The Trump International Golf Links Scotland can't seem to escape controversy.
Donald Trump's links in Scotland has been generating drama ever since the project was announced and eventually opened in 2012, from local protests to Trump's failed lawsuit over nearby wind farms. It is back in the news for the wrong seasons again.
The Guardian recently reported that documents show that Martin Hawtree's design has negatively impacted the surrounding dunes in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire. The paper reports:
"Scottish Natural Heritage, which has been under pressure for years to speak out on the issue, now acknowledges that serious damage has been done to the site of special scientific interest (SSSI) at Foveran Links on the Menie estate, north of Aberdeen, since the course opened in 2012, the documents show. As a result, Foveran’s SSSI status – given because of its unusual shifting sands and diverse plant life – now hangs in the balance. ... A decision to remove the scientific status of the links could affect the U.S. President’s recently announced plans to invest a further £150m in the resort."
This latest news could have serious repercussions not only for its future but the future of another high-profile links project, Coul Links, trying to move into the construction phase near Dornoch. Several days after the Trump news broke, it has been reported that the Scottish Ministers have extended their review period of Coul Links for essentially another month. The Highland Council has received more than 1,800 objections and more than 10,000 signatures opposing the Mike Keiser-led development within a similar sensitive environment.
Another links project currently under construction is steering clear of the nearby dunes protected by an SSI designation. Golf Course Architecture reports that the new Dumbarnie Links course at Lower Largo on the south coast of Fife hopes to open by 2020. Located on the 5,000-acre Balcarres Estate 10 miles from St. Andrews, the project by golf architect and former BBC TV analyst Clive Clark features 13 holes with views of the Firth of Forth.
Trump's original plans promised to create roughly 6,000 jobs by building a large five-star hotel, shops, a sports complex, two courses and residential and timeshare units. Trump did transform the original manor house onsite into the five-star MacLeod House & Hotel, but nothing else has materialized.
I visited in 2015 a few days after the grand opening of the new clubhouse, which is nice - albeit small compared to the grand vision for the rest of the place.
I came away impressed, like almost everyone does, but I certainly couldn't proclaim it the "World's Greatest Golf Course," which Trump did in its early days. I gave it four stars in my review on Golf Advisor.
I thought Hawtree did fine work creating playing corridors through the towering dunes, some of the largest in the world. The third is one of the great par 3s of Scotland as the waves and wind of the North Sea reveal themselves behind the green. The 281-yard seventh remains one of my favorite drivable 4s, but I do admit the pushed-up green is a bit extreme. During my round, there were too many divots in the collection areas to chip or putt effectively. I saw one player in my group volley his ball from one side to the other.
We've all seen pictures of the scenic elevated tee at No. 14 (pictured above), which cuts a diagonal path through the mountainous sand hills. The view going the other direction on the 18th hole is equally special, although I'm not a fan of a par 5 on a links with two ponds and more than 15 bunkers. That's out of character for what's supposed to be a natural links.
Which brings us back to something worth noting within this ongoing political and environmental battle. Natural dunes along the coast shift all the time, affecting plant and wildlife. Look no further than an hour down the road at Montrose, one of the world's oldest links. It has been impacted by erosion recently, most notably around the exposed 2nd tee box. In 2014, the Trump International Golf Links Ireland in Doonbeg, Ireland, had to be reshaped after a major storm. It's Mother Nature's way.
So did the efforts to shape and continually manicure Trump International Golf Links Scotland really alter the landscape of this sensitive eco-system or would it have happened regardless? It's a key question, one that could determine what eventually becomes of Trump International Golf Links Scotland.