American property tycoon Donald Trump wants to build the latest addition to his string of top-end golf courses in Scotland. Trump has bought a large tract of linksland at Menie, north of Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland, and plans to build two championship quality golf courses, a five star hotel, a golf academy and a residential element on the site.
Trump's interest in the site at Menie Links, near Balmedie, has long been rumoured. Local residents claim to have been contacted either by Menie Estate owner Tom Griffin or by anonymous speculative buyers asking if they would consider selling their homes, often within a few weeks. In some cases, the caller claimed to have seen the house while passing by.
The Trump organisation intends to submit a planning application in May, with construction possibly starting in the autumn for an opening in 2008. But Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has voiced concerns about the possible ecological impact of proposals for a double golf course and resort. An SNH spokeswoman said: "The development could have a significant effect on the geological and biological features of this area of special scientific interest. There may also be European protected species there and we would recommend that anyone looking at the site takes these issues into account." SNH has been consulted several times since late 2005 about a potential golf course and resort, although the identity of the developer had not previously been revealed.
Trump, as is his style, is playing up the potential of the development. "We've built four of the best courses in the US, highly rated and very successful," he said. "It's our ambition to build the best course anywhere in Europe, and maybe the best course in the world, and I think we have the piece of land to do it.We think this should be a links course of the highest magnitude, and I'm willing to spend the money to make it the finest course of its kind anywhere in the world. I want to do one course in Europe – it's unlikely I'll do another, because it's far away – and I want to make it the best course."
Trump Golf Properties MD Ashley Cooper said that the development has been in the pipeline for some time. "The good news is that we have time to be patient.We don't need to do deals," he said. "It's taken us four or five years to find this piece of property, and if we hadn't found it we would have waited another four or five years. It's not a fluke. We were very lucky that the infrastructure around this site is there. The international airport is 15 minutes away; Aberdeen is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. It's close to things. It's an hour and a half to St Andrews, and it's a stopoff to the northern part of Scotland and Royal Dornoch." Cooper estimated the cost of the golf courses at £10 million (US$18 million), and suggested that the development as a whole might run to more than £300 million (US$500 million).
The courses will be billed as Donald Trump Signature Designs, but the golf architect Tom Fazio II, who has worked with Trump on several of his US developments, has been retained to do the design work. Cooper says his boss is a hands-on client, though, and expects him to take an active role in the design process. "When you're building a golf course it changes daily, especially a links golf course. The dunes move, the grasses move," he said. "He's got his hand in every development we've ever done. At Bedminster he made maybe six or seven major design changes. He'll be there for the groundbreaking and he'll be there many other times. The time he'll spend over there will be very meaningful and very helpful for the development."
The developer sees Trump International Golf Links Scotland, as the project is known, as a potential championship venue. "It's our aim to do this project and then have a major championship there if we can.We'll give them a course the likes of which they've never seen, and the rest is up to them," he said.
This article first appeared in issue 4 of Golf Course Architecture, published in April 2006.