Titans Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson clash for the first time in 2007 in San Diego this week, but the real heavyweight in this battle is the golf course, Torrey Pines South.
If there's a subplot working to the year's first Tiger/Phil tilt, it's that every player with "Major" aspirations will be taking precise notes as to what the South dishes out, ian anticipation of its hosting of the 2008 U.S. Open. My take? Torrey Pines South is not a great design. Rather, it's simply a brawny track — and a relatively affordable one — in an outstanding, eye-popping setting. You won't remember many of the holes — but you'll never forget the experience, which makes it a must-play in my book.
With apologies to New York's Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines South is the best bargain in the U.S. Of course, that's for locals, who get to play here for under $50. The combination of its challenge (78.1 rating, 143 slope for its 7,607 yards) and its scenery (bluff-top setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean) is nearly unparalleled. Several years ago, Rees Jones, "the Open Doctor," slapped the layout with another 28 bunkers and more than 500 yards to an already long stroll that is frequented by breezes and fog and one that affords little roll. Jones also re-worked the existing bunkers and putting surfaces and positioned several greens closer to the scrub-choked canyons, upping the drama quotient considerably.
Mostly though, the South is still a slog — and from a design standpoint, a dull one at that. Just don't blame Rees Jones, as he didn't route the course. The South, as well as its much shorter and more scenic sister, the North Course, are the late 1950s products of Billy Bell Jr., and remain architectural relics of that period: long and open, with large oval greens and cavernous, shapeless bunkers, with more emphasis on slugging than on strategy. Jones has improved things from a styling standpoint, but it's still a snoozer as far as risk/reward possibilities go. Nonetheless, Jones accomplished what the city fathers asked him to do, which was to turn this into a really "tough but fair" track that demands old-fashioned mid- and long-iron approaches, so as to attract a U.S. Open. And that he did.
It's no surprise that the guys who smash it are the ones who tame Torrey. Tiger has won here four times, Phil three and even John Daly has one, in his popular comeback triumph in 2004. Daly is remembered for his nervy shot from the back bunker at the 571-yard, par-5 18th that trickled next to the hole. A pond called "Devlin's Billabong" (named for Australian Bruce Devlin) that fronts the green is the lone water hazard on the course, but the reason you're here is to look out over that much larger spot of drink, the Pacific Ocean.
The task of teeing it up at Torrey and taking in the Ocean just got much easier — provided the fog lifts. Previously, non-residents had to luck out in the lottery system within seven days of when they wanted to play — or else pay exorbitant surcharges at on-site hotels (which at least guaranteed access). In 2007, the city of San Diego has instituted a new policy that allows for reserved tee times up to 90 days in advance, for a $35 surcharge. With the $163 regular greens fee for outsiders, that means you can still tee it up at a U.S. Open course for under $200. That's not a steal, but it ain't all bad. torreypinesgolfcourse.com; 858-452-3226