Only the Trump Organisation could open a new golf course in such fashion. Bordering on the hilarious at times, this was a press launch like no other.
King Robert the Bruce made his grand entrance in front of invited guests and media by slowly walking from beneath the back of the new eighth green - flanked by his pals dressed in medieval get-up – up to the front, taking centre stage with his sizeable sword. He then stood there, somewhat awkwardly, waiting for something to happen. Much like the rest of us.
It was weird. It was funny. It was typically Trump. But it somehow worked.
Eric Trump, son of President Trump and currently running the business whilst his father deals with other matters, said his team had successfully “made Turnberry great again”.
He’s not wrong. Regardless of how wacky this unveiling of a new golf course was, you cannot deny the mark the Trump Organisation has made on this particular golf resort in Scotland.
Since purchasing Turnberry in 2014, Trump has overhauled the hotel interior and exterior. Some may remember this had already been partly done before the 2009 Open by the previous owner. Eric Trump, however, said his team took “every single inch of the hotel down and rebuilt it” as it was meant to be when the property was built in 1906. And unlike the previous owner, they finished the job this time. “What we’ve done here is really special,” he said. The much-publicised work on the Ailsa has already been hailed a success, and will likely land another Open Championship in the coming years.
The clubhouse has been redone, with new locker rooms, new dining area, and a new pro shop. There’s also a new par-3 course in front of the hotel, one that’s more in keeping with a links resort, whilst new practice facilities, short game areas and putting greens bring the resort up to speed with the world’s finest.
It would have been easy, then, to simply give the Kintyre Course a lick of paint. But that’s not how Trump works. With his golf courses, he’s either all in or not at all.
THE NEW COURSE
So what’s the new King Robert the Bruce course like? It’s magnificent. Already a huge fan of the old Kintyre having played it countless times a year for the last few years, I know the old set-up very well. I had heard previously that Trump was going to “bulldoze” the property and start again, which I admit filled me with a mix of sadness and anger.
But course architect Martin Ebert has worked wonders with this property, with the first seven holes introducing a raft of ‘standard’ changes that are common throughout the new layout. Those changes are new teeing areas, better roll-offs on the greens, improved turf on some fairways, and better-conditioned putting surfaces. The burn that ran across the first fairway is thankfully gone, and the removal of masses of gorse is another box ticked.
Walking from the seventh green to the eighth tee is where you’ll begin to see the biggest changes. Holes eight, nine and ten are completely different. The eighth now plays down the direction of the old tenth to a new green, where you play directly towards the Turnberry lighthouse. The ninth plays back towards the old eighth fairway, with the old eighth green now a sandy waste area that you have to play over to get to the ninth green, which is tucked into a part of the property that was never previously used. The tenth is a brilliant par-3, something that the Kintyre previously lacked.
As a fan of the Kintyre’s old eighth green, sunken into the rocks, I was gutted to learn it was gone. Ebert described it was an “attractive but strange hole”. He has now effectively binned one great hole, two average ones, and replaced them with three stunners. Much like the Ailsa, the coastal section of the property had the best location and views but the worst holes. Not anymore. Ebert says there isn’t a stretch of coastline in world golf that can compete.
Onwards to the eleventh and you’re back into the run of holes as before, though the eleventh now has a more interesting tee shot. The 13th is where you’ll see the biggest changes gorse-wise, with the introduction of what Ebert calls “wetlands”. That new design allows you to see more of the rest of the course, reducing the feeling of isolation.
From there on in, the work concentrates on the improvement of teeing areas and greens, with the bunkers being brought up to standard. The closing hole has seen the green height dropped to make it more playable.
The second course at Turnberry is always going to play second fiddle, but it is to what level that’s important. There is no way this can be considered secondary. It’s not an Open venue, and it’s not meant to be. But it is now grander than before. It’s got more exciting holes. The greens are better. The tees are prettier. It’s not as difficult as it was before thanks to the removal of unplayable gorse. The new layout is a significant improvement, and the new holes elevate the course to a lofty standing.
I admit I had Martin Ebert’s card marked when I learned of the proposed changes, but this is a solid restoration upgrade/rebuild. Without naming names, it is now on a par with some of Scotland’s best links, and without Trump’s involvement that would previously never have been possible.