Owned and operated by the City of San Diego, the 36-hole Torrey Pines golf complex lies atop the coastal cliffs at La Jolla, where it’s regarded as one of the best public golf facilities in the entire country. Laid out on the site of a former military training centre, the two 18-hole courses were designed by William F. Bell and they opened for play in 1957.
Although both layouts are used during the PGA Tour’s early season Farmers Insurance tournament, the South has the edge with regards to its championship pedigree, having hosted the 2008 US Open, and it will be used again for the same event in 2021. The North doesn’t get quite the same media attention, though many consider it to be not far off the equal of its sibling.
Rees Jones carried out a renovation of the South course early in the new millennium but a similar scheme for the North was cancelled. More than a decade later, the go ahead was given to carry out the work, with Phil Mickelson’s design firm heavily involved in formulating the remodelling plan. Unfortunately, under state law, his company couldn’t be hired for the job and the contract was awarded to Tom Weiskopf instead.
The project included reshaping bunkers, reducing their number by almost a third, slightly widening the fairways and increasing the average size of the new bent grass greens by around a third to 6,000 square feet. Weiskopf also removed around sixty trees (supposedly suffering from beetle infestation) which helped to improve the already impressive ocean views.
Of even greater significance, the architect reversed the nines, which makes sense because their location close to the coastline should ensure the reputed 80,000 golfers who play here every year leave the course with a smile on their face, having just played the par three 15th and uphill par four 16th (where the green has been lowered) along the edge of the cliffs.
Anytime there is a 36-hole complex it's likely one course is recognized as being the better of the two. One of the real challenges is to create as much interest as possible with the course that lacks the greater stature. That's the case with the two courses that comprise Torrey Pines -- the more noted South and the lesser known North.
The South is an annual stop on the PGA Tour and has hosted a US Open -- with another coming in '21.
The North lived in the shadow for quite some time. Recognizing the disparity a comprehensive renovation plan was devised. Designer and former PGA Tour star Tom Weiskopf received the assignment and his finished efforts have worked quite well. The North needed some clear and fresh thinking -- Weiskopf smartly decided that enhancing overall playability would be crucial given the 80,000+ rounds the course does annually.
A brilliant move was to reverse the nines -- providing golfers with a fantastic unobstructed view of the Pacific as the round nears its conclusion. The dynamic uphill par-4 16th is one of the best holes on the course and Weiskopf was keen to lower the green by 10 to 12 feet thereby preventing short approaches from rolling considerably back down the fairway.
The total number of bunkers was reduced from 60 to 42 and all were reshaped and filled with new sand. The average square footage for the putting surfaces was also increased -- going from an average of 4,500 to 6,000 square feet. This increase has provided for additional pin locations on a number of the holes.
The poa annua surface on the greens was also replaced with bent for much smoother and consistent surfaces.
The North starts off strongly -- three of the first four holes are par-4's in excess of 400 yards -- with the 2nd and 4th leading the way at 495 and 479 yards respectively. You also have a demanding par-3 that plays uphill and into the prevailing wind off the Pacific at the 3rd which can stretch to 241 yards.
Weiskopf has also added his signature theme design feature -- the driveable par-4 at the 7th.
The North has a very clean appearance -- fairway cuts are clearly present. Best of all, the rough is appropriately set to be an issue but not anywhere near the density and depth found on the nearby South Course.
The North provides a clear recreational element which is meant to spur people to play the layout time after time. There's sufficient challenge but it's not meant to be back breaking.
From an architectural standpoint the North is an above average course. The richness in hole differentiation is good -- and appropriate given the goals Weiskopf set out to do. It's a wonderful feeling when you get to the par-3 15th and from the elevated tee you see the Pacific Ocean shimmering just below the cliffs with the feint outline of San Diego nearby. With the sun setting over the water it makes for a grand time.
Kudos to Weiskopf and the City of San Diego for pumping some needed air into a course that like a sagging balloon needed some helium to get things going in the right direction.
by M. James Ward