LA JOLLA, Calif. — It’s an unmistakable scene. You arrive at Torrey Pines, a PGA Tour stop, where a beautiful, rugged, cliffside Pacific Ocean view is the star attraction. But something is different.
This is a public 36-hole facility where the South and North courses draw countless locals daily heading to their tee times pulling or pushing their golf clubs and all set to walk 18 holes of amazing scenery and normally awesome weather – January or June.
Ask a local who has played Torrey Pines North countless times about Tom Weiskopf’s recent $12.6 million redesign and he’ll talk about several aspects.
There’s green size, contours and tiers. There’s quick bent grass (a Tyee 007 blend) instead of poa annua. There’s missing trees and there’s bunkers that were either removed or moved up to be in play for the tour pros.
Following a comprehensive nine-month renovation, the North Course, originally designed by William F. Bell and opened in 1957, is as popular as ever expecting 80,000 plus rounds a year.
The renovated North Course was always a local favorite for amateurs – a stunning layout with less punishment delivered that the Rees Jones’ redesigned South Course that hosted the U.S. Open in 2008 and is set to host again in 2021.
“It will take a learning curve,” said Joe Thomas of La Jolla. “The greens are brand new. The speed is quicker and the reads are different – especially when you reach greens with tiers and greater movement to putts.”
Weiskopf holds Torrey Pines with a special admiration. His first career win came at Torrey Pines at the 1968 Andy Williams-San Diego Open, which was forerunner to the current Farmers Insurance Open played every January at Torrey Pines.
“To work on a piece of property this amazing doesn’t happen very often. The sheer beauty of the place always captivates me. Now people can look forward to playing 36 incredible holes at Torrey Pines by playing the North and the South,” he said.
Switching the nines just made sense for Weiskopf. “Today’s back nine was always the more iconic golf holes with the ravines overlooking the ocean down to the pier in La Jolla and it leaves you feeling a more memorable experience finishing the day with the scenery.”
The major changes came in bunkers and greens.
“When looking at the old North golf course we saw 60 bunkers that we brought down to 42. Those bunker shots were just hard shots for average golfers. We made bunkers more strategic relative to each hole – off the tee they are a lot further down the fairway than they used to be and really only affects the longest hitters.”
Green sizes were increased by 20 to 40 percent (they averaged 4,500 sq. ft.) to average now 6,000 sq. ft. which gives more pin placements. But overall he said the original routing was excellent.
Along with more spacious greens larger tee spaces was also crucial to improving Torrey Pines North.
“There we were only three tee spaces on every hole and now we have as little as five,” Weiskopf said. “Length is as little as 5,197 yards to 7,258 from the back. That gave even more length to the long par fours that will challenge the tour pros.
“The thing that I like about what we did and this includes the entire team involved is that we did it on budget and on time,” he said.
Brant Snedeker, who stung the North Course in 2007 with an 11-under-par 61, said he thinks the prettiest views are on the North Course. “You’ve got some great high points that give you some cool vantage points. It’s definitely a lot hillier than the South, and it also doesn’t hurt that it’s way more playable. I definitely wouldn’t want to play the South every day if I lived in the area,” Snedeker said.
Those views definitely come at the downhill No. 15, a 202-yard par three, and the snaking uphill 16th (393 yards) where you can look backwards to the La Jolla panorama with the surf breaking and hang gliders putting on a show for you.
Add New York’s 90-hole Bethpage State Park on Long Island and San Diego’s 36-hole Torrey Pines Golf Courses and you have the most publicized municipal complexes in the USA.
The North Course is also affordable for travel golfers at $105 during the week (cart fee is an additional $40), but for locals it can be as little as $29. Little wonder this place is busy – you might show up as a single and get on, but probably not as a foursome.
Off the course, where to stay in La Jolla
Don’t miss a high-end getaway, too, if you are coming as a snowbird golfer. I spent two nights in the Pantai Inn in La Jolla. I had a Pacific Ocean front-row experience with balcony, huge living room, fancy bathroom, full kitchen, and gourmet breakfast. I didn’t want to leave.
Shell Beach Tide Pools and La Jolla Cove are within sight of Pantai Inn.
Within walking distance I took on Duke’s La Jolla, the restaurant chain that originated on Oʻahu’s Waikiki. Duke’s is named in honor of native Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic swimming and water polo medalist and the father of modern surfing. The atmosphere was surfside and the friendliness and food outstanding. I had a filet mignon with corn just harvested from the cob and a mashed potatoes version with horseradish.
I also dined at Nine-Ten Restaurant in the historic Grande Colonial Hotel that dates back to 1913. The seared ahi tuna was first rate and service outstanding.
Story by David R. Holland