Trump's challenge to the world's greatest golf courses

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump's Scottish golf course has opened at a cost of $150 million
  • American billionaire hailed it as the best in the world before the ribbon was cut
  • It faces stiff competition for the accolade from several other British links courses
  • Trump's project is also up against iconic contenders from the United States

Hailed as the "world's greatest golf course" by its owner before it had even opened, Trump International Links has a lot to live up to.

The statement would have been ridiculed by the golfing community had it not been made by a man who has pumped $150 million into his dream to date, with plans to spend over $1 billion by the time the controversial Scottish project is completed.

It has already bulldozed past environmentalists' concerns, but Donald Trump is reluctant to continue development due to a planned offshore wind farm.

The fact that some of the key names in European golf attended this month's opening -- surrounded by bagpipers and the miles of towering sand dunes along its Aberdeenshire coast site -- is testament to the power of his brand.

The American billionaire owns a dozen luxury golf resorts -- including Florida's faded Doral and its renowned "Blue Monster" course which he plans to renovate -- but can his UK venture be considered a contender for top spot so early on?

A tour of Trump International Links
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Blowing in the wind? Trump threatens to ditch $1B Scottish golf resort

Of course, criteria for judging the "greatest" vary from golfer to golfer, with emphasis ranging from degree of challenge to spectacular views or history.

For Trump International to be considered as one of the greats, it first has to establish itself as a venue among Scottish links courses. That will be no mean feat, with illustrious company including "the home of golf "St. Andrews and other current Open venues Muirfield, Turnberry, Royal Troon and Carnoustie.

Turnberry stands out as the most picturesque of those courses, while Muirfield hosts the world's oldest golf club and Carnoustie is often regarded as the toughest.

On the other side of the Irish Sea, there are the two outstanding links courses currently vying to host an Open; Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.

There's also hot competition south of the border in England, including the traditional highly-rated links of Royal St. George's and this year's Open venue, Royal Lytham and St. Annes. The latter has seen the great amateur golfer Bobby Jones in 1926 and flamboyant Spaniard Seve Ballesteros in 1979 and 1988 among its victors.

Trump International is starting on the back foot against its British rivals, but with broadcast cables already running beneath the course and a plan in place for several thousand spectators, it has a strong case to one day host major tournaments.

Perhaps a fairer match for the new course would be against eight-year-old Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, which runs along and around ridges on a secluded stretch of jagged coastline. It has already jumped up magazine rankings and attracted visitors from around the world with its spectacular views.

The edge that Trump International possesses is that it can be classed as links golf, which is favored by purists as the "true" setting for the game.

Acclaimed English golf architect Martin Hawtree has skilfully routed holes around and between the massive dunes, some measuring 80 feet in height. His family business has worked on course designs for a hundred years and put its hand to several British Open venues.

To get to the very top, Trump's new creation must surpass several private and exclusive courses in his home country, which have dominated magazine rankings for decades.

Cypress Point in California boasts some of the most dramatic holes in the world, playing over Pacific Ocean bays where seals bask on the rocks amid crashing waves.

The course was styled by Alister MacKenzie -- a renowned architect who also designed Augusta National, the lush and colorful Georgia setting for the annual Masters Tournament since 1934.

Most golfers can only dream of setting foot on these courses, along with Pine Valley in New Jersey, often considered the most perfect example of golf architecture on land that -- unlike the stunning natural beauty that awaits players at Trump International -- was previously unremarkable.

The notable exception to the top-ranked private clubs in the U.S. is Pebble Beach, the picturesque Californian coastal course which is a video-game favorite and open to the public. It's not cheap though, with a round costing $495 per person.

One venue that every other struggles to compete with is St. Andrews' Old Course, which is at the top of every golfer's bucket list. It might not be the most dramatic or challenging course but it will always be the home of the game, where hard wooden balls were thrashed around wasteland almost six hundred years ago.

Trump International cannot compete with the history of its Scottish neighbors and it won't echo the exclusivity and originality of some of its American cousins.

Unlike many of its iconic rivals, it has no "signature" hole, but is comprised of a series of stern but fair tests that will suit different players according to personal preference.

However, as it matures into its "championship course" billing with the backing of the professional game's organizers, it certainly has a fighting chance of one day becoming the most dramatic of tournament venues.

Which are your favorite golf courses? Have your say in the comments box below.