Torrey Pines is situated on cliff tops some 20 minutes to the north of San Diego and is one of the best municipal golf facilities in the USA. The name Torrey Pines is derived from the trees on the two courses, which are the rarest pines trees in the country and can only be found at a few locations – Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara and here in San Diego at the course and within the State Reserve.
There are two courses at Torrey Pines, which are owned and maintained by the City of San Diego, and they are both used to host the Farmers Insurance Open (originally the San Diego Open) each year at the start of the Tour season. The North and South courses are used for the first two rounds before play reverts to the South course for the final two rounds over the weekend.
It is said when comparing both courses that the South course is longer and more difficult whilst the North is more scenic though both are pretty tight with penal rough – they are also said to contain elements of Pebble Beach which is praise indeed!
With mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Torrey Pines was created on the site of a former military training centre. It was designed by William F. Bell and completed in 1957. The course was renovated by local hero Billy Casper and his design partner David Rainville in the late 1970s. Rees Jones then completely rejuvenated the South course in 2001 at a cost of $3.5 million, moving four greens, almost doubling the number of bunkers and adding ten new tees, taking the championship yardage to a staggering 7,607 yards.
Panoramic views from the course are thrown in for free when you pay a very modest green fee but beware of the elements – it is not always sunny in California and adverse weather conditions in the shape of fog, wind and rain can sometimes spoil your round.
It is widely known that Tiger Woods won four consecutive Buick titles between 2005 and 2008 and that Phil Mickelson lifted the trophy three times (1993, 2000 and 2001). Less well known is that, Ernie Els and Nick Price have also won here before turning professional at the Junior World Championship which is held every July.
The Torrey Pines South course is held in such esteem that the U.S. Open was staged here in 2008, only the second municipal course ever to hold the event. Tiger Woods won the event, claiming his 14th major title, after defeating fellow American Rocco Mediate at the first sudden-death hole of a thrilling U.S. Open play-off. The championship will also be remembered for his battle through the pain barrier… this was Tiger’s first tournament since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two months earlier. Tiger claims his 14th Major
Both Torrey Pines courses are available for public play although getting tee times can be a problem. Most tee times are only available via a telephone tee time lottery which takes place every day at 7.00 p.m. for tee times 7 days ahead. In theory, all phones in the world have an equal chance of a “lucky ring" and a confirmed tee time in this unique Torrey Pines lottery.
The U.S. Open returns to a renovated Torrey Pines in 2021. In 2019, fairways and bunkers were shifted on holes #4, #9, #10,
#12 and #17 and all bunkers refurbished.
Torrey Pines has a special place in my heart as someone who grew up in the area. Having public access at a resonable price to a PGA venue and US open course is an absolute treat. It's a great challenge at all times a year and really asks you to hit fairways consistently to have a shot at staying on the greens. From the back tee's your will be hard pressed to find a more challenging test of your game (For context I am a +2).
That being said, from an architectural standpoint, could it be better? Absolutely. For having access to some of the most prime land to ever have a golf course, the golf course doesn't use those features well. There are only a few holes that use the ocean/canyon at all where there was prime opportunity to. Many people who are super into golf architecture would love to see Torrey redesigned with a different layout to better use the land.
Torrey shouldn't change. It's a staple to the community, a US Open classic course after tiger in 08, and is still a great stern test of golf in a beautiful setting. Everyone should play it at least once, but recognize that it still could be better.
Torrey Pines South is a nice track. The views can't be beat and the weather is great nearly all the time. It's pretty straight forward - hit the fairways and greens. There's not a lot of strategy involved. Turf condition is excellent. We lost a lot of balls just off the fairway as they were growing rough for the tournament. That's never fun. Overall I'd say it was a good value for the twilight fee we paid. I am however shocked that the USGA holds the Open there. It's not quite at that level. That being said I'm sure the primetime viewing puts lots of dollars in their coffers. If you're in town have a game at Torrey. It's a nice track.
Spectacular cliff-side location, tremendous history, and now a US Open course. What's not to like. Its well traveled, but worth the 5 hour round.
Is the South course at Torrey Pines the worst course the U.S. Open has been held on in the “modern era?” (and hosting it again in 2021). Probably. Other than the views it is architecturally boring with no interesting features to its holes. It is overwhelmingly redundant. While the views from the coastal/Cliffside holes are stunning, the holes themselves are not. In looking at the courses that have hosted a U.S. Open, one likely has to go back to 1952 and the Northwood Club in Dallas to find a course that is less interesting, although there are three on the list between now and 1952 that I have yet to play.
The North course has better greens, but not quite the views. Because a handful of players decided to play a set of tees that are longer than they should due to the feeling of “hey, it’s a PGA course, let’s play back!,” they rounds can take as much as an hour longer on this course versus the North. Maybe that is fine, given the outstanding views.
Where the South course is superior to the North course is both in length, difficulty, slightly narrower fairways and a routing that does not have all of the out-of-bounds to the left (12 of them on the South which has 0 out-of-bounds to the right).
As pointed out in other reviews, there is a high degree of redundancy at Torrey Pines South, designed first by William Bell, touched by others, but basically redone by Rees Jones. Mr. Jones has built several wonderful courses, but they do all reflect a similar style in terms of bunkering and green shapes. Torrey Pines has far too many holes that look and play the same due to the placement of fairway bunkers at nearly the same spot on the holes. The greens are sloped, with an underuse of interior swales and bumps. The green surrounds are typically uninteresting, with the only variation being how close some of the greens are to the edges of the canyons/cliffs.
The fairways also suffer from uninteresting land features. One wonders if they leveled everything when they first built the course. It is only the trees and a few angles of the holes that dogleg that add variety to the holes.
For me, it is not a course I would rush back to play. While I love the views and the weather, I find the course to evoke no feeling in me. It is sort of “soul-less” and does not spark any real joy.
The course has plenty of challenge but it is mainly due to the length of certain holes and it is very dependent upon accuracy off the tee. Miss the fairway bunkers and you should always have a reasonable chance at bogey unless a shot has found a canyon. The rough is usually not too difficult and I played once close to the PGA event and found one could advance the ball far enough to have a reasonable chance to save par with a one putt.
From the Taupe (permission only) tees, the course is a par 72, 7707 yards, rated 78.2/144. I actually could not hazard a guess as to whether the index rating is correct, but I think the slope is a bit high. From the Black tees, the course is 7051 yards, rated 75.3/137. The Green tees are 6628 yards, rated 73.1/133. The Gold tees are 6153 yards, rated 70.7/129. There are two sets of lesser yardages. Most players should play the green or golf tees and only the best amateurs with a + index should play the Black tees.
1. Par 4 – 450/445/419. The opening hole is pretty standard. There are two bunkers right and one on the left of the fairway. The green has bunkers down the length of both sides, is a bit narrow although it has a nice rise to it. It is an okay opening hole but with no interesting features.
2. Par 4 – 389/363/329. This hole has a slight bend to the right. It has flanking fairway bunkers with the left side being fairly long. At the green are (surprise) a bunker to either side. The interesting aspect to the hole is a green with a back left bulge to it.
3. Par 3 – 200/159/142. Playing downhill towards a beautiful view, this hole suffers from the tees for the Black and Green tees being moved too far forward as the hole plays 1-2 clubs less on most days. The hole should play 20 yards longer from each tee. The play is out to the right of the green that tilts to the left. You must go over a fronting bunker to a green that has more room on the left than appears from the tee. Much like the North course, the holes I liked the best on the South are the par 3’s. There is ample opportunity for recovery if one misses the green short or to the right.
4. Par 4 – 488/467/448. This hole begins a difficult run of holes. The cliff runs the entire length of the left side of the fairway with the fairway tilted towards the cliff. The view is incredible the length of the hole, particularly at the green which sits on slightly higher ground. The fairway bends a bit left then right angled around two fairway bunkers on the right. The green is shaped essentially the same as the third hole, just turned differently, and also has a fronting bunker that is pretty deep. This is probably the hardest hole on the course, although seven is rated more difficult. Much like the third, being short of the green offers a decent chance at recovery.
5. Par 4 – 454/405/394. Playing parallel the other direction to the fourth, this hole has a slightly tilted fairway to the right. It is a long, but boring hole with the same flanking bunkers on the fairway set opposite to each other and two at the green. The green is angled left to right but not a particularly interesting putting surface.
6. Par 5 – 560/530/499. My favorite par 5 on the course runs parallel to the canyon off to the right. Finally, a hole on Torrey Pines where there is danger to the right. There are a series of four bunkers on the left side of the fairway which is one too many. There are no fairway bunkers for the second shot which is a mistake. At the green is a long bunker right and two on the left. The putting green and green surrounds lack character. The difficulty in the hole is the tee shot.
7. Par 4 – 462/445/424. Rated the number one index, this hole again has out-of-bounds to the right with the canyon. The hole curves gently to the right and has a thinner fairway than most of the previous holes. There is an outer bunker at the curve. The smallish green has a collection area off of the left and a deep bunker on the right. The green is angled left to right. The green is not overly difficult to read. I like the hole.
8. Par 3 – 176/163/155. A nice par 3 with a three-headed bunker fronting the green and a large one behind this squared green. There is not much new here if one has played other Rees Jones courses.
9. Par 5 – 614/538/510. Two bunkers left and two to the right off the tee. Then there are two bunkers right farther down. The green has two bunkers left and one on the right with the green angled to the left. This green has slightly better contouring just off the green. It is a nice hole but diminished by playing next to the Scripps buildings.
10. Par 4 – 416/375/348. Playing again near the Scripps buildings and other commercial buildings, this hole is the most boring on the golf course. Once again, there are flanking fairway bunkers and flanking bunkers at the raised green.
11. Par 3 – 221/204/187. Playing downhill again to a green angled a bit to the right and has a bunker left and two to the right. The views are lovely of the beach and ocean once you are on the green. A back right pin position is difficult.
12. Par 4 – 504/462/443. For me, the most interesting views on the course are here as you play along the cliff next to Blacks Beach Park and close to the Torrey Pines Glidersport that are off to the left. The hole has another thin fairway with a single bunker left but (surprise, surprise) there are flanking bunkers at the green. This hole does offer the chance to run a ball onto the green.
13. Par 5 – 619/523/504. Playing now back towards the mainland but with a canyon to the left, this is a wonderful par 5. The tee shot plays downhill with deep bunkers on the right while trouble awaits down the entire left side. The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green that sits on much higher ground. The left side has some of the deeper grass on the course. The green has three bunkers on the right beginning about 20 yards short of the green while there are two on the left starting about 15 yards short of the green. There is a bunker at the rear. The green is shallow and has some good inner contouring.
14. Par 4 – 437/419/391. We are again confronted with the canyon down the entire left side but this time Mr. Jones put the two bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Those going right into the rough will likely not be able to reach the green in two. The green has a front left deep bunker and a bunker set to the right side. The green is thin and has only a large part at the front but from there is a steep uphill putt with a lot of tilt. This is the best shaping of a green on the course. Going long or left at the green will lead to a lost ball as the canyon/bushes go pretty close to the edge of the green. The ball breaks towards the ocean. Mr. Jones seemed to put everything into this hole; it’s a pity he did not do more on other holes.
15. Par 4 – 478/397/359. A long hole from the Taupe tees, but not much of a hole from the Black and Green tees. It is astonishing that there is not a fairway bunker but there are the standard bunkers to either side of the green.
16. Par 3 – 227/209/178. The final great look at the ocean from this elevated tee. The green has a thin front half with two bunkers left and one to the right. It is a somewhat two-tiered green. It is an okay hole.
17. Par 4 – 442/422/400. Out-of-bounds returns down the left side until about the last 75 yards. There is a large, deep fairway bunker on the right with the standard two front fairway bunkers. When I think about holes 15-18, I am always a bit disappointed.
18. Par 5 – 570/525/498. For the very good pro or amateur, this is likely a good hole as there is a decision to be made as to whether to go for the green in two, assuming one finds the fairway. The fairway has a large bunker right and three bunkers on the left. All of these are deep enough that finding one of these bunkers will lead to a lay-up shot. A pond fronts the green which is steeply sloped back to front with a small depression front left. The green is basically a rectangle with bunkers on the sides. For the average player, this is a typical par 5. While there is some shaping just off the green, it could benefit from more shaping. In addition, the flat fairway would be more interesting with rolls in it; they do not have to be deep but present some uneven lies.
This is a course I will not likely return to, having played it enough. While the views are incredible, the course is too repetitive in its set-up. It is perfect for the PGA tour where the pros prefer more standard greens and locations of bunkers with no interesting green surrounds. After all, the pros want a chance at birdies, but definitely do not like the potential of bogeys. It is also a very fine municipal golf course and is deserving of its rating as one of the top 100 public courses in the USA (for me it’s outside of it).
The course would benefit from more interesting inner contouring on the greens, more interesting green surrounds, more land movement in the fairways, and more interesting bunkers, both in terms of depth and placement. Mr. Jones has built numerous fine golf courses and I which he had a freer hand here than he likely did.
One of the best pieces of professional advice I have received is “to never just bring problems to your manager, but instead, come prepared with possible solutions.” When I read evaluations of the South Course at Torrey Pines on other forums, I frequently find myself referring back to that career wisdom. In my research, the most common reviewer phrase used to describe Torrey Pines South Course is that “it could be so much better.” Despite the ennui, I rarely uncover explicit reasons for the condemnation or improvement recommendations. I am not an architecture expert, but if nothing else, I hope this write-up provides some specificity in describing my generally positive experience at the South Course.
Relative to other reviewers’ stories, the logistics of my trip to Torrey Pines could not have been smoother. I drove down from Los Angeles on a Friday and arrived at the starter booth around noon. The May weather was exceptionally pleasant. After sitting outside of the clubhouse for about 45 minutes, my name was called and my round was off. The course conditioning was terrific, and fortunately for me, the rough was mown a few days earlier.
Prior to arriving at Torrey Pines, I had played two other U.S. Open venues in Bethpage Black and Pinehurst #2. The dichotomy of the challenges between those two storied facilities was striking. While Bethpage’s teeth were in the thick rough and length, Pinehurst #2’s difficulty was all on the second shot and around the greens. Torrey Pines South Course followed this trend of unique tough elements, with narrow fairways, small greens, and wind all adding to the overall toil of the test.
Having never played golf over cliffs or on the Pacific before, the scenery and setting at Torrey Pines took my breath away. Many of the holes still vividly remain in my mind, including:
• #3: With its majestic view looking south, the backdrop at the 3rd could easily distract anyone from the many perils present. The hole has full exposure to the wind, and thanks to extra hang-time on the downhill tee shot, dialing in the perfect aerial yardage is a beguiling prospect. A miss short right actually leaves a somewhat straightforward recovery.
• #4: This par four is arguably the most interesting on the South. The best angle into the green is from the right hand side of the curving fairway. It is difficult to position your tee shot there due to the cant of the land, and a large bunker. With a tilted shortgrass area right of the green, the 4th is one of the few holes that welcomes a super fun, curling run-up shot.
• #6: The par five 6th incorporates the cliffs well, as longer hitters can cut off some of this lengthy hole by playing aggressively over the abyss.
• #7: Memorable from the Tiger Woods/Rocco Mediate playoff, the shallow green at the 7th is masterfully set against the fairway. Placing your tee shot as far left as possible while avoiding bunkers is a necessity for the best angle.
• #10: Breaking from the trend of stout length on other holes, the 10th presents an interestingly more modest yardage. The green is situated atop a knoll, and for many pin placements, the best tee shot will be a layup short of fairway bunkers. If the tees were moved forward, this could be a precarious, attractive drivable par four.
• #12: This long par four is a beast, especially into the wind. Fortunately, it is one of the only holes that welcomes the ground game, and funneling a ball up to the pin may actually be the best approach.
• #13: From the back tees, players must bite off as much as they can chew over the cliffs to reach this relatively wide fairway. As with many other PGA Tour sites, television does not capture how much this hole dips down from the landing area before steeply rising to the putting surface. Laying up may seem like the safe option, but the blind uphill approach from the valley is so daunting that the aggressive play into the green may actually be the more sensible route.
When reviewers say that Torrey Pines South Course “could be so much better” I often wonder what they exactly mean to convey. While the setting atop cliffs is spectacular, the terrain (especially around the front nine) is not as naturally special as many other renowned courses. Furthermore, to my knowledge, Torrey Pines has never branded itself as a walk in the park, so I cannot imagine the property shaving down the rough, removing bunkers, and adopting a more minimalist style any time soon.
I commend those Top100 reviewers below who do not simply point out what they feel are the South’s inherent weaknesses, but instead, also suggest what could be done to creatively add interest without compromising difficulty. My own recommendations are simple:
• Torrey Pines South’s greens need more variety and reshaping. None are especially memorable, and for most, the superior angle is often from the opposite side of the cliffs. This is consistent throughout the round. The deep chasms would be at the front of the player’s mind if the preferred angle was nearer to the drop offs.
• The cliffs would also be a more intimidating factor if rough was shaved down to the edges, rather than having long grass act as a barrier.
• Finally, on all but one of the par fours and fives, bunkers pinch the ideal landing area. This is so monotonous. The bunkering schemes along fairways could easily be altered to encourage a range of draws, fades, lay-ups, and aggressive drives, rather than requiring a bland straight’n’long shot off every tee.
The South Course at Torrey Pines may not showcase an especially desirable mixture strategic hole corridors, undulating greens, and captivating topography. Even without these features, my round there was a blast from start-to-finish without being too demoralizing of a beat down. While the out-of-town rate was incredibly overpriced, Torrey Pines is no doubt a steal for San Diego locals.
Thanks for your review, it really hit home for me as I've played Torrey South 4 times, and in 2017, was lucky to rap the 3 courses you speak of here within 11 months. I agree with pretty much, everything you say regarding the three in comparison, and love your suggestions for Torrey improvements. Anyways, killing time here in the Co-vid World, so thanks for brightening my day with your review. Cheers,
Thanks so much for the very kind comments. I am jealous that you have been able to play Torrey Pines four times! I hope you can get out and play soon! Sending wishes of health and safety,
Played on a windy day, the wait for out of state residents is LOOONG. Be prepared but rest assured there is a nice restaurant besides the course. Onto the course, conditions where nice but not on par with other would class munis like Bethpage or Chambers, Torrey Pines definitely is a notch below. But that doesn't mean its not a bad course. Value for money makes it an interesting dilemma. Is it worth it? Yes if your not paying the full out of state rate. Would I travel from Washington State to play here again? No, plenty of good courses around the area.
A difficult test of golf on bluffs overlooking the pacific ocean. It is long and narrow, with very penal rough, and played longer than the card when I played it on a foggy day with a moderate sea breeze, so take that in to account when selecting tees. Not the type of course I would want to play everyday, but certainly enjoyable as an occasional test of your game, and a wonderful walking friendly design, in a beautiful setting. However, Torrey Pines does not seem to fully utilize its location, as there are some fantastic views, but very few holes feel oceanside after the 3rd and 4th. Definitely a value at the resident rate, but a bit steep to play more than once as an out of towner.
I really loved Torrey Pines. Great views of the ocean overlooking cliffs and a challenging yet playable design. Definitely worth it if you can snag a teetime.
Torrey Pines is my 'home course'; so I have played the South many times. This review is therefore from a 'local'.
For starters, if you are a single, you can usually get on either of the courses within an hour. I very rarely have to wait. Even on weekends.
Secondarily, be honest with yourself and play the correct tees. I am usually on the green middle tee (10 Index). There are new taupe tees now that are a little shorter. I laugh when the tourists want to play from the back tees. It is long from the green tees! And if we play back there, I end up almost always am the longest hitter in the group. It becomes a very slow round as my follow competitors spend the day in the rough.
Also, the course is VERY different in the two months before and after the Farmer's Open - the rough is up and the greens are significantly faster. The South is gettable from March - October. But when the greens are cranked, you get a real appreciation at how good the pros are at putting. I jokingly say I am putting with the shadow of my putter head.
A lot of the reviews about the course itself are very accurate. It is far from a perfect course.
#1, #4, #7, and #12 are VERY strong par 4s that really require two big shots. #1 in particular challenged Tiger with double bogies when he won the US Open in 2008. It is a true card breaker to start off with. Drive the ball to the left side! There are birdie opportunities in #2, #3, #6, #9, #10, #13, #15. And two very challenging par 3s on the back.
But you have to look at Torrey South in the 'total package' context. The beauty of the location. The conditioning of the course. The balance between tough holes and gettable holes. And it is easily walkable. Finally enjoy a post-round drink and meal at the patio of The Lodge to cap off the day. And of course it is a PGA Tour stop and a US Open course. That is what makes Torrey so fantastic.
Additionally, spend some time walking the Torrey Preserve hiking trails just to the north of the course. Or do 'the steps' just south of the glider port down to Black Beach. Both are easy hike to enjoy the beauty of the location.
Played on August 17 the South Course for the fourth time. Even though playing the course that you watch on TV is always fun I have to agree with other reviews which consider this a nice course but definitely not a great one. Some of the views are actually quite nice but the ocean is pretty far and does not come into play. The course is very well kept and greens are usually very fast. To enjoy it you need to be quite a hitter. I am a decent player with drives which averages from 240 to 270 yards and in a couple of holes I needed a 3 wood to try to reach the green with my second shot! I would conclude by saying that if you are in the area you should play it at least once even though not being a resident green fee is quite expensive at $195 on a weekday and in order to get on the course you have to show up at around 5:30AM.