ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND-- When Donald Trump built his first golf course in 1999, he had to create a masterpiece of hills, valleys, waterfalls and lakes from a forlorn patch of scrub — 300 very flat acres next to Palm Beach International Airport.
Trump's newest course, set to open July 10, is quite the opposite in terms of natural beauty: This 500 acres of land, on towering dunes along Scotland's North Sea, is so spectacular, even golf-course architect Martin Hawtree was overwhelmed when he saw it.
"It's a great canvas," Trump said in a short phone interview. (He had to leave us to take a call from Mitt Romney.)
He elaborated in a golf magazine: "I've taken the best piece of canvas and created the greatest painting of them all."
Sure, Trump's the king of hyperbole, but in the case of his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, he's got a point.
It's not even open yet, and Golf World magazine has rated it No. 8 in its Top 100 list of Great Britain's courses.
"There's a majesty and mystery about the site that has to be experienced," says Sarah Malone, executive vice president of Trump International Golf Links, Scotland. Trump hired Malone in 2008 after a local publication printed a story about him on one page and a story about Malone and the museum she ran, the Gordon Highlanders Museum, on the facing page.
"She managed to make a military museum sexy," Trump says.
Though Malone barely knew a bunker from a fairway, she did know something about this part of Northeast Scotland. Born and bred here and educated in the Scottish tradition of gentility-mixed-with-tenacity, Malone helps Trump navigate the often bumpy political landscape. (At the moment, Trump is battling the Scottish government over wind farms, which officials want to install in the North Sea, within view of his course.)
She came down to Palm Beach last year, spent a week at Mar-a-Lago — where she "half-expected Greta Garbo or Frank Sinatra to appear in the lounge," bought a Tory Burch black patent handbag on Worth Avenue and, most importantly, got a golf lesson from Gary Wiren, senior director of instruction for all of Trump's golf properties, at Trump International in West Palm Beach.
She picked a good teacher. Wiren, who lives in North Palm Beach, has taught golf in 29 countries. He occasionally gives Trump pointers — the tycoon's handicap is around a 4, the pro says — but he laughs when asked if he ever gives The Donald lessons.
"No, he gives lessons to us! And not about golf."
Like something out of ‘Lord of the Rings'
On a windy day in March, Malone met us for tea at her temporary on-site office, then traded her high heels for some wellies and hopped into an SUV to give us a tour of the course.
"I know this beachhead," she says. "I played on these dunes as a kid."
To a Florida kid, these dunes look like grass-covered mountains, as foreign as the lunar surface.
Malone points out some of the 10 million sprigs of grass, hand-sown by landscapers, to stabilize the dunes. And the winding pathways to the tees, all immaculately turfed.
When we walk up the hill to the 13th hole, a par 3 that weaves along the sea, she waits for the response she always gets: "Wow."
If you see the course early in the morning, when it is shrouded in fog,"it's an absolute marvel," says links superintendent John Bambury. "It's a mythical feeling, like it's something out of Lord of the Rings."
The first time Bambury stood on the daunting 18th tee, he thought: "My God Almighty, he has created the world's greatest golf course."
A new direction for Scottish golf
That 18th tee — a 595-yard par 5 — hugs the shoreline, and features 18 bunkers.
Trump says nobody, not even a power hitter like Bubba Watson, could hit the green in two shots if the wind is blowing heartily, as it often does.
Gary Wiren, who can still drive a tee shot 300-plus yards at age 76, will try this week.
He's taking two dozen golfers for a grand Scottish golf tour — with a stop at the Old Course in St. Andrews, then a swing an hour north to Aberdeen to try out his boss' newest gem.
"This is going to change the tourist direction in Scottish golf," Wiren predicts. "People will still go to the mecca — St. Andrews — but there is a northern core of great courses attracting the world's golfers, too, like Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay and now Trump's course as a highlight and the newbie that everyone wants to see."
You can play it, too, for $300 or so a round. This type of experience, at Trump's 12th and most talked-about course, comes with a price.
After all, as Trump says: "I enjoy golf. But I'm passionate about business."