Pros: The Views. The Views. And the Views.
Cons: The Price. The Layout. The Waterfalls.
Living in Los Angeles for many years, I watched with interest as the Ocean Trails golf course was being built in Palos Verdes, the news stories of the subsequent slide which dumped a couple holes into the ocean, and the eventual purchase and renovation by the master of self promotion, Mr. Donald Trump. Although I personally don't care much for Trump's grandiose personality, I have been looking forward to playing the course and finally took the opportunity last week on a picture perfect August afternoon.
Before our round, we enjoyed a quick lunch on the patio overlooking some of the grounds and the Pacific, with Catalina Island looming in the distance. The food was excellent and we expected the service to be top notch, but our server was pretty average, similar what you'd get in an Appleby's but not as speedy. Surprising for a place with such a killer view, the restaurant only had a few tables on the outside patio, kind of jammed into a small little area. But the food was delicious!
Check in at the pro shop was quick, although it was kind of "cool". Not cool as in great, but cool as in lack of warmth. Basically just a quick take the credit card, hand you a slip, and "See the starter at the bottom of the stairs". Fortunately the starter was much more welcoming, giving us a good thorough overview, tips on the course, and directing us off to the range.
The driving range was the first disappointment of the day. Yes, it's big and it is on grass. Well, it's kind of on grass. Strangely the range was pretty crowded for a Wednesday afternoon, and there were only a few open stations and each of them were really worn out - finding a nice lie on the turf took some work. And unlike many other high end premium places, there was no range attendant there to help clean clubs. In fact, the club cleaning buckets were without water.
Finally, our time came to tee off and we were paired with a couple other players who play Trump regularly. The first hole is short and slightly uphill, looking straight at a big waterfall spilling over fake rocks. It was kind of Disney-esque, and even more so when you leave the green and drive through a tunnel in the fake rocks. Add some sound effects and it feels like the Big Thunder Mountain ride!
The second hole sheds the overblown and out of place water feature and starts to feel like a normal golf course. Through much of the rest of the round the holes go back and forth along the hillside, and every one has fantastic views of the Pacific and Palos Verdes coast line. But the back-and-forth layout is part of the problem in that many holes feel repetitive with one parallel hole after another. There is a little variety thrown in every once in a while and a few more of those out-of-place waterfalls to break it up (one which was dry and being overgrown by weeds), but other courses in this price range will have a lot of variety, often with no two holes that feel similar. At Trump, I cannot recall which hole was which even though I just played it a week ago. In contrast, I still remember every single hole at Spyglass from 3 years ago.
The fairways were mostly plush with a few dry spots, and they were doing some major repair on the 18th fairway. Greens have wonderful contouring, just enough to be a challenging read but not like a fun house mirror. The greens looked in great shape and rolled very true, but they were very slow. Very, very slow. I don't carry a Stimpmeter with me, but I'd guess they were less than a 10 on the Stimp. If you had a putt of more than 30 feet it sometimes felt like you needed more club to get there! The greenside bunkers were terrific; the sand was just the right consistency, and the clientele seemed to keep them raked (thank you!).
Although it is kind of a picky thing, I also need to criticize the on-course restrooms. They basically have the feel of a Park Service restroom, and are only marginally cleaner. Compared to other high end courses these were pretty atrocious, and even our local San Diego muni Torrey has much better kept bathroom facilities.
Overall, I'm glad I finally played Trump, and it wasn't a bad course, but I doubt I'll ever play it again. It just didn't live anywhere up to expectations. It would be a nice $75 per round facility, but at the prices they charge I expect far more in terms of service, amenities, layout, and conditioning. From the practice range to the final green, it just didn't feel special. If you want to be pampered, places like Pelican Hills down the coast in Newport are a far, far better deal.