Wayward drives at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open might not find as many fortunate lies as in previous years. On the other hand, players will be pleased to know Torrey Pines’ bunkers are less haphazard in doling out punishment.
Consistency has been a focal point since Paul Cushing came to San Diego’s twin seaside munis three years ago, and conditioning has been on a steady upward curve each time the PGA TOUR makes its annual visit.
"We're ecstatic," said Cushing, assistant deputy director of the city’s Golf Division and overseer of its maintenance operations. "It's the best shape this golf course has ever been in, leading into a Farmers."
Plagued for many years by inconsistent rough, this year’s growth has come in denser than any in recent memory. Cushing attributes the improvement to a pair of changes in agronomic practice.
In 2012, a change in the maintenance calendar moved Torrey Pines from the first city courses to get the annual ryegrass overseed to the last. Though the change was just three weeks, cooler temperatures helped the young sprigs avoid getting pushed out by still-thriving summer grass.
Then last fall, the overseed was accompanied by extra watering to help wash away the salt that accumulates in the soil.
"We did over an hour of water over the entire golf course after we put the seed down," Cushing said. "Now we've got more rough this year than we've ever had for the event."
The moves were part of a broader program to change the soil chemistry that limited both courses’ ability to absorb water – either for maintenance or when the skies opened up.
"It was just sitting on top and not releasing," said Cushing, who estimated his crews have applied 300 tons of high-calcium lime and gypsum over the past three years to decrease sodium content in the soil.
The South course’s bunkers also got attention last summer. New sand brought in for the 2008 U.S. Open had never really settled, frustrating both pros and amateurs when shots stuck in bunker faces.
"We had too much sand and soft sand," Cushing said. "That's a bad combination."
A new material was added to the bunker liner to create the proper density.
"Now the ball hits the face," Cushing said, "and rolls down to the bottom."
Forecasts call for sunny skies all week, with temperatures in the low 70s and no sign of precipitation – continuing the turnaround from weather woes that plagued the entire West Coast swing last season.
"We're 3-for-3 so far," Cushing said of the West Coast events, "and we're going to be 4-for-4 when we get done."
Cushing’s week, though, will go on without one of his key colleagues. Mark Marney, his boss, is hospitalized with an illness and will have to watch from afar.
"He's a big part of what we've done here," Cushing said. "But we'll all come together as one and make sure this is a great week."