Donald Trump’s only West Coast golf course sits on some of the most geologically unstable land in L.A.
This can be hard to discern when teeing off under the 400-square-foot American flag at the garish Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, which sits on the southwestern tip of the county and boasts pristine views of the Pacific Ocean from nearly every hole. It’s even harder to tell when you retire to the warm, leathery embrace of the clubhouse’s Golfer’s Lounge, where tableside-shaken Trump Universal Martinis (made with Tito’s Vodka) and overpriced steak and seafood dinners await with equally expansive vistas.
But, like the president’s administration itself, the foundation at his Rancho Palos Verdes development has always been shaky, the over-the-top opulence merely a gilded cover for his own failures here.
Trump purchased the 260-acre lot that was formerly known as Ocean Trails Golf Club in 2002, a few years after a landslide sent most of its 17th and 18th holes into the ocean. At the time, the upscale community welcomed Trump’s deep pockets and promises of turning the tarnished public course (which was constructed from public parks and a network of bluff trails) into one of the most sought-after oceanfront courses in the state.
Then, his aggressive business tactics slowly turned the community against him.
Before opening, he sued the small local school district over a lease dispute, campaigned (unsuccessfully) to have the course be a members-only affair like all his others, and (successfully) bullied the city into changing the name of the road leading to his course (and a parking lot for the public trails) to Trump National Drive.
Even after investing millions of dollars (some in required bluff stabilizations, some in decorative waterfalls) and opening Trump National Golf Club with a mansion-style clubhouse in 2006, Trump continued to offend. Within two years, he had illegally erected a 54-foot flagpole, planted dozens of 12-foot-tall trees to obscure the ocean views of longtime neighbors and, in a coup de grace, sued the city of Rancho Palos Verdes itself, for $100 million, claiming they tried to “stymie everything I do.”
This might all explain why he never finished building the 50 luxury homes he planned for the adjacent land, or why he eventually sold his own multimillion-dollar house nearby (his only one on the West Coast) in 2010. And — coupled with his combative rhetoric about immigrants, women and, well, just about everybody during his campaign for president — it also could explain why most tee times into the near future remain available for booking online and why on several recent trips to the clubhouse restaurants for weekday happy hour and dinner, the dining experience was shared by only a few scattered customers.
Perhaps it’s weird to hold Trump personally responsible for what goes on in a kitchen he hasn’t visited (or perhaps thought about) in years, but for a man who claims world-class fine dining as a major attribute to his luxury brand, the Cafe Pacific and Golfer’s Lounge at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles fall short of their script-lettered menus and country-club price points.
To be fair, the menu does bear some straightforward Trump hallmarks. His name is stamped on dishes like Trump’s Famous Calamari — rubbery breaded calamari rings served with a spicy aoli or marinara sauce for dipping ($17) – and Trump’s Famous Fish and Chips ($24) — which looked the part in a basket on fake British newspaper (literal fake news) but would have cost half the price and been twice as good at a real pub. The Chocolate Trump Tower — a bunch of mousse and sugar presented as a work of art — comes surrounded by chocolate cup stenciled with the Trump crest in edible gold ($12).
There’s also lots of $17 versions of basic dishes you’d expect to see at a golf course snack stand: a three-cheese Angus burger; grilled chicken quesadillas; chipotle wings, amped up a notch by putting them on a stick. (Sysco-grade iceberg lettuce and pepper jack cheese abound.)
The most interesting-sounding dishes, however, seem to be holdovers from the previous executive chef, Jean-Pierre Vincent, a French-Cuban from Venezuela who brought a worldly perspective to the menu until he abruptly left last September (he was replaced by blue-eyed Chris Garasic, formerly of the Shade Hotel). For dinner the menu lists Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb, house-made pappardelle with filet mignon tips, roasted branzino with pancetta cassoulet and seafood linguine in a white wine sauce — all ranging from about $35 to $50. But when ordered, these failed to deliver, too. The rack of lamb came with lamb merguez sausage, making for too much of a good thing. The seafood linguine didn’t have enough of the watery wine sauce but had plenty of the frozen shrimp.
Even dishes that should be easy to execute for a white-tablecloth establishment seem to struggle under the banner brand of a man who has never believed that less is more.
On Thursday nights you might be tempted to opt for the Trump Wine Dinner special, which at $60 for four courses is considered a deal here. But the dishes all have about twice as many ingredients as are necessary; oysters are given a spoonful of caviar, a Chilean sea bass is overpowered by steamed mussels, artichoke hearts and saffron farro; a petit filet comes wrapped in an undercooked piece of bacon and drowned in barbecue sauce (with truffle mash on the side).
The wines — made from grapes grown at Trump's North Carolina vineyard — would offer a nice palate cleanser to the overload if they didn't taste like the kind of cheap stuff you drank in high school. Trump's sparkling wine has about the same flavor profile as a glass of André Champagne, while the Trump Chardonnay might as well have been replaced by Franzia Crisp White.
A few years ago, it wouldn’t have mattered much that a landslide-prone golf course on the outskirts of L.A. served over-the-top food that was not worth the cost.
Except now, the owner of said golf course — the orange man, whose face peers out from dozens of magazine covers in gold picture frames all over the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles' ornate marble entryway — is president of the United States, tweeting us into a nuclear standoff with North Korea and letting his greed and fragile ego (the same ones that caused him to sue the Palos Verdes Unified School District nearly 15 years ago) stymie his own plans for the White House.
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So when the nuclear holocaust does eventually come, you don't have to be on the upper-deck patio at Trump National Golf Club sipping on the president’s Andre-quality Champagne to enjoy the ocean view. Instead, walk down the public trails that cut through this living, breathing Trump mistake, not paying a dime (and sipping on your flask), to take in a free, unobstructed view of the end of the continent as it makes its final slide into the Pacific Ocean.
1 Trump National Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 265-5000, trumpnationallosangeles.com.