Appeared in 2011 LINKS Premier Clubs
Amid the hills of central new Jersey, in the wealthy community of Bedminster, sits Trump National Golf Club. This bastion of sophistication and luxury, marked by touches like a grand clubhouse and ornate fountains, is a magnificent venue for golf and all that golf represents.
But every summer, hundreds of members gather for an overnight activity that has become one of the exclusive club’s most popular events. Families enjoy fishing, a scavenger hunt, a cookout, sing-alongs and a bonfire before spending the night in tents, as if they were at a remote campground instead of on a former private estate 40 miles west of Manhattan.
When members aren’t making s’mores at Trump National, they are enjoying its intended use as a top private golf club with 36 tournament-tested holes in warm, casual surroundings. “With the name Trump there’s a perception of a formal club,” says General Manager David Schutzenhofer. “It’s elegant but in a fun and relaxed environment.”
Trump National places an emphasis on interaction among members and their families. “Despite a challenging economy, Bedminster’s youthful membership—the average age is 42—is thriving,” says Membership Director Dana Garner. This inviting atmosphere influenced new member Jim Polley, who considered 10 other clubs before selecting Trump National.
“It’s so much more than just a golf club,” says Polley, who has two sons. “There’s so much to do that the family wants to be there the entire day. We get there early and leave late.”
Polley and his family can enjoy a large swim complex with a 25-meter pool, tennis, fitness center and equestrian facilities. And there are numerous junior programs, including summer camps, golf clinics and swim team, leaving Polley with plenty of time to play Trump National’s two courses, the Old and New, which have split the loyalties of the golf-savvy membership.
For many, the most difficult choice of the day takes place before the opening tee shot. “The hardest part is deciding which course to play,” says new member Jim DeBlasio.
Two generations of Fazios have left their design marks on the rolling 525-acre property that used to be carmaker John DeLorean’s private estate. In 2004 Tom Fazio built the 7,590-yard Old course, which features sweeping views that match the grandeur of the landscape. Five years later his nephew Tom Fazio II completed the 7,534-yard New course.
“I’ve never seen two courses at the same club look, feel and play so differently,” says Director of Golf Mickie Gallagher. What they have in common is an epic look and sense that are rare for courses in the crowded metropolitan New York area.
“You’re surrounded by 30 million people, but it feels like the Midwest or the upper Northeast,” says the elder Fazio. “The first time I saw the property I just knew that it had the potential to be a great course. There’s big wide scale to the property. I wanted to utilize that and fill it up.”
Occupying the core of the property, the Old course comes at players with a succession of strong holes—the par 4s on the front nine average 470 yards—that have expansive fairways, big bunker complexes and large greens. Perhaps the most difficult hole is the 488-yard 5th, which plays uphill to a well-guarded putting surface.
Fazio rewards those who make the climb with the scenic 438-yard 6th, descending to a peninsula green that is large at 15,000 square feet but plays much smaller because the edges slope toward the pond.
Water also comes into play on several other holes on the front and back nines, including the trio that forms the finishing stretch after the holes were resequenced in 2009 at the suggestion of the PGA Tour, which is considering the club as a potential Presidents Cup site. Prior to the change, the three holes had begun the back nine.
The most tantalizing hole is the 332-yard 17th, on which the second shot—to a diagonal green protected by water—is difficult even after a perfect drive. “You’re sitting there with a little sand wedge in your hand,” says Gallagher, “but I’ve seen some of our best players make big numbers.”
Hazards are also an important characteristic of the New course. Water comes into play on seven holes, most prominently at the 161-yard 14th, which has an island green.
But first-time visitors shouldn’t expect gimmicky golf when they tee it up on the New. Rather, the layout, which plays around the perimeter of the club’s original course, offers a top-of-the-line heathland-style experience. The area between the holes is occupied not by trees but by tall fescue.
“There are some holes that have the feel of Shinnecock Hills where you see six, seven holes at a time with all the fescue waving,” says Gallagher. “It’s just gorgeous, especially with the movement of the land.”
The finishing stretch is demanding, building to a crescendo at the 512-yard 18th. This long par 4 runs parallel to the 517-yard 9th, with which it shares a pond that comes into play on the right of the 9th and to the left of the finishing hole; making pars on these complementary challenges is a rewarding feat.
The courses are so evenly matched that when the U.S. Golf Association, located down the street, played the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior championships concurrently at the club, the committee alternated the courses for the match-play rounds.
While allegiances may be divided when it comes to the two golf courses, the club’s other facilities have garnered unanimous approbation from the membership. The elegant clubhouse occupies a 1939 Georgian Revival-style mansion, while DeLorean’s garage is now the golf professional shop.
The property’s former horse barn has been converted into accommodations: five cottages, ranging from two to four bedrooms, and 11 one-bedroom suites. While many members may enjoy spending the night in tents, there is no better way to experience Trump hospitality at its best.