national championship. Mike is blue-collar down to his cleats, and smart, in regard to numbers and people. Trump, I was starting to realize, despite the trappings of his private-jet life and his consuming need to have the greatest everything, was really the same way. He's blue-collar, and he's smart.

In his reality-TV life Trump plays a character in a tailored suit stuffed with ego. He's all bluster. You're fired! But after two days with him you could see he had other tools: memory, insight, vision, energy. (Thirty-six in a day? No problem.) What he had accomplished in his first 60 years — the many Trumpbuildings, the five Trump golf courses, plus the beautiful model wife (he's on his third marriage) and the mansions and the wealth and the fame — aren't enough for him. He's an American original, and I was starting to get his odd charisma. What he wants to do in golf, to become a big-time player in the game, is interesting. But it's much more interesting because the person trying to do it is Trump.

As for my take on the Bedminster course, here goes: It's very nice, in a lovely setting. Playing it is a thoroughly pleasant experience. But the course never made my heart race. A U.S. Open course should make your heart race, don't you think? Mike Donald liked it, but not as much as the Westchester course. Trump, though, was obviously proud of it. He showed off Bedminster pretty much as he had shown off Westchester, although with slightly less zeal. Maybe he felt more secure about it. After all, Garden State Golf magazine had called it "a pure gem."

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