Trump National Los Angeles
Thank You Mr. Trump
By David Rallis
Have you ever been to Palos Verde, California? Its a beautiful part of the California coastline located in the Los Angeles area. As a young boy my family spent a great deal of time there, and I remember seeing the blue Pacific Ocean crashing in on the rocky shoreline. We would leave the city of Los Angeles for a drive along the sharp cliffs, most of the time heading for Marineland of the Pacific, a forerunner of Seaworld , to watch the whale and dolphin shows (The Park is no longer there, by the way. It has been replaced by an upscale spa and golf course) . Occasionally, we would stop and visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Wayfarer's Chapel (known locally as “The Glass Church”) and take in the beauty of the church and the quietness and grandeur of the setting. Quickly you understand that this place, a collection of restless ocean, high bluffs and jagged rocks is truly a special place.
I have never personally met Donald Trump. I hope to someday. Just the mention of Mr. Trump's name stirs up a variety of perceptions and he's is at least seen as controversial. There is creativity and genius in controversy and Mr. Trump is a good example of this. He has an uncanny knack of seeing opportunity in adversity. Enter a blown sewer line.
At this point, I will take you back to June of 1999. Ocean Trails, a beautiful 18 hole Pete Dye design was situated on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. What a breathtaking site for a golf course, truly a work of art and beauty. Tragedy struck, not a work of a vengeful mother nature in a violent Pacific storm, but the consequence of bad human plumbing. A sewer line burst, completely washing away hole number 18 into the Pacific Ocean with the 16th and 17th holes being severely damaged and deemed too dangerous to play. What used to be a breathtaking 18 hole layout became the most beautiful 15 hole golf course in the world. The course operated until 2002 as a 15 hole layout, but wound up closing and going bankrupt. They built it and nobody came.
Mr. Trump saw what was happening at Ocean Trails and was drawn to the project like a moth to a light bulb. His decision was that this beautiful golf course had to be part of his lineup of great courses. However, some changes had to be made. First problem is what do you do with a 15 hole golf course? The answer to that question is simple, The Trump Treatment. The decision was made to acquire the property, develop it and turn the golf course into one of the finest in the world, worth the Trump name. Still, what do you do with a 15 hole golf course?
Donald Trump's answer to this question, let's take the fantastic Pete Dye design and make a few changes. Since Mr. Trump is such a golf enthusiast, it was his decision to personally redesign the course, keeping the best of the Dye design and adding some new twists such as adding lakes, changing the bunkering and tees, and adding three unique signature waterfalls. The holes that were damaged were rebuilt, with the 18th hole having cost over $16 million. In fact, it has been reported recently that Mr. Trump has said that if there were a devastating earthquake in Los Angeles, he would rather be on the 18 hole at Trump national than anywhere else in LosAngeles, because it is so well built and stable. At $250 million totally spent, this is the most expensive golf course ever built. What can you say when each hole has a commanding view of the Pacific ocean and every shot faces it. You have to ask yourself, What is money? With 45,000 square foot clubhouse including a fine restaurants overlooking the ocean and an award winning pro shop, the property has risen out of the ashes of failure like a phoenix into the light of success. Would we expect anything different from Mr. Trump?
I have seen the brochures for the course. They say “The course is perched above the coastline, overlooking the Pacific Ocean with each hole having a view of the ocean.” OK, brochures are written to sell, and sometimes don't always tell all the story. This brochure is true to form and doesn't tell the whole story, it is clear when you get to Trump National that the brochure is an understatement. I have played a lot of fantastic golf courses in many beautiful locations and I am rarely speechless. You can ask the guys in my regular Saturday foursome. When I got to the course for the first time, I could only say “WOW!”
I turned onto Ocean Trails Drive, the driveway for the course, and the first thing you see and can't miss is the driving range. Driving ranges are normally hidden or are in a location on the course where the course designer had land leftover that could not be incorporated into the course design. Mr. Trump had a different idea, and positioned the driving range/practice facility in such a way that it would be the first thing the golfer saw. It is the “preface” to the course, instead of the ”index”. Over 400 yards from the front to the rear, the back of the range (the grass is lush, green and well manicured with target greens placed at different distances) drops off a bluff with a beach and the ocean below. Quite an introduction to a golfing paradise.
Driving further along toward the clubhouse I must admit that I felt a little uncomfortable and intimidated, perhaps influenced by that overpowering “Trump Mystique”. I pulled up to the massive 45,000 square foot Spanish style clubhouse to drop off my clubs and check in. The attendant came up after I had taken my clubs out of my car and very warmly said “How may I serve you today, sir?” It was genuine, and not the required forced response. He took my clubs to be placed on my cart and directed me to where the carts would be and als explained that the carts were equipped with G.P.S. indicators. Suddenly, I began to feel at home, not at some stuffy “upscale, snooty” property. That relaxed comfortable atmosphere continued as I checked into the clubhouse. I felt like I was at my home golf course, and the staff made sure that I was made right at home. Everyone I came into contact with was cheery and helpful, very much concerned with creating a “ homey, relaxed and comfortable” environment putting the guest at ease.
After I checked in for my tee time, I had an appointment to speak with David Conforti, General Manager, PGA Pro and Director of Golf at Trump National. This was a new experience having never interviewed a General Manager, PGA Pro and Director of Golf. I had called Mr. Conforti on the phone to set up this course report but we played phone tag for a couple of days and I didn't talk to him directly, the outing was set up by his assistant. I was still to contact him when I got to the course. Am a good enough person to talk to the “General Manager, PGA Pro and Director of Golf at Trump National, Los Angeles”? It was part of my job, so I had to get over my feelings of mere mortality. Is Mr. Conforti ten feet tall and breathe fire? He is a Trump manager.
I asked for Mr. Conforti after I checked in for my tee time. He was expecting me, and I was told that he would be right out to see me. I sat down to wait in a comfortable brown easy chair in the pro shop. A woman came out and said to me “Mr Conforti will see you now” and I was led to the executive offices. Sitting behind a desk in a small office was Mr. Conforti, General Manager, PGA Pro and Director of Golf of Trump National, Los Angeles. He introduced himself and we exchanged firm handshakes. He was a very personable, and seemed to be just a regular guy. We chatted about the course and its history for my article and then warmly chatted about golf and family. After talking with Mr. Conforti, all feelings of apprehension and intimidation had evaporated, I finally felt comfortable and right at home. That feeling was the basis of customer service at Trump National, throughout my day there.
After my meeting with Mr. Conforti I went to the driving range to warm up for my round. After hitting balls, it was time to tee off. The course has five different sets of tees with the yardages varying from 7242 yards from the black tips to 4538 yards to the gold tees. I played the middle white tees. It plays to a par 71 with 4 par 5's and 5 par 3's. The course was remarkably playable and fun with many white sand bunkers and undulating greens. The lakes are strategically placed, but not punitive and what can you say about the waterfalls. There is something about driving behind a waterfall. I talked to the starter and he told me that most of the course plays longer than the yardage.
There are so many breathtaking holes on the course that there are no “signature” holes. But if there were, #1 would probably qualify. The hole is unique, in a golf course of unique holes. The green is surrounded by water on three sides with the firs of three waterfalls behind the green. I scorched a drive down the middle and had a short sand wedge to the green. Plop, into the water behind the green went my wedge shot. Actually, I wanted a closer look from the green at the waterfall. I took six and went to the next hole.
Holes #2 and #3 were beautiful holes with commanding views of the Pacific. Two was a straight par 5 and three was a short but challenging par 4. Number four is the first par three. Things went well from there.
The eighth hole is your second encounter with the course's lakes. It is a long par three with the wind most of the time in your face. The hole played 183 yards from the white tees to a back pin location. I amazed even myself when I hit a 4 iron to within ten feet of the pin. This was good, missing the short put for birdie was bad. Oh well, what a beautiful course!
Number ten is a short par four with placement of your tee shot critical. It has a triple fairway with two barrancas in which you have to carry, one on your first shot and the second on the second shot. The green overlooks the beach below. I liked the hole, but I took bogie 5.
I fell in love with the par threes on the course. Number 11 is a par 3 of 177 yard from the whites which requires a carry over three bunkers. I found the bunkers and blasted out of the powder sugar sand. Again, I carded a bogie.
The next par three is number 15. The green once a gain overlooks the ocean and is the smallest green on the course. Once you get over the small green, you also realize that the green is surrounded bu a bunker on three sides. Club selection is critical and if you over club, you mayas well have put a bikini on the ball and smeared sunscreen on it because it is going to carry to the beach below.
My conscious memory doesn't remember much about the 16th. All I seem to remember is the long collection bunker on the left side of the hole and the huge lake to the left. I hit a fade, I'm not supposed to go left. As I said, the 16th has been permanently erased from my memory, I vaguely remember plop and splash.
Seventeen is another par three, with the third waterfall behind it. Of course with a waterfall comes a lake. The length from the white tees showed 165 yards to an up pin. I took out a four iron and again hit it stiff. I flew the pin, but had a twenty foot putt coming back. I made the putt and celebrated with a birdie. After once again driving behind the falling water of the waterfall (quite impressive) it was on to the 18th.
After finishing the 17th the course assistant came over to have a chat. He was talking to us about the view from the elevated 18th tee. The hole plays 363 from the whites, but hes talked me into going up to the black tee and enjoying the view. The hole plays 512 yards from the black. Oh well, I can do it! What a beautiful view of the 18th hole and the ocean. I teed off and well, there goes my mulligan. I hit again, can I have a second mulligan? Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all, but I wouldn't have missed the view from the elevated tee. We talked about the 18th hole that was rebuilt and it is magnificent, with its solidly built green on a cliff above the beach. It is well bunkered and is a fitting end to the round at Trump National.
All of Mr. Trump's courses are private except for Trump National Los Angeles. The course is open for daily public play, and Mr. Trump want to give the average public golfer a taste of the Trump golf experience, quality and service, and more importantly bring that to the west coast. Winding through the course are public access trails which give access to the bluffs and the beaches below. There is even a public park below the clubhouse.
I would like to thank the staff at Trump National Los Angeles for their hospitality and how they made me feel right at home. This is very unusual for upscale golf courses, and I'm sure that golfers truly appreciate this. It has an upscale look with a hometown feel. I would especially like to appreciate David Conforti, General Manager, PGA Pro and Director of Golf at Trump National Golf Los Angeles for making my job a lot easier and showing me the courtesy and warm hospitality that I needed. He was of invaluable assistance.
One last thing, I would like to thank Donald Trump for having the vision to acquire Ocean Trails and to transform it into the crown jewel of California golf courses, having won many awards such as Southland Golf's Best Course In California and Golf Digest's Top 100 Golf Courses award. As far as Trump National Los Angeles is concerned Mr. Trump, I would like to say “Your'e Hired”! Thank you, Mr. Trump!