There is something extra special about a public golf facility that has held a major championship. It is the almost counter intuitive combination of a quality golf facility and the lack of the pomp and circumstance of an exclusive private country club. Seeing a driving range full of regular Joes and pull carts being tugged around the fairways remind you that golf is a game of all the people not just the privileged ones. At a place like this you see that money invested wisely can pull off first rate venue that can be enjoyed by anyone who is up for the challenge without asking them to sacrifice the monthly mortgage payment.
Torrey Pines has 36 wonderful holes originally designed by William Bell but it is the South Course 18 that was renovated by Rees Jones in 2001 that brought this up to a standard to allow it to play host to the memorable 2008 U.S. Open duel between Tiger and Rocco.
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The changes Jones made to the course are mostly in the fairway and greenside bunkering and the refinement of the green complexes. This is not a course with signature holes you cannot forget. But because we see it on TV as the host to what is now the Farmers Insurance Open, there are images seared in our mind of stunning seaside vistas and colorful hang gliding parachutes over the rocky cliffs of La Jolla.
The course meanders back and forth atop those rocky cliffs on the coast of Southern California and is dominated by a large rock and scrub canyon in the middle of the property. The canyon is not in play that often but it’s presence, much like the every present seaside breeze, influences your judgment every time you see it. The course is lush so there is not much roll out and the prevailing wind makes any hole with the ocean on your left play considerably longer than the number on the scorecard.
Most of the holes run quasi-parallel to the cliffs so the directional influence of the wind on most holes is clearly discernible. It is the intensity of the wind on any given shot that is the enigma. There will be many times where the final resting place of your approach a club long or a club short will have you scratching your head in bewilderment.
Jones flanked most of the driving areas with bunkers on both sides which suggest a preferred shape to your tee ball to get to the most advantageous position for your attack at the greens. The new green complexes give this course it’s strategic character. Most have flanking bunkers to negotiate, but there is generally an opening in front with the green raised slightly from the fairway, so bouncing it in is rarely an option.
For me this is a walkers course, if you don’t want to lug your carry bag then take them up on the pull cart option. There are a few cardiac walks from green to the next tee but for the most part the holes have fairly gentle ramping and the scenic views are much better appreciated during a walk in the center of the fairway then from a hurtling cart cascading up the path.
I would be remiss if I did not emphasize how unique and cool the hang gliding is to this golf course. When you get to the seaside holes you may be standing over an approach shot and on your second and final look up at the target your are startled by the sudden appearance of two rugby stripe parachutes jettisoned from nowhere into your visual screen from behind the green. The coolest part, when you get closer to the cliffs, is to realize that these folks are like the dogs running on the beach, they are having the time of their lives just hovering like marionettes over the beach tugging their lines to find the next wind gust to take them up another ten floors. The hooting and hollering is infectious.
The fee for playing is almost reasonable. As an out of state resident you can actually reserve a tee time over a month in advance. They only take Visa and Mastercard for the green fees so don’t try and ply your Platinum Amex or you will be reaching back in your pocket for cash before you get on the course.
The golf shop at Torrey Pines is one to die for. Just endless selections of everything you could want in clothing and accessories with their cool logo. Best part is that the prices are unbelievably reasonable for everything. This is the biggest golf store in La Jolla and they have it priced like a warehouse outlet to attract the minions. There is also a nice food service option across the lawn at the back of the lodge-wood framed patio that overlooks the 18th green and the visual scenery beyond. Great place for an after round snack.
From the standpoint of design, this is not the most memorable golf course you will ever play, but it is a wonderful day of scenic views, perfect weather, and a fine golf challenge that you need to experience. America needs more of these top line public golf venues that can brag that a major was played there and so did you.
La Jolla, California
Designers: William F. Bell (1957) and Rees Jones (2001)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 72 7051 75.3 137
White 72 6628 73.1 133
Gold 72 6153 70.7 129