PGA Tour's best put Torrey Pines North to early test at Farmers

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PGA Tour's best put Torrey Pines North to early test at Farmers

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PGA Tour's best put Torrey Pines North to early test at Farmers

(Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the Jan. 23, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

Torrey Pines’ North Course made its PGA Tour debut this week with Rounds 1 and 2 of the Farmers Insurance Open. It opened in November after three years of planning, nine months of construction and grow-in, and $12.6 million.

San Diego-area public golfers have a new golf course.

Sort of.

How different it is from the old one will be a matter of judgment for the city’s municipal golfers and out-of-town guests drawn to the coastal bluffs above La Jolla. The North Course certainly is improved in terms of turfgrass quality (kikuyu fairways, overseeded with perennial rye; bentgrass greens) as well as strategic intent and playability.

In Tom Weiskopf’s redesign, the original hole corridors remain, though the nines were flipped so that the more scenic terrain is reserved for the back nine. The wider playing surfaces – expanded tees, fairways and greens, and more playable rough – should accommodate faster play.

That’s just what officials at the municipal golf facility want. The North Course will do as many as 80,000 rounds annually, about 15,000 more than the South Course. The plan is to stagger tee times at 7-8 minutes on the North, versus 10-minute intervals on the South.

Weiskopf, now 74 years old, won the inaugural Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational back in 1968. It was his first PGA Tour victory, and it took place on a composite course that comprised the first three holes of the North Course and holes 1-10 and 14-18 of the South.

Knowing it would be a closely watched project and feeling an affinity for the property, Weiskopf took up temporary residence in the nearby town of Del Mar and was on site four to six days a week during the six months, March through August, when Wadsworth Golf Construction Co. was at work.

Tom Weiskopf

Tom Weiskopf spent six months overseeing the redesign of the Torrey Pines North Course. (GOLFWEEK FILE)

In the process, the average green size expanded from 4,500 square feet to 6,000. Par stayed at 72, but the yardage went from 7,061 to 7,258. Weiskopf relied upon a sparse approach to bunkering, reducing the number of sand hazards from 60 to 42. No hole is unbunkered, and only one hole has as many as four. That comes at the short, tempting par-4 11th, 339 yards from the back tees, though most golfers will confront it at 258 to 321 yards. It’s the only hole with a mid-fairway bunker, 240 yards out from the back, that you must play around or over. On the other nine par4s/5s with fairway bunkers, the hazards are set at around 270 yards to reach and 305 yards to carry, putting them in play only for better players.

“Like a lot of designers the last two decades, I was probably guilty elsewhere of relying too much on sand,” Weiskopf said during a tour of the course. “Here we kept it pretty simple, very strategic, keeping all of the entrances open.”

The North’s par 3s are a tremendous test, all more than 200 yards from the back tees. The respite comes at the par 5s, which are short by modern standards from the back, 520-556 yards and without major risk or looming disaster.

If there’s one limitation at Torrey Pines, it’s that the holes don’t nudge close enough to the cliffs’ edges. In the mid-1950s when William F. Bell laid out the course, there were fewer environmental limitations. It’s unclear why Bell didn’t get closer to the coastline, but once the California Coastal Commission was formed in 1972, that edge if the bluff became forbidden territory. Weiskopf had to stick to the existing corridors.

Not surprisingly, the most compelling holes on the new North are those where the bluff is within view, if not always in play – holes 2-4 and 11-17. In each case, the falloff is on the left side of play.

Despite a month-long delay in CCC permitting, construction and grow-in caught up to schedule and the course now awaits an expected barrage of play. Green fees, exclusive of optional cart, are $41-$52 for city residents and $105-$131 for nonresidents. The corresponding numbers on the South are $63-$78 and $192-$240.

City officials are counting on heavy demand for the North Course. Torrey Pines is the cash cow that covers costs for the San Diego municipal golf network. That includes an executive-length, night-lit layout called Mission Bay Golf Course and 27 holes at Balboa Park Golf Course. The system is run as a self-sustaining enterprise fund, so the financial success of Torrey Pines is crucial to the entire operation. 

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