What To Make Of Torrey Pines This Time Around?

The South Course should be provide a traditional U.S. Open test but remains a huge miss by Rees Jones

What is there to say about Torrey Pines that we don’t already know from watching the Farmers? It’s long, it’s open to the public and sits on prime real estate. Architecturally, Rees Jones worked his magic on William F. Bell’s original and it’s just not very good.

I made a longer tough-love case in McKellar issue 5 and while I don’t want to give too much away, it was the first time I’ve invoked the “sucks” word to describe a course.

And I discussed the article with Lawrence Donegan for the latest McKellar podcast. Check it out here or wherever you get your pod fix.

I believe it’ll be a tremendous U.S. Open week with glorious weather, San Diego summer vibes and the inevitable zaniness thrown in. Maybe not 2008-level fireworks, but few tournaments can match that week.

This time around there are a few golf course-related positives.

The 4th hole tee shot has been tweaked for the better. In 2008, balls struggled to stay on the short grass and many players bailed right. Since then, Rees Jones has shifted the tee left and improved the landing area. I still have my doubts about how the fairway will play if the course is running at all fast.

Unfortunately, the revamped front bunker and shift to the center looks like a rush job. The goofy right side slope remains too severe. Otherwise it’s splendid work:

Then there is the goofy contouring (is that a sink area near the center?). It’s all topped off by the rim found around every green that screams rushed-construction and not some intentional design feature:

The terrible fourth green almost spoils one of, what, the top 15 spots in all of golf?

The view south toward La Jolla is spectacular, as is the look north:

The 17th tee shot is more interesting this time. Torrey’s penultimate hole traditionally is a snoozefest where we watch people lay-up off the tee or bail out in the right rough. The oval green shape and left-right bunkering puts zero reward for hugging the hazard line to get a better angle for the second.

I will say it takes an incredible lack of creativity to create so little strategy from such a fantastic canvas. See, I can be positive about the Reestoration.

While a tee shot bailout remains likely for most of the field—unless the kikuyu is hack-out thick—it’s a much better looking fairway and tee shot this time:

With the fairway shifted left, the canyon sneaking into play is marked as penalty area these days:

Over my thirty-plus years of going to Torrey Pines, I’ve seen the canyon areas marked as OB or not marked at all (lost ball!). That essentially kills any desire to take the canyon on. So keep an eye on how the hole is presented this week since it’s the 71st hole. Although its most famous moment here had nothing to do with architecture: Tiger’s 2008 chip in.

No maintenance worries this time around. The team in 2008 pulled off a miracle given where the course was 8-10 weeks before the U.S. Open. A lot has changed in thirteen years. Many trees have succumbed including too many Torrey pines. The tee sheet is managed better in the run-up to tournaments and a new superintendent named Rich McIntosh has built on what was accomplished thirteen years ago. The city has also invested green free revenues on new irrigation to help harvest what is billed as 5-inches of kikuyu rough.

So what sucks? (Oops, second time.)

There are multiple layers explained in the McKellar piece, but I can whittle the key issue down to a pair of ideas: what could have been and where the game is going.

Torrey is painfully repetitious thanks to Jones’ presenting 14 of 18 holes with left-right bunker schemes, multiple missed opportunities to better incorporate the sage scrub canyons and just an overall lack of care for such a precious canvas.

The excess of maintained turf is also counter to where the game is going, particularly in areas like this where water is gold.

Still, it should be a great U.S. Open week.

Just don’t mistake Torrey Pines for a great golf course.

The McKellar podcast with Lawrence Donegan includes more than just a discussion about Torrey. We chat about the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club, Pepperdine’s epic NCAA title win and whatever other random things spring to the Donegan mind.

And the Issue 5 link.

Note to all: yesterday’s weekly news and notes was supposed to go out to all but the writer is still a bit shakey with checking off the correct boxes. So this one is on the house. Thanks for reading and have a grand weekend.


Leave a comment