Trump National Golf Club – Old Course at Bedminster

  • 7,721 yards, 155 slope from the Black tees
  • 7,249 yards, 144 slope from the Gold tees
  • 6,647 yards, 141 slope from the Blues
  • 6,131 yards, 132 slope from the White tees

Bedminster, New Jersey is home to Trump National Golf Club, one of the flagship properties of the the Trump portfolio. The club at Bedminster sports two courses; the Old and the New. The Old was designed by Tom Fazio and opened for play in 2004. It hosted the Women’s U.S. Open in 2017 and was scheduled to host this year’s PGA Championship before the PGA ultimately switched venues. Indeed, the course was intended as a major tournament venue and has been groomed as such. Bedminster Old is considered one of the better golf courses within the portfolio.

Trump is a polarizing figure nowadays but this is a golf site, not a political one, and accordingly this review is about the course and club instead of any type of political statement or an indication of my political leanings. Evaluating as complete spectrum of golf courses as possible is what the site is for. Bedminster is a golf club like the rest of them and I was graciously invited to play on one of those crisp Sundays relaxed in mature autumn. Like any review or round, I’m interested in the club, the course and its design, separate and apart from who owns it, which is what the focus was here. It is worth examining, however, Trump’s golf venture, where he settled in to a business model of taking over courses that could use help and transforming them to some extent into more stability. Some of these include Trump National Los Angeles, which was previously Ocean Trails, a Pete Dye designed course on fairly geologically volatile land where a substantial section of the coast line, including the entire Eighteenth hole, fell into the ocean. The course closed and remained barren until Trump bought the course, fashioned another Eighteenth hole amidst other changes and the club has remained in operation ever since. Trump Philadelphia used to be Pine Hill and had resorted to a semi-private model despite the uneasiness of membership. Trump purchased the club and imparted some sorely needed improvements. Doral is another, where he hired Gil Hanse for a renovation. There are original designed courses as well such as Bedminster, Ferry Point and Trump International. In all, there are nineteen courses worldwide that comprise the portfolio.

Bedminster Old is set on sprawling countryside that occasionally rises and falls. There are forced carries and penal elements throughout that are well defined. Most of the greens are elevated with pronounced uphill climbs, yet there are options to get there, mainly with Cape-style risk reward approaches that have you wager how much you can carry. There is plenty of room within which to maneuver and recover out of rough or bunkers from wayward shots is possible, yet the challenge here is evident. Some times there is no option but to carry the ravine or avoid the water. There is variety in presentation of the holes and how best to play them. I found the tee shots and greens the most enjoyable. It is a driver’s course but the width makes it seem a lot more inviting than it is while the greens were very well varied with plenty of run off areas and contours to facilitate an array of options about them.

The grandiose and decadent facilities are impressive and a calling card of Trump properties. He views golf as an aspirational game and the club is consistent with an upscale standard. The beauty of the surrounds and friendliness of the staff add to that type of experience. The Old, however, contrasts a bit from that ambience and was smartly understated. The quiet expanse loops around the hills and is simplistic in its presentation, yet with plenty of challenge in how the ridge lines and tilt of the hills and configuration of fairway to green are all incorporated. A herd of goats sauntered around as I pondered my approach at the Fifteenth, the only gallery in sight was them and my playing partner. The pastoral background was prevalent at that moment, as well as several others throughout the round, frequently awakened by the challenging shots the course strongly suggests you try and pull off.

There was a line to get in through the gates. After a few minutes, a Secret Service type was at my car window, asking for my I.D. After that seemed to check out, he told me that Trump was on the property and there may be a delay driving in since he was on the course. And sure enough, as I was finally able to drive up to the clubhouse, a flurry of golf carts and people were congregated around one of the tees. A large figure in a bright red top and hat was teeing off, that unmistakable hair. After getting changed in the locker room, with its adorned gold and marble, we pulled away from the clubhouse and that is when the serenity of the countryside took over. The driving range in its own leafy area with an indoor practice facility next to it, we finally arrived at the First tee. Still in fine form yet knowing these Fall days would start fading and becoming fewer and far between, the time had come for well played golf. The ball boomed out into the fairway.

The First is a 483 par 5 (from the White tees). The fairway cants from left to right and bunkers line the left side while the right side falls off further away from the short grass. As will become a pattern, the fairway for the tee shot tends to invite while the rest of the hole makes you get down to business. Such is the case here, where the fairway narrows after the bunkers, as well as a slight turn to the left. Now climbing uphill to the green, bunkers gather on both sides short of the green yet past those, the green is deep and allowed to veer and slope as it may free of hazards.

The First
Moving up the fairway
Looking back and to the left towards the clubhouse
Approach shot territory, from the right
Approach from left

The Second is a 328 yard par 4. A forced carry tee shot, elevated, is a bit more focused than the First yet the cant is the same; left to right. More large bunkers await on the right side, which essentially line that whole side. The green hides behind those right bunkers, which sets up the hole fairly well. A tee shot to the right gets you close to the green but those bunkers become more of an issue while those moving away from them will be further away from the green and need to deal with more of a downhill lie.

The Second
Off to the right, a look at the “bunker pools”

The Third is a 410 yard par 4. Crossing the entrance road for a few holes, a forced carry tee shot greets us yet again, this time the fairway is uphill and turning to the left. Bunkers are on the left side of the ridge that the fairway follows, which means the golfer must figure out how much of that left side he can take on from the tee to reach the fairway. You can also flair it almost straight right and still remain inbounds, just don’t ask how I know….. After the tee shot, the fairway moves straight uphill to the green and is deep and narrow. Bunkers are spaced out and on both sides leading up to the green as well.

The Third
Approach shot territory
A bit closer
Looking back

The Fourth is a 143 yard par 3. A forced carry over water, the bunker flush with the green on the left side is almost more troublesome than the water. It forces the golfer to consider hedging to the right, yet too far to the right gets caught up with a slope that moves the ball down and away from the green and a recovery on a tight lie. Still, ending up in that bunker could leave you short sided and anything but the most surgical shot out of it could avalanche that good old scorecard.

The Fourth
The green

The Fifth is a 384 yard par 4. A note here about the routing. Fazio did not simply loop about the property or go out and in; he seems to cover the land in a very specific manner to get an intended sequence together. While there’s plenty of property, he is using it exactly how he wants. Running up hills or across them and confronting the ponds and creeks as he pleases. I sense he was aiming for a good amount of variety in how the hills and contours came in to the round.

Here, the hole is uphill from the get-go, with both sides of the fairway falling off below; the right side with bunkers and the left with a good deal of rough. The fairway narrows as we progress then ultimately turns left to the green. Bunkers are on the hillside before the green, so those with a longer approach will need to consider whether their line into the green is healthy enough to carry them. In fact, most approaches will need to confront those bunkers to some extent. The green is sunken from the fairway, so those balls moving in from the entry point will gain some steam. I enjoyed this hole and how it set up the approach with those bunkers and angles in.

The Fifth
Moving up the fairway, the green off to the left
The left side before the green

The Sixth is a 351 yard par 4. A downhill par 4 with the green hanging off to the right, surrounded by water. Accounting for the downhill yet staying in the fairway are more important than it seems from the tee. The left side leaves you with a longer carry to the green out of the rough while the right side falls off into one of the bunkers, or the rough, at which point you’ll need to carry the water to reach the green. A long straight drive is rewarded, however, with a nice short wedge into the green.

The Sixth
The green

The Seventh is a 118 yard par 3. The water isn’t done with us yet and essentially must be carried to reach the green. The tee is elevated and the green is quite large, so there’s plenty of room to play with to avoid the water; just don’t leave yourself with a chip towards the water, as the green moves towards it at a good click.

The Seventh
The drop off on the left

The Eighth is a 440 yard par 5. A lot going on here but the golfer doesn’t know much sitting at the tee, where the fairway ramps up in front of him and blocks the rest of the hole out of sight. Hitting it out some to the right of the bunkers is fine, which will bound over the ridge for a sound second shot. The hole then opens up. The green is on top of the hill while the fairway climbs and sweeps to the right. That same temptation we’ve seen is now punctuated here; how much is the golfer willing or able to carry to reach the green from the fairway. If the golfer falls short here, the consequential bunker shot will be fairly steep and blind. As we’ve also seen, the green complex is large so there’s a lot of room to play with once you reach the top of the hill. It’s indeed challenging, but accomplishes that without being penal, or without the golfer risking losing strokes. Each shot has a measure of recovery and this is one of the ways the golfer must think of his shots here.

The Eighth
Looking back from the green

The Ninth is a 384 yard par 4. The flag in the background orients us as to where we are on the property and are returning to the clubhouse area. The tee shot is to another ridge where the fairway disappears to the other side. After the bunkers on the right, the fairway narrow leading up to the green which is likewise narrow and deep. It looks like a simple hole to play but is not. I think it may be the narrower fairway, which means it’s more likely that the approach will be from the rough or other unsavory lies. The clubhouse is fairly close to the right, but it’s impossible to tell who is or who isn’t watching. I imagined a full crowd watching my every shot intensely, laughing and ridiculing each miscue. I need to work on my mental game.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory

The front nine featured some solid par 4’s and 5’s that use the terrain nicely while the par 3’s were decent only. Different angles into the green with tee positions could help in that regard, especially with the larger greens each par 3 has. I would rank them 8, 5, 1, 3, 6, 2, 9, 4, 7.

The back nine starts with the 358 yard par 4 Tenth. One of my favorite tee shots of the round, the terrain dips down from the fairway and all that’s left is the big blue sky illuminating the assorted conifers in the distance. The fairway is straight out but simply doesn’t allow you to see where the ball ends up. The green is tucked off to the right and there’s a large bunker set out to the right that stretches up to the green. Those going for the pin will need to take on that bunker while other may use the left side a little more coyly. While there’s lot of opportunity for recovery around the green, there’s not a whole lot of margin to miss on the approach. This is an example of the understated challenge here, just under the surface.

The Tenth
Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 320 yard par 4. A shorter par 4 with a forced carry over a slight ravine that climbs up and to the left. This hole works in the opposite of what we’ve seen thus far, as the tee shot is the more demanding while the hole seems to open up after that to a spacious green at the top of the hill. The green runs off here and there and there’s nothing on that hill to keep the shots, so a bit of planning is in order to make sure the ball runs out of steam at the right time. It’s a great green complex.

The Eleventh
Moving up the fairway
Looking back

The Twelfth is a 350 yard par 4. Forced carry tee shots are routine here and there is one here as well, to an uphill fairway that climbs to the green. Bunkers are on either side but more focused on the right, then a larger one frames the green on the left. Short grass collections areas slope off to the right opposite the bunker while the green moves back to front and from center to the sides. A tricky par 4 consistent with the theme here in being tougher than it looks.

The Twelfth
Approach shot territory, from the right
Looking back

The Thirteenth is a 337 yard par 4. A forced carry over water which then turns left to the green. Bunkers and trees are on the outside of the turn to force the golfer more towards the center and inside of the turn while less than driver is with considering. The left side of the green is in view but a lot of it hides behind the hillside on the right. The immediate left is a tree line that essentially is jail while the right side comprises a hillside of rough. Accuracy is at a premium on both shots here and if you’re going to miss, miss right.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 160 yard par 3. A forced carry tee shot to a wide green with bunkers front left and high right. Left and long left and the two places to avoid here while the high right bunker makes for a very tough recovery. There’s a lot of green to work with yet its interior rumples will make judging its lines a worthy exercise.

The Fourteenth
From the new set of tees, with a much different angle

The Fifteenth is a 510 yard par 5. We transition from one part of the property to the other, marked by passing by the clubhouse on the left. The hole dog legs left while the tee shot is uphill and its landing will be blind. There’s no other way to put it; there’s a shit ton of bunkers on this hole covering a large amount of surface area along its sides. The fairway is also pretty narrow. It’s actually amazing I didn’t end up in any. A herd of goats were relaxing over on the left side of the hole and I could swear one of them told me to stay short at the green and to try the sliders after the round. The green is a click to the right of the fairway, which is deep. Bunkers are at either side yet there is some room away from them short, just as the goat foretold. Playing the hole, I was struck with how many ways it could be played and its openness, not even noticing the bunkers. Perhaps that’s the intended effect within the theme; its challenge lies underneath, not readily apparent at first glance. Ignorance is bliss I suppose as I walked away with par and a smile on my face.

The Fifteenth
Moving up the fairway
We have goats
This one actually gave me a pretty good yardage
Approach shot territory
The green

The Sixteenth is a 150 yard par 3. A forced carry over water to a shallow yet wide green with a bunker at the rear. Wind can become substantial in this unprotected part of the property as well. The green moves towards the water, quickly.

Off in the distance to the right, a calvary of golf carts made its way down the Eighteenth fairway. A couple of the people from this group would peel off from the carts, hit their shot, then get back in. Unmistakably, one of these was Trump, in bright red, a lot taller than I presumed, hit his approach from the fairway. I could swear he then sat and watched as I chipped to the pin from the right side. It was a weak effort that stopped well short of the hole. So much for performing under pressure. I was almost expecting for him to yell, “you’re fired!”, which would have been fitting considering the effort. In my defense, I was concerned a stronger chip would have ran into the water so was o.k. leaving a little work with the putter. Bogeys are always welcome in my book.

The Sixteenth
Looking back

The Seventeenth is a 403 yard par 4. The visuals off the tee are a little different from prior holes, as the entire playing field is in view. The water on the right and bunkers left give the golfer pause from the tee as the fairway scooches to the left around the water. The fairway is open while bunkers surround the green complex. There are various places to plot each shot in avoiding the hazards on the way to the uphill green which levels off towards the rear right.

The Seventeenth
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Eighteenth is a 502 yard par 5. We turn around and head back to the clubhouse for the final foray. Water is just after the tee but only in play for topped shots while a ridge and a bunker on each side are all that’s in view from the tee. There is width leading to the green but the fairway remains slender. Initially bending to the left before widening a bit in front of the green and next to the water, that slenderness compels the golfer to use that slight widening near the water for the approach, which is exactly where Trump hit his approach. It’s almost as if he’s familiar with the course. The green is raised and off to the right of the fairway so that the water guards its front. The further right the pin is, the more risk the golfer must take on over the water to get close to it while the more conservative players can ramp up the left side. It’s a stiff closer.

The Eighteenth
Approach shot territory
Another look

The back nine starts off a little playful with a variety of play until getting down to business and tightening up at the Fifteenth through the closing. The par 4’s stood out to me the most but the similarities and differences between the par 5’s were interesting. Both were similar in how they ran to the green and had bunkers interspersed on either side but the green at the Fifteenth was a little more versatile while that at the Eighteenth was more direct in challenging the approach. I would rank them 11, 10, 12, 13, 17, 15, 18, 14, 16.

Generally, Bedminster Old is an understated challenge in a relaxing countryside setting. The terrain does well to keep the round varied while the visuals make the corridors of play seem easygoing but further examination starts to show it has more than enough teeth. The opportunity for recovery is usually there unless the shot is egregiously poor but the degree of difficulty with the recoveries varies, which of course is part of the course’s character one needs to learn over time. The configuration of the greens running perpendicular and beside the fairway with a hazard out front setting up a risk reward approach is done a number of ways so as it never feels redundant. The par 3’s were fairly singular, however, and fell short of the standard the rest of the course maintains. In all, I found it to be a pleasing layout in a more traditional presentation where the degree of challenge has been well thought out and at times hidden from first glance.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The clubhouse facilities are first class, which Trump frequently used for assorted presidential events and meetings when he was in office. As mentioned above, there is an aspirational decadent grandeur feel to the facilities at each of the properties I have visited. That is certainly the case here among the scenic and well kept grounds.

Practice area: Outdoor range and short game area, also a comprehensive indoor practice facility. A number of putting greens.

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