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.
If one wants to play a course that typically has great weather, hosts the US Open, and three of the four rounds of a PGA tour stop, then play Torrey Pines South. If one wants to play a course that I find to be about the same experience and quality of course, but with faster play, then head to the North course. The North course hosts one round of the annual PGA tour stop in La Jolla.
Designed by William Bell, but renovated by Tom Weiskopf, the North course offers quite a lot for a municipal golf course. It has stunning views nearly the equal of its more famous course to the south. It has a nice change of terrain for the holes near the canyons and cliffs overlooking the coastline and Pacific Ocean. There is a good mixture of long and short holes.
The negative to the course, similar to the negative to the South course, is that several of the holes seem the same. The flatter holes away from the cliffs and canyons lack drama except for the nice green complexes. There is no real strategy to the course off the tee. While the par 3’s play differently, they are one-shot holes. The par 4’s big variation is length. The par 5’s are of similar length and style with only one of them being somewhat interesting. The course’s routing very much is minimized by having out-of-bounds on the left side on twelve holes. There are no holes with out-of-bounds on the right. As such one could argue one of the nine holes is laid out backwards.
I find the green complexes to be better on the North course than on the South because they are more undulated rather than simply sloped.
The course’s strength is the variety of the par 3’s. Even though they are all essentially the same yardage from the three different sets of tees, they look and play very differenlyt due to the changes in terrain.
The par 5’s are generally short and offer little except at the green.
It is a fun course to play. The course offers no really great holes but the holes along the coast are memorable due to the views.
The greens can be confusing due to the undulations. This is fine as it makes up for generally wide fairways. As such, there is not a lot of difficulty in getting to the greens, but the challenge lies on the greens.
The course suffers from a lack of bunkers, perhaps due to the cost of maintenance for a municipal course.
The course plays to 7258 from the Taupe tees, which require permission…..but I saw no one checking throughout the course. The par is 72 and these tees are rated 75.8/134 which I thought the rating to be high. The Black tees are 6781 yards rated 73.6/129 while the Green tees are 6343 yards rated 71.5/125.
1. Par 4 – 421/410/395. Pretty straightforward hole with a bunker left and a bunker on both front corners. You can miss the fairway to either side and not be penalized.
2. Par 4 – 495/431/412. Playing along a canyon/ravine to the left with a lot of trees/brush, this hole has a slightly tilted fairway to the left. The mainly flat hole has a single bunker on the left. It should have more bunkers.
3. Par 3 – 241/183/164. This is a good downhill par 3 from the Taupe tee, but not as interesting from the other tees although it offers a nice view. There is a single bunker front left. I felt the hole should have a bunker on the back right.
4. Par 4 – 479/433/416. This hole plays uphill to the green as a dogleg left with a long inner bunkers. The green has two flanking bunkers at the front to a green sloped steeply back to front set into the side of the hill. The left side is all out-of-bounds due to the chasm. I thought the hole to be a bit boring.
5. Par 5 – 525/503/483. Back to the flat part of the course this dogleg right has two bunkers on the outer corner with a single bunker at the green. The green is one of the better ones but overall the hole lacks definition to its playing corridor; you can hit it anywhere.
6. Par 4 – 416/400/389. Playing the opposite way of five, this par 4 has a long bunker on the left and a single bunker on greenside right. Again, the playing corridor is not well defined. The green surround here is uninteresting.
7. Par 4 – 322/322/290. With the noise from North Torrey Pines Road off to one’s left, this straight hole has a single bunker short of the hole and then two small pot-like bunkers front left and back right. I thought it has good contouring near the green.
8. Par 3 – 214/176/167. This hole plays flat to a green that has a bunker to either side and is angled to the left with a tiny back portion. The green has a good tilt to it and a few swales.
9. Par 5 – 556/512/476. This hole plays out to the left then gently back to the right. There is a single bunker on the left side of the fairway. Two bunkers are at the front of the green which is one of the more undulating on the course with better green surrounds. This represents the longest hole on the course which longer hitters will find to be a pushover.
10. Par 5 – 536/524/506. There is a single bunker on the right of the fairway and then a small bunker on either side of this raised green with a slight false front. Behind the green the land falls away. There is not much to this hole.
11. Par 4 – 339/337/321. A short par 4 but vastly superior to the seventh as it has a bunker right cutting into the fairway, a bunker left just short of the green, a front bunker at the green and one on the left. After playing this hole, one wonders why Mr. Weiskopf did not add more bunkers. Is it because it is a municipal course and they want to keep the cost of maintenance lower? This is my third favorite hole on the course.
12. Par 3 – 203/174/155. I like this par 3 as one has to carry the chasm cutting in from the left and front. There is a single long bunker on the left side. This hole would be better with another bunker at the rear. The green is sloped to the front with a bit of vertical spine in it.
13. Par 4 – 459/430/399. I like this hole with the chasm/canyon down its entire left side much like the second hole. This hole bends to the right with a right side fairway bunker. There are no bunkers at the green which is a wise decision given the influence in one’s mind of the chasm to the left. The green is somewhat squared and again has good contouring near the green.
14. Par 4 – 451/408/352. This downhill hole has the Green tee far too forward. The chasm/canyon is still on the left but you have turned towards the ocean and the terrific views. The green sits a bit below you with a front right bunker. There is also a scattering of trees down the left side. There is ample room to miss the tee shot out to the right and still be able to make par.
15. Par 3 – 202/177/165. This hole plays sharply downhill to a green larger than it looks. It looks smaller due to two fronting bunkers and one on the right. The green has sharp slopes to it. You cannot miss long or left or you will likely lose your ball. It is probably the hole that people remember the most due to the view.
16. Par 4 – 393/388/345. The best view on the course is from the Taupe tee giving a beautiful view of the cliffs and ocean. This hole plays sharply uphill all the way to a green set inside higher ground behind it. The hole bends slightly to the right with no bunkers except for the single one at the back right of the green. Trees are on the right hiding a “waste” area. The entire left side is out-of-bounds due to the trees hugging the edge of the cliff.
17. Par 5 – 520/520/486. Playing slightly uphill, this is easily the best par 5 on the course with out-of-bounds down the entire left side due to another canyon. There are scattered trees down the right side of the fairway. Two bunkers are on the left side of the fairway with one short right and another front left of the green. The green is small for the length of the hole and angled right to left set close to the edge of the canyon. I really like this hole.
18. Par 4 – 486/455/422. You play on flat land for the finishing hole with undefined playing corridors. The hole offers bunkers only at the green, two on the left and one on the right. The green has good inner contouring.
Torrey Pines North is a fine golf course and one will enjoy playing it. I think it does suffer from being too wide off of the tee on many holes leading to undefined playing corridors. Mr. Weiskopf removed bunkers, but I think it should have as many as twenty more. These bunkers do not need to be large, but the course would benefit from a few raised bunkers to define the fairways as well as more defense to the greens. The course’s routing is not the best due to twelve out-of-bounds all on the left. The green surrounds could be much more interesting. It is nice that the course has a terrific view on fifteen and sixteen.
You will not see anything new here, and you will not be surprised by anything here. There are no “wow” holes, although there are several wow views. But one can take a hike nearby and get even better views.
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