There is a lot to like about Torrey Pines, the site of this week’s U.S. Open.
Start with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean from near every hole of the South Course, where the championship is being played, and the presence of paragliders drifting weightlessly just above the cliffs that rise from those waters. There are deep, wooded ravines along the layout, too, and they make any round feel like a nature walk, especially early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when mule deer, coyotes and other forms of wildlife are apt to emerge from those chasms.
Just as enticing are the stands of Torrey pines around the South, for those trees are quite rare and indigenous only to that coastal area as well as the nearby island of Santa Rosa.
The competitive history of the 36-hole facility is also something to behold. Routed across a vast mesa that once housed a military training center and opened for play in 1957, Torrey Pines has been home to an annual PGA Tour event since 1968. Crooner Andy Williams long served as celebrity host of the tournament, which was initially called the San Diego Open. Staged on both its North and South courses – which were initially designed by William F. Bell with some input from his father, William P. – it came to be a favorite venue for Phil Mickelson, who grew up nearby. In fact, he won his first tournament as a professional there in 1993 and prevailed two other times in that competition, in 2000 and 2001. Another Southern California native, Tiger Woods, was only 6 years old when he played his first round at the facility. He then went on to capture what is now known as the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines six times, from 1999 to 2013.
Woods also won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey despite playing with stress fractures in his leg, making an epic birdie on the 72nd hole to tie Rocco Mediate and then outlasting him the following day in a playoff that went 19 holes.
In addition, Torrey Pines is the site of the San Diego City Amateur Golf and the Junior World Golf Championships, both of which are traditionally contested there each summer. And in 1998, the facility hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links, with Trevor Immelman defeating Jason Dufner in the finals.
But what may be the best thing of all about this scenic spot is that Torrey Pines is a true municipal golf operation, owned by the city of San Diego and open to anyone who can pay the greens fees (which are $63 for 18 holes for city residents Monday through Thursday, $78 the rest of the week and three times those amounts for non-residents).
“Torrey Pines is the epitome of municipal golf, with courses that are both accessible and affordable,” said John Bodenhamer, the senior manager for competitions for the USGA. “And that in many ways makes it the perfect venue for the U.S. Open, which is open to anyone good enough to qualify.”
Torrey Pines also gives the USGA the opportunity to showcase the game in that form by staging its premier championship there.
“Municipal golf is the real backbone of the game in this country,” said Rand Jerris, senior managing director for public services for the USGA. “It also represents what America represents, which is this amazing melting pot of people of all backgrounds and walks of life coming together.”
“Torrey Pines is the epitome of municipal golf, with courses that are both accessible and affordable.” – John Bodenhamer, USGA senior manager for competitions
According to Jerris, there are more than 12,000 public golf courses in the United States. Roughly 2,800 of those are considered municipal facilities – or munis – because they are owned by government entities, be they states, counties or cities. Some were established more than a century ago and helped to introduce denizens of the New World to the royal and ancient game. Places such as Van Cortlandt Park in New York City, which was founded in 1895. And Franklin Park in Boston, which came on line soon after. A number of munis boast courses that were crafted by the most celebrated designers in golf history, from Donald Ross and A.W. Tillinghast to Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus and Rees Jones. And several are very highly considered layouts. Like Bethpage Black on Long Island, a state-owned track that has hosted two U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship. And Chambers Bay outside Tacoma, Washington, which is part of the Pierce County Parks system and where Jordan Spieth won his U.S. Open in 2015.
With a pair of courses updated in recent years by Rees Jones (in the case of the South in 2002 and 2019) and Tom Weiskopf (who handled a renovation of the North in 2016), Torrey Pines deserves similar acclaim.
“I am inspired by being there,” added Bodenhamer, who played his first rounds of golf as a boy and worked his first summer job on a muni near his childhood home in south Tacoma, Washington. “Torrey Pines is a wonderful facility, and I love that one of the courses there also happens to be good enough to host a U.S. Open and provide the sort of extraordinary drama that we saw in 2008.”
But the ability to tee it up on a course like the South, which records some 92,000 rounds annually, is only one of the things that makes municipal golf so important to the game.
“These facilities provide economic value to the communities through revenues generated by things like greens fees and concession-stand sales,” Jerris explained. “They also offer full- and part-time jobs, employing from 50 to 80 people on average. They bring in money from charity events and also serve as sites for grow-the-game programs like First Tee while acting as important green spaces with very clear environmental benefits.”
Bring a U.S. Open to a place like Torrey Pines, and those benefits multiply many times over.
What’s not to like about all that?
Top: Nos. 2-5 Torrey Pines South Course Photo: Robert Beck, USGA
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