Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Donald Trump will not slip silently into town for this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He is the Donald, after all, so his jet will land Wednesday night and he will step to the tee Thursday, hair flapping in the wind, driver at the ready, bombast bursting out of his bag.
He had a hole-in-one at Spyglass Hill during his first AT&T in 1993. Did you hear?
He's building "the most expensive golf course in the history of the world. " Did you know?
His reality television show, "The Apprentice," is "Number 1" in the ratings (actually, the current incarnation is No. 18 season-to-date). Do you watch?
All those melodramatic moments of blurting out "You're fired!" bring a distinctive brand of pressure. Trump knows exactly which two words the gallery will unleash if his golf game abandons him on the Monterey Peninsula.
"Every time I miss a putt, they'll be saying it," Trump said.
His arrival at Pebble Beach also brings another nice touch, because Trump is finally nearing completion on his own oceanside golf course. He will call it Trump National Los Angeles -- no, the man does not lack self-esteem -- even though the property technically is in Rancho Palos Verdes.
The course, formerly known as Ocean Trails, gained some renown in 1999 when its 18th hole slid into the ocean. Trump bought the course out of bankruptcy court, poured gobs of money into redoing it and now eyes an April or May opening. The LPGA will play an event there starting Sept. 30, and Trump dreams of hosting a U.S. Open.
He also offered this memorable quote in the Los Angeles Times in June, saying Trump National Los Angeles "is better than Pebble Beach."
"It will be amazing," Trump said in a telephone interview from his New York City office. "Much like Pebble Beach, it's 2 miles along the ocean. ... When you have 2 miles along the Pacific, you can't do much better than that."
Asked about his "better than Pebble" boast, Trump demurred, clearly aware he was now speaking to a Northern California newspaper.
"It has some qualities that are awfully tough to beat," Trump said of his course. "But Pebble Beach is a very special place. ... Both courses have this thing called the ocean. The holes (at Trump National) will be much different, but it will be very hard, like Pebble."
When he bought Ocean Trails in 2002, Trump said, banks, insurance companies and developers had spent nearly $200 million on it. He has put $55 million more into the course, he said; Trump estimated the total price tag for the rebuilt 18th hole alone at $64 million.
His dalliance with golf stretches back to his college days in Philadelphia, where he picked up the game while attending Penn. Trump has whittled his handicap down to the "5-6-7 range," in between making billions of dollars in real estate and becoming the most omnipresent mogul/reality TV star in the land.
He owns four golf courses, all named after himself, and he seldom bypasses a chance to talk about the game. Of course, he lamented his infrequent chances to play in recent weeks, a dilemma no doubt complicated by his celebrated wedding to 34-year-old model Melania Knauss.
"I've always liked sports, I was a good baseball and football player when I was younger," Trump, 58, said. "But once you get out of college, those days are over. You can't set up 22 people to play football."
But you can pocket a hole-in-one in a very public setting. It was a perfect match of stage and ego when Trump pulled out a 5-iron on No. 12 at Spyglass in '93. He described the 180-yard shot in vivid detail: The ball bounced once and dropped right into the hole.
The exact crowd count is impossible to pin down, but surely Trump never would exaggerate about something like this.
"It was just a great moment, in front of thousands and thousands of people," he said. "The place went crazy, totally nuts. Payne (Stewart) was a friend of mine, and he said, 'Slow up your swing, Donald.' I don't know if I did slow up my swing, but the ball went in the hole."
This will be Trump's sixth appearance in the AT&T. He looks forward to escaping the office and wandering the picturesque courses, though he knows one thing will not change from Manhattan to Pebble Beach.
Somewhere, at some point, someone will shout at him, "You're fired!"
"I hear it all day long, everywhere I go," Trump said. "Everyone says it to me, whether I'm playing golf or walking down the street."
So is there anyone to whom Trump really wants to direct the famous phrase?
"Yes," he said coyly, "but I better not tell you."
Tee it up
What: AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Where: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, Poppy Hills
When: Thursday-Sunday
Notables: Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir, Davis Love III, Darren Clarke


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