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The greatest golf course in the world? Give it time and it might be. But, one thing is for sure, Trump International Golf Links certainly made the greatest entrance in the history of Scottish golf.

Greeted by three sets of security personnel before I’d even reached the temporary clubhouse, it’s not your ordinary golf course opening.

It’s now well-documented that Donald Trump opened his £100million investment by playing 18 holes in the company of Sandy Jones, chief executive of the PGA, and Colin Montgomerie, the former Ryder Cup captain. Montgomerie said the course could well become the greatest links in the world – but more poignant were the words of Jones. “Golf is a responsible business, golf has an integrity and honesty at the core of the game and we are honest people and embrace our environment, and I wish the environmentalists would embrace golf because it would make a difference to all of us.”

Trump International – The critics

The critics are in the minority and change from arguing about “destroying the environment” to whether we should allow “rich Americans” to come over here and do what they want. You can pick and choose your debate, but Donald Trump Junior says Trump International Golf Links has been monitored by “every independent agency” and received nothing but glowing reports.

So now that the controversy is hopefully behind us, what is the golf course like? That’s the reason we are all in this. In short, it is very special. Huge dunes create not mini amphitheatres but vast, cauldron-like amphitheatres on many holes. Designer Martin Hawtree – who was recommended to Trump by the R&A’s Peter Dawson – said he, effectively, designed five per cent of the course as the other 95% was already there waiting for him.

Trump International – The layout/the holes/the rough

Standout holes? There are too many to mention, and that’s not a cliché. The front nine is nothing short of spectacular. The second hole is immensely tough if you don’t find the fairway with your tee shot and the par-3 third is simply magnificent, with the green a matter of yards from the beach and the sound of the waves crashing. For me, the par-3s stood out as truly special, with the sixth a prime example. The green is one of the smallest on the course and is guarded by a solitary bunker front right. The run-off area to the left will catch a few balls who want to ‘play safe’, only to realise when they reach the green that their chosen bail out is not quite what they thought. Short in length but big on character.

The back nine is more open, and you realise just how much land the course covers – the entire development spans over 1,200 acres – and just how colossal the dunes are. Hole ten has two options off the tee, with marshland separating the two landing spots. A three shotter, your third plays up and into another dune-guarded amphitheatre – and it gets better. The view from the 14th tee is your ‘wow’ moment, where you stand from what seems like a phenomenal height, hitting down onto the fairway below at an angle. I sent two tee shots into the rough from here and decided not to reload for safety reasons. Safe in the knowledge that my third attempt could well be futile.

So how good is Trump International? Well, there’s no doubting it is special. You won’t have played a links course like this in Scotland.

Trump International – The criticisms

Criticisms? There aren’t many, but they are worth a mention. Signage needs to be improved so that legions of first timers know where to go when they walk off the green. There are signs, but the sheer complexity of the pathways gets confusing once you take in the first sign. It wasn’t always as simple as it appeared to be. It’s also seriously tough. If you’re playing it this weekend or in the next couple of weeks, take some extra balls. I played quite well and lost seven balls. On one hole, the eighth, the rough is six paces from the fairway. If you’re not on the fairway on some holes, you are dead and buried. To make the course playable for all golfers, they might need to cut a few holes a bit of slack and offer a little bit more freedom in terms of landing areas.

So how good is it? Well, there’s no doubting it is special. You won’t have played a links course like this in Scotland. It is, at times, slightly reminiscent of Royal County Down, in that the dunes are domineering – but the Trump dunes are on a much grander scale. It has the wow factor of Kingsbarns, with clever use of bunkers similar to the Fife links, yet it does not abuse the use of bunkers (not that I’m saying Kingsbarns does). But, most of all, it puts a smile on your face. On every tee, you look forward to playing the hole. That’s very much like the Kingsbarns experience, which has always been my favourite golf course.

Trump International – The verdict

Trump International is exciting, at times exhilarating, and that’s what it should be. If you’ve paid your money, you want value for money. I don’t think anyone will walk off this golf course not thinking they’ve got their bang for their buck. And once you’ve crossed that hurdle, you’ve ticked every box.


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Bryce Ritchie is the Editor of bunkered and, in addition to leading on content and strategy, oversees all aspects of the brand. The first full-time journalist employed by bunkered, he joined the company in 2001 and has been editor since 2009. A member of Balfron Golfing Society, he currently plays off nine and once got a lesson from Justin Thomas’ dad.

Editor of bunkered

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