11480 North Torrey Pines Road,
California (CA) 92037,
- +1 800 985 4653
10 miles N of San Diego
Welcome - by lottery ballot
William F. Bell, Rees Jones
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 (formerly the Buick Invitational) 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 US 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 US 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.
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.
Television exposure has helped a good number of courses gain wide global visibility. The South Course at Torrey Pines is one of the leading beneficiaries. There's little doubt golfers throughout the globe will long remember the incredible putt Tiger Woods holed at the 72nd hole of the '08 US Open to tie Rocco Mediate. The event was indeed memorable but the totality of compelling architecture at the South is lacking.
Anyone who has seen events from Torrey on television is immediately shown the majestic views of the adjoining cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean. There's no doubt the scenery is sweeping in its grandeur. One would think any golf course design with such close proximity would take advantage of such a setting. The South fails to do so.
Torrey Pines succeeds because of its location - the greater San Diego area. The year round weather is almost always cooperative and having a metro base population that clearly is interested in golf helps matters considerably. It also helps that Torrey Pines has the logistics to stage major events. Since 1968 the facility has been the annual host site for the San Diego PGA Tour event -- the Farmer's Insurance Open. Hosting the US Open in '08 and having Woods win the event only bolstered the facility from a visibility standpoint. The South will hold the US Open again in '21.
Architect Rees Jones played a major role in toughening up the South prior to the '08 US Open. Extensive lengthening took place -- playing over 7,600 yards from the tips and with turf usually less than firm -- the wherewithal to carry one's ball is almost always a necessity.
The other element that's been added is dense rough lining each fairway. Failure to drive the ball long and straight -- over and over again -- can mean a slashing out of the heavy stuff.
The sad part is that the South should have been far better given its setting. You are hoping for the cliffs to play an integral role and they are simply nearby bystanders. Hard to believe -- but true.
What many people presume erroneously is that courses capable in hosting big time professional events are chosen for a whole host of reasons. The architecture dynamic is in the mixture but it can be relegated to the back of the bus. That's the case with the South Course.
The heavy emphasis on difficulty is certainly present. When you have major length and narrow fairways lined with moist lush rough you can be sure it will take a toll on even the best of players.
But difficulty alone is not stirring architecture. One can look at other notable demanding courses such as Oakmont, Winged Foot / West and Oakland Hills / South, to name just three and see the richness of design elements which go beyond just overdosing with sheer length and unrelenting rough.
The greensites at the South are fairly routine -- there's little really in terms of special qualities that add much to the steady drumbeat of sheer demands from tee-to-green. Slog golf gets old very quickly -- save for the players capable in hitting the ball consistently long and straight.
I can't help but feel for the person who finally gets to the area and is thinking the South must be something to play given the host role it continually plays for big time golf events. The letdown has to be a big time disappointment. I equate the South in so many ways with the The Belfry and its Brabazon Course.
Top tier architecture contains a consummate mixture of engrossing details. The South simply does not have such depth to merit the acclaim it gets simply from hosting big time events. It saddens me because the layout should have been far better.
by M. James Ward
I'm sensing a little nose in-the-air, private-club feedback here, and a native of the East coast, with no appreciation for the beauty of California.
Appreciate your comments. As an FYI -- I have been playing Torrey off and on -- both courses including the pre-Rees Jones efforts on the South and those carried out by Tom Weiskopf with the North -- for over 25 years.
In regards to your comments -- I grew up in the NY metro area and my genesis with golf started in playing on courses where grass grew by accident -- not by design. My early days in golf were spent playing such public venues such as Van Cortlandt, Dyker Beach and Bethpage (prior to all the hype that came years later),
My "nose" -- as you pointed out I might add incorrectly -- has always been ensconced with public golf.
You also mentioned my lack of "appreciation for the beauty of California" which is not correct either. As someone who has had the good fortune in playing a myriad of courses throughout the Golden State I am also quite familiar with nearly all of the key courses worthy of time and attention. I have posted reviews via this site, and, if you wish, you can analyze them as well.
Torrey South is clearly an eyeful and my opinion on the course has never stated anything short on the eye candy dimension the layout provides. Frankly, you could have a third rate pitch and putt course and the views would still be noteworthy.
Let me point out the last sentence architect Tom Doak provided on his assessment of the South via his updated "Confidential Guide" series --
"But you still walk off the 18th green wishing that the course had made more use of the coastline and the ravines."
In sum -- the South misses the "engrossing details" I opined. It was supersized by Rees Jones to be mega-long layout capable in testing the top players. The facility has reaped the benefit in having an annual PGA TOUR stop and no doubt having Tiger Woods win the 2008 US Open on a broken leg will forever be in the annals of golf history. But hosting events is one thing -- having architectural heft is quite another.
If you read with care my comments -- I mentioned several other demanding courses that have hosted major events and have clear design elements that translate into far more than slog courses. Places such as Oakmont, Winged Foot West and Oakland Hills South are clear examples. I mentioned earlier my involvement in playing Bethpage Black numerous times. All of the aforementioned are miles beyond Torrey Pines South when it comes down to the totality of the design elements included -- although I wish the Black would have had at least the inclusion of 1-2 under 400 yard holes in its presentation.
Doak himself says, "Strategy appears to have been less of a consideration; fourteen out of eighteen greens are bracketed by bunkers left and right, including every hole on the back nine."
What's interesting to point out is how much more enjoyable and detailed oriented the adjoining North Course is by Weiskopf.
I have always enjoyed the intrinsic beauty of California -- but my opinions on architecture do not rest solely on that important -- but singular dimension. The South could have added a variety of elements but given the close proximity to the coast and the likely need for various permits which are likely too difficult to secure in this day and age -- the changes made were in keeping with the original routing -- with a ton of yardage added.
I trust my additional comments will assist your understanding of my rationale. Thanks.
I was fortunate to knock another course off my bucket list. I played the South course at Torrey Pines on March 6, 2015.
I read on their website about showing up early and putting your golf bag in line. I arrived at 5:45am that morning and was the second bag in line. The starters station was open and welcomed me and put me in the second group off, a three-some. The weather that day was beautiful, a little crisp (55F) to begin with and I took off my windshirt on the hole 3. The Farmers Insurance Open had been played there a few weeks earlier so the rough was a little tall still and the greens were running a 12 (perfect!). I played the blue tee’s and thoroughly enjoyed the golf with the others in the group (2 men who lived locally and 1 who visited La Jolla area once per year). The views of the ocean during the round were fabulous, breathtaking at times. I had to just stop and gather the scene in a few times before I could go on to the next shot. Amazing! I loved playing in the morning with the calm seas and the eastern rising sun. Beautiful! The course was very well maintained. The gift shop had items that were reasonably priced. Very good! They even had two different putting green’s, one for the South course and one for the North since the speed of the greens were different on each. It was well worth the money. If you get to play there sometime I’d recommend playing in the early morning and walking the course so you can enjoy every step and view. If you have any specific memories of putts that you saw on TV during past tournaments I’d suggest that you drop a ball or two in those spots and roll the putts to see & experience them for yourself. I did this on holes 15 and 18 (Rocco’s 2 putt for par on 15 from above the front pin hole location, and Tiger’s birdie putt to get into the playoff).