SOUTH AYRSHIRE, Scotland -- Touring the extravagant new interior of Trump Turnberry Resort, Scotland in July, I couldn't help but recall the words of Gary Jones.
I met Jones on my first trip to Turnberry in 2013. Back then, Turnberry was showcasing changes that ushered in the modern era to the iconic hotel that survived service during two World Wars. Oddities of the old interior were fixed. Everything was updated. Jones, a frequent visitor from Australia, wasn't happy.
"I was a bit disappointed," he said then. "It (the building) has lost a bit of character. My wife and other golfers like it, but I don't. I guess I'm old."
Jones' words about Turnberry still haunt me today. Will newcomers complain about the changes made to the historic Turnberry hotel under Donald Trump's watch? No. Will Trump's clients gripe? Never.
Do I mind? Hardly. I still worship the place as one of the cathedrals of golf. But there will be naysayers. That's just the nature of the beast with Trump. Wherever he goes, differences of opinion will follow.
Love him or hate him, Trump has been good to Scottish golf and great for Turnberry, which he purchased in 2014.
The money he's poured into renovating all aspects of Turnberry and building Trump International Golf Links from scratch has created two links good enough to host The Open. The reboot of Turnberry's Ailsa Course, thanks to renovation efforts by Martin Ebert, probably vaults the links even higher up the world rankings. It's ready to host The Open for the fifth time. The question now is when?
Trump Turnberry: The resort
It's hard to please all the Joneses out there. Some miss the old Turnberry with its squeaky floors and original "character." It felt more comfortable and authentic then.
The new Turnberry is a posh palace more in line with a luxury corporate hotel. Without the man in a kilt at the front door, the building could easily fit in anywhere in New England or California. Every carpet and crown molding and silver fork is as beautiful and shiny as ever, but Turnberry might have lost a little bit of its Scottish soul in the transition.
The re-imagined Turnberry greets everybody with Trump's trademark elaborate fountain in front of the hotel and again with a smaller version in front of the clubhouse down the hill. A massive Scottish flag atop a new 80-foot flagpole waves in the breeze above the 18th green of the Ailsa links, another signature look Trump incorporates at every club he owns.
Inside the front door, larger windows along the back wall accentuate the views of the shore. To the left is a separate bar and sitting area called the Grand Tea Lounge & Bar. Down the hall to the right is the new 1906 restaurant (named after the year the hotel was born). It serves breakfast and Italian fare for dinner. Some of the old restaurant space farther down has be re-purposed into the Donald J. Trump Ballroom, a grand 500-person meeting/wedding space that includes an addition built on the end of the hotel. Chandeliers hang throughout the building -- the most impressive being the 7-foot-long, 6-foot wide Swarovski crystal chandelier in a staircase.
All 103 renovated rooms feature king-sized mahogany beds with gold leaf details on the bedframes, Italian marble in the bathrooms and a 65-inch flat-screen TV on the wall. In 2013 I was fortunate to stay in the Tom Watson suite, one of four suites named for Turnberry's Open champions. It remains one of the most memorable stay-and-plays of my career.
Trump used the same motif he used in the hotel to create a two-bedroom luxury suite inside the famous lighthouse. The lighthouse suite, obviously, costs a little bit more than the average room: £3,500 and up compared to £389-plus.
Trump Turnberry: The golf
Even the crustiest of golf curmudgeons will have a hard time finding fault with the fantastic new Ailsa Course and Turnberry's other upgraded golf facilities.
There's a tasty menu in the clubhouse's new restaurant, The Duel in the Sun (named after the battle in the 1977 Open between Watson and Jack Nicklaus), and a cracking-good new pitch-n-putt course below the hotel that's free to any guest. The Kintyre Course is currently under Ebert's knife with a planned opening in 2017.
Ebert altered every hole on the Ailsa Course in one way or another. The 7,489-yard course went from having two par 5s and four par 3s, to four par 5s and five par 3s with par adding up to 71 for everyday play. The inspiring new eight-hole stretch from the fourth through the 11th holes outshines holes 4-10 at Pebble Beach Golf Links as the most magnificent run of coastal golf in the world. Ebert built three new fair and fun par 3s -- the sixth, ninth and 11th holes -- to best take advantage of the seaside cliffs.
The new spectacular path above the beach leading to the sixth hole rivals the soul-stirring walks at Old Head Golf Links in Ireland and the Straits Course at Whistling Straits at The American Club in Wisconsin for sheer exhilaration and thrill.
Turnberry Ailsa's new 248-yard ninth hole, once a par 4, leads directly to the lighthouse, where you're only allowed 10 minutes to linger at golf's most unique halfway house. The dramatic, new 10th hole -- stretched into a 565-yard par 5 -- traces the coastline to a green near the old 11th tees.
Even though the old 11th hole meant a lot to me -- I aced it in 2013 -- I acknowledge that the new 215-yard par 3 is significantly better. It provides one more shot along the rocky shore.
As any major championship venue inevitably does, the challenge grows as the round progresses. The three final finishing par 4s are all brutes that will decide history when The Open returns for a fifth time.
That's right. The R&A will bring the Open back to Turnberry, I'm certain of that. The question is: Will Trump still own it when they do?