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Peninsula News, Palos Verdes
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South Bay History: Donald Trump transforms Ocean Trails into Trump National Golf Club

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Editor’s note: This is the final story of a two-part look at history of Trump National Golf Course, formerly named Ocean Trails Golf Course. Read part one here

Everything changed for the troubled Ocean Trails Golf Course when real estate mogul and now-former President Donald Trump announced he was buying the 261-acre property on Aug. 19, 2002.

The course had yet to be restored to its full 18 holes after the June 1999 landslide that caved in the 18th fairway shortly before its planned grand opening. It had been operating as a 15-hole course since finally opening in November 2000.

Trump had been eyeing the distressed property for some time, and already had expressed interest in it to then-owner Ken Zuckerman in a 2001 meeting. He paid $27 million in November 2002 for the course and adjacent land to be used for luxury housing.

The course had yet to be restored to its full 18 holes after the June 1999 landslide that caved in the 18th fairway shortly before its planned grand opening. It had been operating as a 15-hole course since finally opening in November 2000.

Trump had been eyeing the distressed property for some time, and already had expressed interest in it to then-owner Ken Zuckerman in a 2001 meeting. He paid $27 million in November 2002 for the course and adjacent land to be used for luxury housing.

At the time, he announced plans to sink an additional $30 million into upgrading the course, with a planned completion date of late 2003. He also said something that alarmed the city of Rancho Palos Verdes: He couldn’t decide if he would keep the course, now renamed Trump National Golf Club, open to the public, or make it a private club.

It wouldn’t be the last time Trump and the city would clash. Any plans to make the course private became unworkable when the city pointed out that conditions of the 1997 agreement OKing the golf course clearly stated that it must be kept public. The City Council unanimously reaffirmed that shortly after the sale to Trump became final.

City leaders also took offense at the official name of the course, Trump National Golf Club of Los Angeles, feeling that it slighted Rancho Palos Verdes. They also weren’t crazy about renaming Ocean Trails Drive as Trump National Drive, but he won that years-long battle in 2012.

Trump worked with golf architect Tom Fazio to revamp the Pete Dye-designed course, making it longer and widening its fairways. He also added man-made waterfalls, including a large 30-footer; waterfalls are a prominent feature of many of his other golf courses.

Since water seepage had been cited as a possible cause of the landslide, city engineers expressed some concerns at first, but the structures were built in a way that prevented excess underground water runoff.

Repairs to the course took longer than expected, however, and had not yet been completed when Trump signed a deal with the LPGA in November 2004 to hold its Office Depot Championship tournament on the course in October 2005.

Trump had long eyed the course’s spectacular coastal location and ocean views as a natural site for pro tournaments, challenging other California courses such as Pebble Beach for the honors. He has often pointedly referred to it as “the most beautiful golf course in California.”

Crews rushed to prepare the course and Trump was able to stage the event. The LPGA tournament went off without a hitch, other than a weather delay that caused it to finish on Monday, Oct. 3, 2005. (South Korean golfer Hee-Won Han was the winner.)

Unfortunately for Trump, it would be the last professional tournament held at the course to date. Plans to hold the 2015 PGA Grand Slam of Golf men’s event there were scotched by the PGA following inflammatory anti-immigration remarks made by Trump during his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The tournament was canceled.

The course itself officially reopened in its restored 18-hole configuration on Jan. 20, 2006. Greens fees were $195 for weekday morning play and $300 for weekend mornings. Those fees have fluctuated over the years, but Trump National still is considered an expensive course to play.

After the course reopened, Trump’s battles with Rancho Palos Verdes only escalated. The city took issue when he erected a giant 70-foot flagpole on the property in 2008. It finally was officially approved in 2016.

He had to remove a row of tall ficus trees that he planted on the driving range in order to block the view of what he felt were “unsightly” homes in 2007, another battle that went on for years.

Trump feuded with the city over developing luxury homes on the property. Trump refuted the city’s concerns over land instability where the houses would be built, saying RPV was just denying him the use of his property and unfairly imposing restrictions on it that the city did not apply to other residents.

Trump also chafed at having to pay city permit fees for his various improvements at the course, again accusing city officials of singling him out for more stringent regulation.

In December 2008, Trump, having grown increasingly fed up with the city, finally sued the city, which had a $20 million annual operating budget at the time, for $100 million over his various grievances.

At the time, he claimed to have conducted a poll of local residents that showed that 88% of those queried supported him.

The suit wound through the courts for four years before finally being settled in September 2012 when both sides agreed to a confidential settlement.

Since then, Trump's tiffs with local authorities have been less frequent, though environmentalists and wildlife advocates were none too happy with the apparent use of a pellet gun to shoot and kill squirrels, rabbits and gophers on the golf course grounds in July 2017.

He indeed may have rescued a struggling golf project from bankruptcy, but Trump’s relationship with the city of Rancho Palos Verdes remains testy.

Note: On Aug. 30, 2020, the Daily Breeze reported that New York’s state attorney general was looking into an 11.5-acre conservation easement for the course’s driving range as part of an investigation into the possible inflation of asset values by the Trump Organization in order to receive more favorable loans and insurance.

Sources: Daily Breeze files; Los Angeles Times files; Palos Verdes Peninsula News files; “PGA cancels Grand Slam of Golf event at Trump course,” by Mark Hensch, The Hill website, Sept. 3, 2015; Trump National Golf Club website.

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