The Trump National Golf Club in south Los Angeles County is the Waterworld of golf, a seaside disaster picture with a happy Hollywood ending.
The story began in 1999 when, just before the club (then named Ocean Trails Golf Club) opened, a sewage pipe under the eighteenth fairway ruptured. The resulting landslide caused the closing of three holes of Pete Dye's spectacular Pacific Coast design and turned the course into what more than one writer dubbed the best fifteen-hole layout in the world.
A landslide of lawsuits followed the physical collapse: The original developers claimed the county's pipe was to blame; the county countered that it was the parade of heavy, earth-laden trucks that did the damage. As Dye told me, "The only fortunate thing is they didn't come after me." A settlement was eventually reached, but all told, the original $53 million price tag for Ocean Trails had soared. The seaside track had become a money-munching albatross.
Enter Donald Trump, owner of three courses under the Trump National banner and a man with deep enough pockets to finance the massive reconstruction project that is just now being completed. The Donald did his thing, buying the course for $27 million out of bankruptcy, renaming it in his honor—and bankrolling more than $180 million in reclamation and improvements in the ambitious hope that this Trump National would outshine Pebble Beach. "The truth is," Trump told T+L GOLF—and many others reporting the story—"Pebble has six great holes, six pretty good holes and six bad holes. My course has eighteen great holes. "Pebble has, what, nine holes along the water?This course has eighteen."
Fans of Pebble may counter that the topography of the Palos Verdes Peninsula is no match for the stunning cliffs of Monterey, but no matter: Clearly, the sea breeze and limitless vistas were ample inspiration for Dye, who bermed and buttressed this slanting bluff into a tough little test. "Little," as in there wasn't much land to work with (all of 215 acres), thus many adjacent fairways beckon to unfortunate fades. But with plenty of native brush areas and fearsome forced carries, Trump National more than compensates in strategic difficulty.
Dye, the sometime sadist, brings the pain on the very first hole, a 410-yard par four whose green sports water front and back. This sets the tone for a front nine of stingy, well-bunkered landing areas and undulating greens that demand shot-making ability. The back nine is even tougher, exemplified by the thirteenth, a 444-yard par four with a gaping canyon to traverse before reaching a bent-grass green that staggers and hiccups like a drunk. Like any good disaster flick, Trump National saves the fireworks for the finish: The eighteenth is a doglegleft, 509-yard par four that plays into a prevailing wind to a devilishly bunkered green some 120 feet from front to back.
In other words, Dye's 7,153-yard design will challenge even the most masochistic golfer. All that and an enchanting sensory experience—the salt air, the gentle humidity, the cry of gulls—make for a memorable experience. Indeed, it would have been hard to build a common course on this sublime stretch of seashore.
Is it, as Trump claims, "the best course in the West"?Not quite. But it is finally, at the very least, eighteen delightful holes of golf.
Greens Fees: $150-$250. Tee Times: 310-265-5525 or visit trumpnational.com.