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Trump Aberdeen

77.4 / 149
Martin Hawtree
Young, photogenic, world-class championship links, among enormous duneland.
North of Aberdeen. postcode: AB23 8YE
Sarah Malone
01358 74 33 00
Green Keeper
Steve Wilson
Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses
Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses
Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses
Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome.
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£235 - 2017


Since being invited to play here, many people have been eager to enquire ‘How good is it?’  The simple reply is ‘world class’ but the most truthful reply is more complex.

As one drives past the large Trump International Links sign on the main road, down the long entrance drive, anticipation builds as to what this ebullient American entrepreneur, who confounded most people by becoming the American President, has in store for us.

So many commentators have allowed their view of Donald Trump to colour their appraisal of this development. FineGolf will try not to fall into this trap but be even-handed and constructive in its praise and criticism.

It was opened in July 2012 and the politics aroused by the development were indeed fraught.

Following the Aberdeenshire council approval of Trump’s initial application, it became mired in local ‘green’ politics and the SNP-led Edinburgh Government called it in, granting planning permission, clearly fearing that a £1 billion investment in Scotland might otherwise be lost.

trump international links, objector, finest golf courses,

An objector’s house behind new plantation

Trump undoubtedly has played hardball with some of the locals who have been supported by aggressive lobbying, and the making of an activist film “You’ve been trumped”, which was shown on BBC2 (without giving Trump a right of reply at the end of the programme).

It has required a determination on Trump’s part to create this masterpiece while being sniped at from one side but his instinct seems to have been to just get on with it and steamroller through the non-golfing and non-conservationist complaints.

There have been three or four local residents who refused to be bought out, whereas the opportunity of a £1billion investment not surprisingly was welcomed by most local people.

The fact that Trump has never threatened to use the compulsory purchase orders available to him, may sow the seeds of a rapprochement over time with his resident opponents. A new road that Trump has built in 2017 to give them better access may also help.

There are few courses with as rugged and huge a duneland.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

Hawtree’s favourite, the Sixth

Ballybunion, Lahinch and parts of Cruden Bay up the road, come to mind but The Menie Estate’s dunes are more dominating and extensive than anywhere else in the golf world.

Through this wonderful ground the course wends its way in two loops of a figure of eight with a small ‘restaurant-style’ clubhouse at the centre, recently updated.

There are six sets of tees, ranging from black – 7428 yards, to red – 5215 yards and many of these 108 tees are hidden up in the dunes among the marram grass into which it is easy to lose one’s tee-peg and they give a picturesque view down to the fairways and a choice of length of carry to suit one’s ability.

These high tees reflect Donald Trump’s wish, while Martin Hawtree, the course architect, prefers as a balance, some lower tees as he feels “to some extent, high tees destroy sequencing because they show you too much too quickly, depriving one of that ‘discovery’ feeling”. An interesting contrast in views from two different characters who nevertheless found they could work well together.

Hawtree’s design has been much praised and each hole offers a different challenge, predominantly through valleys between the towering dunes with flattish fairways often peppered with pot bunkers.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The photogenic duneland fourteenth

Trump had to go along in large part with the views of the conservationist groups who did not want the SSSI areas disturbed too much, so if you happen to hit your ball off the fairway it is easy to lose it in jungle country.

Indeed if the wind blows few people will avoid losing balls and this is something that in time the greenkeepers might well need to change. Perhaps they could learn from Skibo, who have much improved their rough with the planting of wispy fescues to replace the denseness of its original undergrowth.

If any course of recent creation can be argued to be of  The Open Championship standard then this one certainly is. It has the air of a challenge for the modern professionals and the best golfers in the world and it would be enormous fun to see them put to this test in a few years time.

Trump has used the finest and best grasses, a mixture of indigenous bents and fescues for not just the large undulating greens but also the long and deep run-offs and aprons. Consequently there is a consistency in the bounce of approach shots and the ‘bump and run’ with a straight faced club or putter is the sensible play around the greens, rather than using of the myriad of lob wedges that club professionals have managed to sell to their members at ‘target-style’ courses that have high fringes of semi-rough to within one mower’s width of the green.

It took sometime for the greens to run truly but now five years on the grass has knitted and firmed up and these are fantastic links greens.

Unfortunately with hind-sight Trump’s insistence to open the course early in 2012 was a major mistake as far as the fairway grasses were concerned. The planned beautiful fescue fairways were too immature to stand-up to the amount of foot traffic and were then heavily top-dressed with pure sand in the hope it would protect them. Actually it acted like sand-paper and the decision was made to over-seed all the fairways and paths with a quick growing annual ryegrass.  Not only did the dark green colour stick out like a bad thumb but the waxy surface was not ideal to play off and it was mown down to 6mm exposing the white roots.

John Bambury, the course superintendent, who managed the grow-in and opening (who has subsequently moved to Ballybunion and re-turfed all their greens with pure fescue) assured me in 2013 that the over-seeding again with fescues, while the annual ryegrass protected the young fescues until established, we would see the annual variety of ryegrass wither away leaving fescue dominant fairways.

His Deputy Steve Wilson who is now in charge, while buggying me around the course this summer (2017), confirmed that John’s plan has worked and the acres of fairway are indeed now mostly beautiful fescue giving the firm, running game.

Whether all the ryegrass has gone from all the green run-offs and around the bunkers I am not sure as there seemed to be different shades of colour green in places, but what is certain is that the miles of grass paths in among the marrum grass over-seeded dunes, by design have been left as ryegrass.  The justification for these dark green ryegrass paths (and they give the lie to new strains of ryegrass being lighter in colour so they merge with fescue/browntop bent) is that pure fescue is not tough enough to take the compaction and scuff of concentrated feet.

The centuries of experience of playing across links courses tells us fine fescue turf is the best. With only a small number of rounds being played here, not surprisingly considering the high green-fee and the closure of the course over the winter months, is wear a real problem?

What the ryegrass paths do is give a manicured, man-made look that perhaps ‘the American’ in The Donald thinks this is what looks superior on a GB&I links.  FineGolf’s advice is that this unnaturalness is unlikely to help The R&A consider this course for any of its tournaments. On the other hand some do argue that a manicured look helps justify a high green-fee to a certain type of golfer.

Something that has incensed Trump is the proposal to build a windfarm offshore and he was one of the speakers at ‘The Spectator’ windfarm debate in Edinburgh. This suggests that Trump feels that the views to the sea from the course are all-important for one’s ‘joy to be alive’ pleasure.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The par three third hole

The sea is important to the grand, par three, third hole, and visible on the sixth and twelth holes and from a number of tees up in the high dunes but as with many fine links courses (like Saunton and Royal St David’s for example) views of the sea are not predominant here (as for example they are at Castle Stuart), merely a pleasing back-drop as glimpses through the line of high dunes along the beach.

One design criticism that can be made is that most of the landing areas of the drives are essentially flat, without those quirky bumps and hollows that give so many of our finest links courses a natural feel. Such quirkiness is difficult to create from new and anyway this course was primarily built to attract professional tournaments so has attempted to rule out ‘luck of the bounce’. The majority of professionals simply don’t like the unpredictability!

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The par five fourth green

Another feeling I had was that too many of the greens had been raised and so required a ‘through the air’ approach like every international ‘target-style’ course. This though may have something to do with the course’s agronomic immaturity and (like Royal Dornoch, that epitome of FineGolf, which also has so many raised greens) when the grasses knit and firm-up in time on the aprons at Trump, Hawtree’s design may prove to require the imaginative and creative shot-making of a running course. Hawtree calls himself a mid-wife and let’s hope that this course in time acquires the full running links character.

Having expressed that feeling let us note that at holes two, eight and perhaps fifteen which is down the prevailing wind, a running shot will be accepted by the green and secondly, that the high approach shots required to holes five, eleven and seventeen are quite sensational.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The dogleg eleventh hole

As you would expect from a high green-fee American-owned course there were lots of staff around trying to ensure your day went well. It is worth arriving early to use the excellent practice facilities. The chipping area is extensive and representative of the undulating green complexes out on the course.

Douglas, my caddy, was of high quality and humour and without having to carry my clubs I could dance up the dunes to take some great photos from on high.

This course is outstandingly photogenic.

Others have described the holes so I do not need to go into intense detail here although certain further design features do need mentioning.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The tenth green from behind

The tenth, a dogleg par five is protected by high dunes on either side of the approach to the green, giving a high-risk blind shot across the corner if the big hitters are going for it downwind. So a second fairway has been built on the outside of the dogleg from which, if you take the risk of playing across the wetland area that divides the two parts of the fairway, the green can safely be seen and the second shot played up the valley to the green set among the high dunes. This is a fascinating design idea and when the professionals get round to trying out the hole it will be interesting to see if any take the right-hand fairway option.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The par five 18th hole

Hawtree considers the eighteenth encapsulates all the great aspects of the course. A high tee view of the ‘breathtaking coastline and the impressive skyline of historic Aberdeen’, a Carnoustie type Hogan’s Alley drive, a raised green with undulations and run-off back and front and at 45 degrees to the fairway, that is peppered with pot bunkers. The ultimate challenge perhaps to be up in two for the longest professionals and requiring three well placed shots, ideally coming in from the left, for the rest of us. For a flat hole it is a par five that gives many play options and requires strategy with risk and reward.

After the round one can recall every hole, as should be the case with the finest courses, and there are short par fours (the fifth, seventh, and fifteenth) giving birdie chances, while the whole lay-out is well balanced with two par fives and two par threes on each of the nine holes loops.

The par threes are quite exquisite in their variety and challenge. Each in a different direction to the wind and of differing length.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The par three side-shelf 16th

It is reported that Donald Trump did not initially like the sixteenth perhaps because it is the least photogenic but now it is built he has recognised the classic links nature of the side-shelf design.

Hawtree thinks the sixth has everything. A green cupped-up in the dunes with a view of the sea on one side.

Trump’s vision was created before the world’s economy fell off a cliff in 2008 and a windfarm was proposed off-shore. Estimates vary between £60 million and £100 million as to how much this course has cost him to build.

One wonders if the £1bn project for a second course, numerous houses and hotel is any longer his priority now he owns Turnberry, which is a better bet as a venue for The Open Championship.

Trump international links, hawtree, finest golf courses

The seventeenth green

What can be confirmed is that the Trump organisation, Martin Hawtree and the construction company Sol Golf have done an incredible job in trying to live up to Donald’s wish to create the greatest course in the world.

The locals, however, may have to wait a little longer before they enjoy the benefits of the associated larger investment.

I shall finish with a quote from an edition of the ‘Links magazine’ from the renowned and redoubtable George Peper.

“I played with Donald at his then new course in New York’s Westchester County and he asked for my impression.

‘It has everything. Interesting holes, great conditioning, a bit of flash and plenty of difficulty’, I said

‘Do you think it can hold a PGA tour event or maybe a US Open? ‘, he enquired

‘I doubt it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s your golf course.’ ”

Will Trump be able to overcome this PR problem here in the UK?  He certainly has the course for it but it may take some time before he has developed some of the necessary relationships, even if he has the clout of being the American President.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2012 and updated in 2017.




Reader Comments

On October 25th, 2012 David France said:

Loved the review. Seems to be a course to play in the future but the fees are very off-putting (no pun). Perhaps that was intended but I shall have to stick with Turnberry, Carnoustie, Royal Lytham & St Annes and the likes.
Dear David,
I am sure Donald Trump would love to show off his course to everybody(!) but his greenkeeper would like to reduce the numbers while it matures. I guess the very high pay-and-play green-fee partly reflects this, though I understand all and sundry have flocked to it since July. Yours Lorne

On October 26th, 2012 Chris Bertram said:

I thoroughly enjoyed all your Trump analysis; few seem able to comment on the course without their views being clouded by the owner.

On October 28th, 2012 Paul Gray said:

I’m now disgusted to see FineGolf seemingly supporting this disgraceful project. FineGolf, surely, is about being in harmony with nature, not about battle with it and the wider community as a whole. Any perceived economy benefit is far more likely to actually just be the redistributing of tourism from other parts of Scotland as opposed to actual increased demand for golf in the country as a whole. Furthermore, many people find Trumps’ refusal to build the promised hotel if Scotland pursues a sustainable energy project to be further evidence that he is nothing more than an immoral egotist. As golfers we need to oppose his disgraceful behaviour. We need only look to Castle Stuart to see how the development of new fine courses need not be at odds with local communities.

Dear Paul,
Thank you for expressing what I am sure many people who watched the ante-Trump film on BBC may assume.

I agree that Mark Parsinen and his team have done a wonderful job in working with the local community and businesses at Castle Stuart and FineGolf is flattered that he has accepted the invitation to join our Advisory Panel.

Actually I believe Trump also had the vast majority of the local population on his side (local polls I am told, say 90%) and the fact that the BBC screen a ‘watermelon’ film (green on the outside, red in the middle) should not be taken as meaning that Trump has not improved the environmental and wildlife aspects of the Menie Estate.

Golf courses if managed in a natural FineGolf way are good news for conservation.

The Trump Organisation maintains that “the small band of environmental opponents who objected to the project had never visited the site until Trump wanted to build there and are ignorant of the work that has been done.

Whereas a team of leading Ecological Clerk of Works and the independent advisory board – MEMAG (Menie Environmental Management Advisory Group) which included representatives from Scottish National Heritage, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the community council, have overseen the work and applauded the environmental planning and methodology”.

What does shock FineGolf is the BBC’s editorial judgement which we understand is now being investigated by the BBC Trust and OfCom.

This golf development is not unnatural but should be applauded (irrespective of some of the criticisms that our review points out in design terms) for being outstandingly environmentally conservationist.

FineGolf has been assured that only 5% of the SSSI has been stabilized – a tiny portion of the site. 95% remains untouched and that this estate is now a haven for wildlife that will be preserved for the future.

Great Britain and Ireland are lucky still to have pieces of infertile land into which golf nuts like billionaire Donald Trump want to invest in a heritage friendly manner.

Golf is the winner and the leaders of the game should be vocal and help stop the negative impression that this BBC screened film gives of the wider golf community.

Best wishes from Lorne

On October 29th, 2012 Wayne Dean said:

Whenever a new links course is built I always look for the way the architect has simply used the natural terrain. So many links environments are just perfect golf holes and it’s a shame when the idea of a golfer’s ‘perfect hole’ is imposed on a course. Time will tell for this course. One day I might get that far north !

Dear Wayne,
You raise an interesting point. Although Martin Hawtree has created a highly natural layout with each hole determined by the lie of the land, yet with the requirement to make it attractive to the top professionals, it lacks that independant quirkiness, that all the finest links have. Perhaps as it matures this will develop and subtlety will be discovered here, as it has at Castle Stuart. Regards Lorne

On October 30th, 2012 Ken Taylor said:


Do yourself a favour and make that trip “that far north”.
My goodness, Aberdeen is accessible from everywhere in the UK by air in under an hour these days……
However, be really bold and keep going north and discover the brilliance of Nairn, Castle Stuart, Royal Dornoch to name but three of the best courses you will ever play.

Dear Ken,
If I may add Brora, Tain, Golspie, Fortrose & Rosemarkie, all wonderful ‘running’ links courses with firm, fine grass greens and lowish green-fees to make Wayne’s trip to The Highlands even better value.
Regards Lorne

On November 6th, 2012 Kevin Munt said:

Dear Lorne,
I have to say that I concur with the views of Mr Paul Grey. Youy are very wrong to say that golf is the winner from this development, the PR damage caused to the golf development industry by Trump is very damaging. Castle Stewart was a links totally created from scratch, Machrihanish Dunes is a far better example of how to achive a socially and enviornmentally sound golf project in an SSSI.
I can only paraphrase your words, Don’t allow your obvious love of traditional golf cloud your judgement on this golf development.
Kevin Munt

Dear Kevin,
Thank you for sharing your extensive experience of the golf development industry with us and FineGolf believes that it is only right that Trump had to work within the environmental rules.

Has it occured to you that the screening of the anti-Trump film by the BBC, thereby giving it more credibility than it perhaps deserves, is a cause of damage to the golf development industry?

FineGolf’s love of the traditional game does cloud our judgement(!) and it is enormously encouraging that major investors in golf courses are increasingly recognising that conservation and the ‘running game’ is the best type of investment for the future.

Do check out our views on Conservation, see
Best wishes

On February 25th, 2018 Ulrich Mayring said:

The review of the course’s strengths and weaknesses seems fair and appropriate. But I agree with some others that the question of ownership cannot simply be ignored here.

I have not seen the Anti-Trump film, although even if I had, I would expect to be able to tell sensationalist propaganda from reasonable criticism. In fact, if I cannot be trusted to make this distinction, then I also cannot have an opinion on the course, because self-serving propaganda is at the heart of everything. So let’s assume we’re all more or less reasonable people.

Great work (golf-wise) has been done on Trump Doonbeg in Ireland and I admit that getting a decent American-style meal in the clubhouse didn’t disturb me a bit. But the question of ownership goes beyond golf.

It is not a question of politics entering golf, which is probably best avoided. Let Trump have in my view his ultra-conservative agenda, after all the people voted for it. But my gripes as a golfer are that he is……..and does not fit my mental model of the “fine golf” movement. Yes, it’s about the courses and playability, but it is also about preservation of traditions. I am not ready to seperate golf from the spirit of the game.

Dear Ulrick,
Much as I respect your well-meaning view about the spirit of the game, I have had to edit out your personal ad-hominen attacks on Trump as that is not what FineGolf is about. Comments concerning somebody’s behaviour with regard to a golf issue – fine. Are the politics, whether left or right, of the owner of a golf club relevant?

Almost everybody benefits from Trump’s investment in and raised standards on his GB&I running-golf courses but nobody is forced to visit them.

Secondly he is the elected President of Britain’s most important ally and it is in everybody’s interest to show him some respect.
Thank you for being in touch. Lorne

On February 25th, 2018 Ralph Romanis said:

You should add the Nairn Dunbar golf club and Moray to your list of destination golf courses to play “UP NORTH” and please do not forget Boat of Garten, a wee gem in the Spey Valley.

Ralph, Please check out the North Scotland regional page and Boat of Garten has a full review. Many thanks, Lorne

On March 1st, 2018 Bob carrick said:

I agree with your comments re the Trump course. I am an enormous fan of Martin Hawtree and I think he has done a tremendous job with the design. I played it as part of Martin’s company celebrations in 2012, far too early I know but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I first met Martin whilst I was secretary of Hunstanton and the work he did there was outstanding.
Bob carrick

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