Trump National Golf Club -- The Donald's inclusive exercise on the California coast

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeffrey A. Rendall

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CA – “One thing I like to tell people about this layout is, it’s a very inclusive golf course,” remarked David Conforti, Director of Golf at Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles, commenting on the nature of golf at his club.

Inclusiveness is always a good thing when it comes to golf, because by its very meaning, no one is left out. But what Conforti meant by ‘inclusive’ at Trump National (LA) is that everyone can play it – all types of players, and it’s open to the public, too. “It is definitely a difficult golf course, don’t get me wrong – but there aren’t a ton of forced carries, and if you’re a senior golfer, a woman, a junior or a high handicapper, you’ll be able to choose a set of tees that eliminates all or nearly all of the forced carries.”

The par four 1st hole is the only one at Trump National (LA) that doesn't have an ocean view, so Donald Trump created a waterfall behind the green to make it distinctive.

To be fair, most golf pros would describe their golf courses the same way – they all claim that they’re fair, and they all brag about their courses being fun. But when you combine the experience of the golf course at Trump National together with the luxury associated with the Trump ‘brand,’ you’ve got a new way to think about golf in the Los Angeles area.

Just the name ‘Trump’ exudes elegance and quality – and if you throw in ‘inclusiveness,’ you’ve certainly got a winning ticket.

The Trump National (LA) story is as unique as its owner. Conforti lays the groundwork: “This property used to be known as Ocean Trails golf course (designed by Pete Dye), which was built in the late 90’s. Before it was technically open, in June of 1999, the eighteenth hole slid – not necessarily into the ocean, but towards it. They then tried for two-plus years to operate the golf course as a fifteen-hole course.”

The par three 15th hole's green isn't the largest of targets - and if you miss the green by much in any direction, you could be in for a big number.

It may sound strange to hear of an entire golf hole ‘sliding,’ but if you’re familiar with the California coastline, you know that anything’s possible. It’s very understandable to want to put golf next to the ocean (can you say Pebble Beach?), yet it’s not the easiest thing in the world from an engineering standpoint – there’re a lot of geological factors working against you.

Ocean Trails was ultimately unsuccessful in trying to operate its patchwork golf course, and declared bankruptcy.

Donald Trump stepped in (in 2002) and bought the 583-acres of California coast for a steal, so to speak -- $27 million – which of course included the Pete Dye layout. But Trump also knew it would take a huge investment to repair the 18th hole and make the course viable once again.

The par four 5th is the first of three par fours over 500 yards from the back tees - quite a lot of California coastline between you and the cup in each instance.

$64 million later, the eighteenth hole was finished, perhaps becoming the world’s most expensive golf hole. From a technical standpoint, they put in ‘shear pin’ concrete pilings 150 feet down into the earth to stabilize the ground, then layered it with synthetic and natural rock – something akin to geologic layers that formed just as Mother Nature would’ve done it.

Sounds like a civil engineer’s dream project.

Trump wasn’t satisfied with merely fixing the eighteenth hole, however – he decided to have the course completely redone, and he’d do the design work himself. As is widely known, Trump is a life-long golf nut and low single-digit handicapper, and with his legendary thirst for quality and attention to detail, he probably figured there’d be nobody better than himself to do the creative work.

The monster par five 14th hole (615-yards from the back tees) requires precision and length from tee to green - and is certainly one of Trump's toughest tests.

Besides, that way, there wouldn’t be anybody to say ‘you’re fired’ to if something didn’t go right at any stage of the reconstruction.

According to Conforti, Trump lengthened the course from 6,500 yards (par 72) to a 7,300 yard par-71 – essentially designing the course so that it could challenge everyone, including the pros. He changed the greens complexes, added two ‘signature’ waterfalls and altered the bunkering to feature ‘flash’ sand faces – and put in Augusta white crushed marble sand to make the traps stand out.

Both of the waterfalls came with a hefty $2.5 million price tag – but there really isn’t anything like them on any other course I’ve ever seen. Other additions included the driving range and practice facilities (including a huge practice green) and substantial changes and improvements to the clubhouse. $250 million later, Trump National (LA) became the most expensive golf course ever built.

The par four 9th hole is one heck of a difficult test to close out the front nine.

The club officially opened in January of 2006 (it actually hosted an LPGA event in October of 2005, prior to opening), and has been at the forefront of LA area golf buzz ever since.

The eventual goal is to have Trump National (LA) be known as the west coast’s top golf course – which is a lofty ambition worthy of the Trump brand, considering the golf courses already residing there (including the aforementioned Pebble Beach). But when it comes to Trump, second best simply won’t do – and he won’t rest until he reaches his goals.

One of the many areas where Trump is proud of his signature golf design is in its environmental sensitivity. Again, Conforti expands on what was done to ensure a ‘friendly’ environmental player: “Mr. Trump is a big fan of the environment, so he wanted to make sure this facility complied with (and in many cases, exceeded) all of the mandates for sensitivity laid out by the California Coastal Commission – which of course, required that we leave a good portion of the land set aside as natural areas.”

The par four 10th hole is so close to the ocean you can hear the waves crashing down below.

Conforti continues, “One thing we’re particularly proud of is the protection of an endangered species of bird that is native to this area, the Gnatcatcher. When this development was finished, there was only one observed pair here on the property – and now we have twenty-seven of them, which is obviously a significant increase.”

Part of the Trump program to protect the Gnatcatcher involves trapping Cowbirds (their primary predator) to ensure that the endangered species not only survives, but flourishes.

Protecting the wildlife isn’t the only way the ‘environment’ was enhanced by Trump. A five-acre park was added between the clubhouse and the ocean that’s open to the public, and an additional five miles of walking trails (also open to the public) were built on property. It’s not only good PR for the Trump golf brand, but also provides another venue for members of the non-golfing public to come and enjoy the facilities (and spend money) – and of course, serve as a tremendous place to hold weddings or special events.

Greenside at the par three 4th hole, you'll get an idea of the beautiful ocean views you get throughout the golf course at Trump National (LA).

Trump didn’t grow rich by being a slouch in the marketing department – he knows his stuff.

The Donald’s role at Trump National (LA) also didn’t end with the completed golf course. Conforti says the club is constantly evolving because the owner simply is never satisfied – a relentless drive for perfection that cannot be tamed: “Every time he comes out, we’re always talking about how we can make the experience better.”

A meeting between Trump and Conforti one day out on the par four first hole demonstrates Trump’s drive for detail. “Our first hole is noteworthy as the only hole on the course where you’re actually moving away from the ocean, so you can’t see the water unless you turn around,” Conforti explained. “So Trump put in the signature waterfall in back of the green to make it as memorable as the others – and one day we were out looking at the course and he said to me, ‘how can we make that better?’ I thought he was talking about the entire first hole, but he was really talking about the waterfall itself.”

The par three 17th hole contains Trump National's (LA) second waterfall - a water feature that you'll certainly remember from your visit.

Apparently Trump wasn’t satisfied with the fullness of the water flow of the waterfall, so they spent quite a while discussing how the water’s path could be altered to give more body to the flow. Conforti says that’s a small example of the type of quality control that goes on at Trump National (LA), and it shows up in every instance, from the moment you’re greeted at the curb, to the conditioning of the course, to the quality of the food at the turn.

Because of the luxury involved in the Trump brand, you might be expecting some rather oversized playing areas and exaggerated playability to enhance the guests’ enjoyment – but in this sense, the Donald requires you to be able to play the game well to score at his golf course.

As noted before, all players can play it – but the layout is certainly no pushover for those looking for a fight. “I think it’s very visually intimidating for first-timers, but once you’ve played it a few times and know where the best angles to play from are, you’ll find that’s it’s actually very generous (in the spatial sense) and playable,” Conforti said.

From the back sets of tees, the par three 8th hole is all carry - and it's usually into the wind as well.

He continues, “You can never really relax, but some shots are less challenging than others. We have three and a half holes on the ocean. We’ve got lakes coming into play on five holes. And we’ve got bunkers, some of which are quite huge – those are the challenges that speak for themselves.”

We certainly felt intimidated from the looks of the par three eighth hole – which even from the blue tees measures 206-yards with a full water carry. Add the fact that you’re usually firing into the prevailing wind blowing off the ocean, and it’s all you can handle no matter how many times you try it.

Thankfully, they’re not all like that. Conforti cited the par four ninth hole as an example of how a little experience will help you play better the second time around. From the tee you’ll see a large bunker guarding what would appear to be a fairly narrow fairway opening – and a natural area to the right. The best play is to go over the bunker, which is easy to carry from every set of tees except the tips. Finding the right part of the fairway will definitely give you a more manageable shot into the green.

Old Glory oversees the closing hole, the par four 18th.

Another aspect of the Trump National (LA) ‘intimidation’ factor is the bunkering, which is prevalent and therefore more than a mere scare tactic. Conforti said Trump wanted his bunkers to ‘show up’ to provide a contrast in colors between the beautiful lush green fairways, the deep blue ocean – and with the bunkers, there’s the starkly white sand.

Don’t worry – if you’re in one of them, the quality of sand will help you get out. “Our bunkers are meant to be penalties, yes, but the balls seldom plug in them, and our sand is a good, consistent surface to play from. I know that when I go to a golf course, I not only would rather play out of bunkers with that kind of sand, but I also know that I’m at a really nice place if it’s got bunker sand of that quality and appearance.”

The course is terraced to take advantage of the ocean views – and as noted above, the first hole is the only one that plays with your back to the water. The back nine is where you’ll play closest to the water, highlighted by the par four tenth hole, which is close enough to the sea that you can hear the waves crashing down below -- and its bunker pattern is so distinctive that you can easily pick it out after taking off from LAX. How’s that for a memorable golf hole?

The closing hole also leaves an impression, and for more than its notable history and record dollar amount involved with rebuilding it. From the tee, it’s quite a view, with bunkers appearing to be everywhere – but the two-tiered fairway is actually quite wide with a lot of room both right and left. The second shot is slightly uphill to a green that again appears to be completely surrounded by bunkers – but is actually an inviting target once you’re familiar with it.

And there’s also the property’s large American flag blowing proudly above the hole in the background.

One aspect of playing at Trump National (LA) that cannot be ignored is the price – it’s one of the most expensive public access courses in America, with a $275 greens fee for premium times. You’ll certainly be bathed in the Trump experience when you play there, but you’ll pay good money for the privilege.

We’ll leave the final words to Conforti, on what he’d like you to leave with after visiting Trump National (LA): “We’d like our players to get a taste, literally and figuratively of the world of Donald J. Trump – and that this club just didn’t meet their expectations of the Trump brand, but exceeded it, and furthered it. We want them to have a golfing experience unlike any other, that they experienced a golf course brimming with character, that is wonderfully fun and challenging, and that is as visually stunning as any golf course on the planet.”

That’s about as all-inclusive as you can get.




Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles
One Ocean Trails Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes, California 90275

Main Line: (310) 265-5000; Fax: (310) 265-5522
Pro Shop: (310) 303-3240


Course Designer: Donald J. Trump
Director of Golf: David Conforti, PGA


Black               7311
Blue                 6640
White              6180
Yellow              5433
Green              4770


Monday – Sunday:

Daily Fee: $275
Midday Rate: $215
Afternoon Rate: $160
Sunset Rate* $80

Rates DO NOT INCLUDE Rancho Palos Verdes City Tax.

Greens fees include GPS equipped golf-car, practice balls, valet parking, and locker room services. Times for rate categories vary depending on time of year. Golf outing rates will vary. Junior and replay rates available.

*Sunset Rate commences approximately 2 1/2 hours prior to sunset.

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