Any day is memorable at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, the opulent course in Rancho Palos Verdes overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But if you’re fortunate enough to play when the sky is bright and the air clear, you’ll enjoy an experience unparalleled in Southern California.
No matter when you play, you’ll have views of the ocean from every hole. But on a clear day like the one on which we played, when Catalina Island looms so close you feel you can swim there and the ocean channel between teems with sail boats, cruise ships and the occasional whale spout, it makes for an unforgettable round of golf.
As befitting the charismatic real estate mogul and celebrity who purchased the then-troubled Ocean Trails Golf Club in 2002, nothing is second-rate at Trump National. That would include the impeccable course conditions, the towering waterfall that greets you on the first hole, the service, the pro shop, and the luxurious 45,000-square-foot clubhouse that features one of the finest on-course restaurants in the state, the Café Pacific.
And while it’s very public, from the hiking trails that meander around the course granting non-golfers ocean-view access to the fact anyone can play it, the property has the feel of a private country club.
Pete Dye designed the golf course, located on a grand expanse of prime real estate on bluffs overlooking the ocean. But when Donald Trump took over the financially challenged property – a landslide shortly before its grand opening in 1999 wiped out the 18th hole and forced the course to operate as 15 holes in its first few years – he poured a reported $264 million into the course, including $60 million on the 18th hole.
Trump then supervised a redesign that extended its length from 6,400 yards to more than 7,320 yards, imported bone-white Augusta National-like sand for the bunkers, and widened the very narrow Dye fairways to make the course more playable. It opened as a full-fledged 18-hole golf course in 2005.
But the fascinating history, colorful owner, high-end everything and pristine views really wouldn’t matter much if the course was an afterthought. It’s anything but that.
The round opens majestically. The 340-yard par-4 is the only hole that doesn’t parallel the ocean, but the massive $2.5 million waterfall behind the green makes you overlook that. The waterfall cascades into a two-level lake, which creates an approach shot over water onto the slightly elevated green.
The next two holes play with the wind, so length isn’t an issue, but No. 4, the first par-3, often plays into a crosswind. The deep, narrow green, guarded by a treacherous bunker to the right, makes this hole deceptively tricky.
You head back into the wind on holes 5 and 6, which begins the toughest stretch on the front nine. The long par-4 fifth hole is particularly devious, as it features a forced carry and a well-bunkered green.
The front nine ends with the No. 1-handicap hole, a long par 4 that requires two big shots to get home. It’s a slight dogleg left and the tee shot must deal with the longest hazard on the course, a 120-yard sand trap that lines the left side of the fairway. A lake guards the three-tiered green.
Among the tees nearest the ocean is the dramatic 10th, a short par-4 that is as treacherous as it is pretty, with its green tucked behind a maddening bunker complex.
Sea cliffs come into view again on the 445-yard par-4 13th. The wide fairway and open entry into the green make the hole appear simple, but the bunkers and constant allure of the ocean make for a stern challenge.
The narrow, undulating fairway puts a premium on shot-making and strategy on the par-5 14th, while the par-3 15th is the shortest hole on the course, but also features the smallest green. Don’t be lulled into a sense of nonchalance.
The final two holes wrap things up with dramatic flourish. The longish par-3 17th features another waterfall. While dramatic, it can also be penalizing, as a pond will catch anything struck through the severely undulating green.
Ending on a memorable note, the $60 million 18th, a 512-yard par-4 from the tips, starts from an elevated tee. Cliffs plunge to the left, the landing area features two tiers and the elevated green is defended by yawning bunkers to the left and behind the green.
A final word to the wise: Unless you’re close to scratch, it’s best to check your ego at the door, avoid the tips and play from the blue tees. The course is filled with as much challenge as any golfer would want and doing so reduces the yardage more than 1,000 yards, making extremely difficult holes more manageable – and enjoyable.
– By JOEL BEERS
For more information or to make a tee time, visit trumpnationallosangeles.com or call (310) 303-3240.