DONALD Trump is in no rush to host his first Open Championship at Turnberry, insisting he wants to explore “seven or eight unbelievable opportunities” to change the Ailsa Course before the event returns to the Ayrshire resort.
Setting out the plans for the newest addition to his portfolio – he now owns six international hotels and 17 golf courses around the world – Trump revealed yesterday that his first “tweaks” will involve pretty significant alterations to the tenth and 11th holes.
At the tenth, a new tee will be put in even closer to the iconic lighthouse (set to become a halfway house) than the one built for the 2009 Open Championship, creating a carry over the rocks of 266 yards. “It is on the limit,” admitted the new owner, “but we know how far players hit it these days and they’ll have a helping wind!”
The green is also being moved there, across to where the 11th tee sits at the moment, albeit on a flatter piece of ground, to bring the rocks more into play with second shots. “Players will be faced with a real decision about what line to take,” added Trump, “and it will be a dramatic hole for spectators to watch.”
While the current 11th hole is featured in many of the promotional photographs used to showcase Turnberry in all its glory, Trump reckons his proposed change to that will create a feel similar to the likes of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. “It will be a classic across-the-bay par-3 with the green sitting in among the rocks,” he revealed.
In short, Trump is keen to exploit a rugged strip of coast as he attempts to take advantage of “an opportunity to make a great course even better”. Martin Ebert, the course designer handed that task, said “these changes are just two of seven unbelievable opportunities” and it was no surprise whatsoever to hear that Trump is itching to also put his stamp on the ninth.
With that lighthouse in a sentry-like position on the left-hand side, the drama there at present is only really generated by the back tee, the rest of the hole being poor in comparison.
“Gary Player, one of the truly great players – 18 majors if you include the seniors – used to stand there and ask, ‘why aren’t we hitting over there?’ ” observed Trump of the rocks between the tee and land close to the lighthouse.
“The ninth is one of the weakest holes on the Ailsa Course and I believe that could be the greatest par-3 anywhere in the world. I don’t think there would be anything better, whether at Pebble Beach or wherever.
“Many of the great players and the great architects have said exactly that. I’ve had architects calling me, asking if they could design the ninth hole, just the ninth hole!”
That change seems inevitable, but with two par-3s already on the front nine – the fourth and sixth – thought will probably have to be given to prevent that from increasing and, of course, reducing the par from 70.
The changes announced yesterday have been run past both Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, and Peter Unsworth, the R&A’s championship committee chairman. A similar protocol will be followed going forward as Turnberry waits for its turn to stage the Open Championship for a fifth time.
When might that be? The rota is set through until 2018 while Royal Portrush has been “invited” to host the 2019 event. It might be 2020 at the earliest, therefore, before Turnberry hosts its first Claret Jug joust since Tom Watson came agonisingly close to claiming his sixth victory at the age of 59 in 2009.
“Not at all,” replied Trump to being asked if he was disappointed that Portrush had been offered the slot Turnberry might have been expected to get due to courses other than St Andrews essentially working on a ten-year cycle these days.
“Work on the changes will start after next year’s Women’s British Open and we’d rather take time to get it so right,” he added.
Even in the early stages of Trump’s ownership, it is evident the stakes have already been upped in the hotel – and that’s before any major work has been carried out. Busy fairways yesterday illustrated that Turnberry is indeed the “attraction” that Trump talks about, but nonetheless he has promised Euan Grant, the golf courses & estates manager, an increased budget to improve course conditioning.
Is it just all a toy for Trump? Not according to son Eric, who will head the hotel renovation. “I’ve not seen the same twinkle in his eye as the one when he bought it,” he said. “He is so proud of this place and is going to have such fun with it. There is no person in the world that would make this place better.”