Originally created 11/27/02

The Donald does golf



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The leaders were about 20 minutes away from teeing off in the final round of the ADT Championship, and Donald Trump walked around as if he owned the place - which he does.

Trump International was his first golf project, the inevitable result of a billionaire real estate developer who is passionate about golf.

He stood behind Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb on the range, walked over to the putting green and watched Rachel Teske, worked the crowds and strolled down the middle of the first fairway, about 150 yards behind the final twosome.

"All my golf courses are U.S. Open courses in terms of quality," he said. "How do you like the course, by the way? Isn't it great?"

Trump International was only the first one.

His second course - Trump National - opened this year in Westchester County outside New York and has drawn comparisons to Winged Foot. Its signature hole, No. 13, has a 102-foot waterfall behind the green that pumps 5,000 gallons a minute.

Want even more water?

Trump recently bought Ocean Trails just south of Los Angeles, the golf course best known for its 18th hole sliding into the Pacific because of a busted sewer line.

"Those guys didn't know what they were doing," he said.

Trump knows a deal when he sees one. He's in for $27 million and plans to pump in $60 million to turn Ocean Trails into the Pebble Beach of southern California.

No, better than Pebble.

"They have six bad holes and six great holes," Trump says. "This will have 18 great holes because I have much more water. And I have the real ocean, instead of the bay."

Also under construction is another golf course in Bedminster, N.J., not far from the headquarters of the U.S. Golf Association.

Yes, the Donald digs golf.

The developer who created Trump towers and Trump casinos is now a mover-and-shaker in the golf course industry, and not just because he loves to play and has lowered his handicap to single digits.

"I love building great things," Trump said as he hustled around his golf course wearing a red cap and white shirt, presumably his answer to Augusta National's green jacket.

"I have the best buildings in Manhattan. I have the best casinos in New Jersey. I build a great product. I actually have more fun building courses than I do playing."

None comes cheaply.

The designer he hired to build Trump International was Jim Fazio, who had an inkling of what Trump wanted when he first sat down with him to discuss the project.

"All he said he wanted was a straight driveway up the hill to the clubhouse and a tough opening hole," Fazio said. "He wanted them to know on the first hole that they were on a very difficult golf course."

The Donald likes it tough.

He invited the LPGA Tour's top 30 players to his course for the first time last year in the ADT Championship, determined to protect par on his beloved course.

He was on the seventh tee when Webb's shot into the par 3 drifted right, bounced off a mound toward the water and was saved by a collar of rough.

The next morning, Trump had the slope mowed so tight that workers had to spray green paint to cover up the dirt. He also shaved the slope on the 18th hole in the middle of the tournament, which led to Sorenstam making triple bogey.

The Donald also wants it to be aesthetically pleasing, which is why he spent $6 million on the flora and manmade waterfall behind the third green.

"You can't have a great course unless it's hard," he said. "You can't have a great hole that isn't pretty. If you have a tough hole that's not a beauty, it's not a great hole."

Fazio had no trepidation about working for Trump.

He says the Donald came to West Palm Beach on the weekends as the course was being built, and brought friends to the course twice a day.

Money was no object.

"It was the most fun I've ever had doing a golf course because he didn't say anything about a budget," Fazio said. "I remember he had a group of friends from Palm Beach and we had the 11th hole all done, the only hole that doesn't really have anything.

"I told him we could run a creek down the side and he says, 'What will it cost?' I told him about $100,000. And he said, 'Go ahead."'

What will the Donald do with all his toys?

He prefers the courses be private, which is the case at Trump International and Trump National. But what good is it to have a golf course that not everyone can appreciate?

Trump invited the LPGA Tour into his home for its Tour Championship, extending the contract to a third year in 2003. It's a perfect fit for him, with only 30 players and 40,000 fans for the week.

He pampers the players off the course, too, making sure they have their own brand of golf balls on the practice range, giving them BMWs for courtesy cars, offering them lodging in his posh Mar-a-Lago Club.

The future of Ocean Trails is a little more clouded.

Trump would like to make that private - 300 members at $300,000 each comes out to $90 million - but there are deed restrictions that require Ocean Trails to be public. Changing that would require approval from the California Coastal Commission.

If he intends it to be the Pebble Beach of southern California, he might charge Pebble rates of $400 and up.

"As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter," Trump said. "It's such a great property. I do things because I like doing them. And they seem to make money afterward."

It still comes down to making a profit.

"He's not going to do a course if he's only going to make a dollar or two," Fazio said. "If it's not a prize, he won't go after it."