By Aman Ali

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Real estate developer Donald Trump wants to build a top level golf course on a former New York City landfill, but some watchdog groups balked on Tuesday over the potential cost to taxpayers.

Under the proposal, a bleak, 222-acre site near the Whitestone Bridge in the Bronx borough would be converted to an 18-hole golf course and park. The golf course would cost about $97 million in public funds, officials said.

Trump would run the Ferry Point course, which he said could host professional tournaments and would "be recognized as one of the top public golf courses in the United States."

"For the first time in New York City history we fully intend on bringing championship tour play to the Bronx," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

But critics say the project benefits Trump, not the public.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the terms of the deal are questionable.

"From environmental to financial issues this project has been a debacle since Day One," Croft said. "Our tax dollars should not be spent building a playground for the rich, fulfilling political favors or enriching real estate speculators."

Trump runs 10 golf courses in North America and Europe, according to his Trump Golf website. The developer also hosts a reality television competition "Celebrity Apprentice" on NBC.

The fee to play on the Ferry Point course, scheduled to open in spring 2014, would be $125 per person. At other public city courses, residents can play for fees ranging from $18 to $44.

Under the deal, Trump will not pay any licensing fees for the first four years of a 20-year agreement. After that, he would pay $300,000 to $470,000, or 7 to 10 percent of gross revenues -- whichever is higher.

He also would pay $10 million to build a clubhouse.

The city will delay a vote this week on the proposal to collect more details on the costs and consider it on January 18, according to the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

According to the City Parks and Recreation Department, the project will cost roughly $184 million in total, including the cost of the park.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the city first weighed the idea of turning the poorly kept landfill into a golf course in 1998 for an estimated $22 million that a developer agreed to finance. That deal fell through.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Trump's proposal earlier this week, saying his bid was the most attractive of three submitted to the city.

He added it's anything but a lucrative deal for Trump.

"Golf courses don't make money, and he's got to have a restaurant built and a building," Bloomberg said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)