It's always been a little odd. The San Diego area has a perfect climate, ideal growing conditions, an ocean in its backyard and a sports-crazed population. But it has never had a truly great golf course. Torrey Pines' original South course probably came the closest. Set on a verdant mesa between cliffs and canyons rising steeply from the Pacific, its location is spectacular. But strangely, the 1957 William F. Bell design took little advantage of the topography. Unlike at Pebble Beach or Bandon Dunes, where the ocean is both ubiquitous and inspiring, the presence of the Pacific at Torrey Pines was largely disappointing. Frankly, most of its holes were kind of dull.
Say good-bye to all of that. After a $3.5 million restoration, the South course has been transformed into a world-class track. More than Augusta with its recent changes and as much as Oakland Hills after Robert Trent Jones's overhaul for the 1951 U.S. Open, the South course has been drastically toughened and improved. It's likely that after the world's best players take it on during February's Buick Invitational, the USGA will be impressed enough to send the U.S. Open to Torrey in either 2008 or 2009.
The Open road has been well paved. It's no accident that the architect of this renovation--make that redesign--is Robert's son, Rees. With a specialty in updating classic courses into arenas for the ultimate examination (including the site of this year's national championship, Bethpage Black), Rees has earned his late father's moniker "The Open Doctor." He has performed head-to-toe surgery at Torrey: He lengthened existing championship tees or added new ones on seventeen holes and rebuilt all eighteen greens, five of which were relocated. He took out the course's original fifty-two bunkers and replaced them with seventy-seven others that are much closer to the greens and provide more interesting challenges from the tee. From the championship tees, more than half of the par fours are now over 450 yards, and the par-five eighteenth has gone from a 498-yard twinkie to a 571-yard backbreaker. Overall, the South course has been extended more than five hundred yards to a future shock-inducing 7,607 yards. "I've never had a better canvas," says Jones.
Of course, amateurs won't be playing from the tips, but that doesn't mean they won't be wowed. The South course is at once full of new contours and much more edgy. Several greens have been perched closer to the rims of the canyons, giving the layout a more dangerous feel and connecting it visually with the Pacific. Once plain and unimaginative, Torrey is now thrilling and memorable.
Indeed, the whole experience has been enhanced. The old Lodge, quaint but rickety, has been torn down and replaced by an elegantly understated American Craftsman- style complex of 175 rooms, each done up in dusky green and maize trim and designed to weather perfectly in the coastal fog. At long last, Torrey is in its glory.