On this promontory, a veteran golf architect led a team to design a world-class course. Then Donald Trump bought the property.
By Steven Bopp, ASLA
Courtesy Dudek & Associates
The Palos Verdes peninsula, 25 miles south of downtown Los
Angeles, occupies a high, rocky promontory jutting out from the Pacific
coastline to command views of Santa Monica Bay, South Bay, and Catalina Island.
Today, this beautiful piece of coastline is home to Trump National Golf Club, a
new course many years (and millions of dollars) in the making that is notable
for the trials of its implementation, the natural beauty of its site, and the
ultimate excesses of its design.
The first community to be developed on the peninsula was
Palos Verdes Estates, a speculative real estate development funded by a group
of East Coast businessmen and planned in meticulous detail by the Olmsted
Brothers firm during the 1920s. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. clearly took a
personal interest in the project, setting aside a prime ocean-view lot for himself.
Although the full scope of the Olmsteds’ plan was not realized, their
picturesque design approach and the Mediterranean architectural styles they
advocated continue to influence the character of this upscale Pacific enclave.
While there are other golf courses on the peninsula,
including the Billy Bell and George Thomas-designed Palos Verdes Golf Club from
1924, none of them occupy a site as dramatic as the 150 acres of farmland on an
ocean bluff purchased by real estate developer (and avid golfer) Ed Zuckerman
in the 1950s. By the late 1980s, undeveloped, privately owned oceanfront
property in Los Angeles County had become an extremely rare and valuable
commodity, but with the minimum lot size now set at one acre, Zuckerman’s sons,
Ken and Robert, sought more land to make their father’s dream of a golf
The Zuckermans selected Pete Dye as the golf course
architect for Ocean Trails, as the development was originally named. Active in
design since the early 1960s, Dye became one of the most famous figures in golf
during the 1980s as a result of projects such as the TPC Stadium Course in
Florida and PGA West in California. Drawing from, but not seeking to replicate,
the classic links courses of Scotland, he used such features as deep, grass-faced
“pot bunkers” and railroad-tie bulkheads to create difficult and visually
exciting courses. Still active and widely sought after today in his early 80s,
Dye was near the pinnacle of his profession when the Zuckermans lured him to
Rancho Palos Verdes with the promise of a once-in-a-lifetime site.
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