Five Things to Know: Torrey Pines
6 Min Read
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
The Farmers Insurance Open returns to Torrey Pines’ two courses this week, with a red-hot Jon Rahm headlining the field. The Spaniard has two wins on TOUR this season and is a previous Farmers champion having won the event in 2017 – his first of nine PGA TOUR wins and counting – as well as the U.S. Open in 2021 at Torrey’s South Course. Luke List is defending champion after a playoff win over Will Zalatoris at last year’s Farmers.
Both the South and North courses at Torrey Pines are used for the TOUR’s annual trip to this municipal facility perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Torrey Pines has hosted the Farmers every year since 1968. Players play one round apiece on each course before the 36-hole cut, with the final two rounds taking place on the famous South Course, which has been host to many memorable moments.
Torrey Pines may be best known for Tiger Woods’ success here. It is where he won the Junior World Championship and eight PGA TOUR titles, including his dramatic playoff win over Rocco Mediate in the 2008 U.S. Open. But one could argue that the biggest star is the venue itself, with its sumptuous, sweeping views that mark the TOUR’s return to network television each year and stoke the passions of snowed-in golf fans during the dead of winter.
The cornerstone of San Diego-area golf, Torrey Pines has hosted the San Diego City Amateur, Junior World, U.S. Amateur Public Links, California State Amateur, Farmers Insurance Open, and last summer, for the second time, the U.S. Open. In a twist that’s new this year, the Farmers will begin on Wednesday and end on Saturday, making room for the APGA Tour, which is dedicated to diversity in golf, to stage its own final round at Torrey South on Sunday. It will be televised on Golf Channel..
1. WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The Torrey pine – which is featured in the Farmers Insurance Open’s trophy – is native only to this 36-hole golf complex, the neighboring Torrey Pines State Reserve and Santa Rosa Island, located up the California coast near Santa Barbara.
The tree features clusters of five pine needles and, because it is protected, when some 30 Torrey pines were removed during a renovation of the South Course, they were simply relocated and transplanted.
Although early Spanish explorers certainly knew of the tree, Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, a botanist for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey, officially discovered it. He named it for his mentor, Dr. John Torrey, who had co-written “A Flora of North America” and was the solo author of “A Flora of New York State.” Torrey never visited the region, but Parry sent him samples of the tree.
2. TRAINING GROUNDS
Camp Callan opened on what is now Torrey Pines Golf Course in 1941, just prior to the Pearl Harbor invasion. It was used for anti-aircraft artillery replenishment, and roughly 15,000 people lived on site. There were movie theaters and chapels, among other conveniences.
After World War II, the government sold the land and buildings back to the city of San Diego. Lumber from the buildings was used to build housing for veterans.
3. RE-DEFINING ‘DRIVER’
The term ‘driver’ once meant something completely different at Torrey Pines.
After Camp Callan, the land was repurposed to build a grand prix racecourse, hosting car-racing contests that included some of the biggest names in driving. Among them were Carroll Shelby, who was played by Matt Damon in the movie “Ford vs. Ferrari.” The last race was held in 1956.
4. A FATHER-SON TEAM
Torrey Pines was designed by a father-son team that was named “California’s First Family of Golf Course Design.”
William P. Bell, who was born in 1886 and apprenticed under Willie Watson and George C. Thomas, Jr., was a turf consultant for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, and shortly after that was joined by son William F. Bell in the family golf course design business.
A special city election in 1956 led to the dedication of roughly 100 acres of the former Camp Callan being set aside for the creation of a golf course. William P. had the original vision for Torrey Pines, but he had died by the time Torrey Pines was built. His son, William F., oversaw its creation in the late 1950s.
William P. also worked with Thomas on the Bel-Air, Riviera and Los Angeles country clubs, and William F. was involved in the building of Sandpiper and Industry Hills golf clubs, and Bermuda Dunes Country Club. Riviera is the annual host of the Genesis Invitational, which is hosted by Woods, while LACC is slated to host next year’s U.S. Open.
5. A WORK IN PROGRESS
In the spring of 1999, the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation began a five-year capital improvement program for the courses. Rees Jones moved four green structures and added 10 new tees to stretch the course from 7,000 to nearly 7,600 yards. He made smaller changes in 2019, and as a result is the architect most responsible for transforming the South.
But he’s not the only one. Billy Casper and architect David Rainville oversaw the first redesign in the mid-1970s. Stephen Halsey and Jack Daray, Jr., redid it in ’88.
Tom Weiskopf, who won what would become the Farmers in its first year using Torrey South in 1968 – the tournament had mostly been at Stardust C.C. – redesigned the North Course in 2016.
As for changes to the South, a new tee and two new bunkers down the left side have added a new wrinkle to the 612-yard, par-5 13th hole. A new tee has added 37 yards to the par-4 15th hole, as has a new low chipping area front-left of the green, which will collect errant shots.
A new tee has been added to the left of the previous tee on 17, creating a new angle that favors a draw into the fairway. The hole features the shallowest par-4 green, 26 yards.
The fairways and rough are still mostly kikuyu, the greens poa annua. Devlin’s Billabong, the small pond fronting the 18th green, is still the only water hazard (other than the Pacific Ocean). The 387-yard second hole is still the only par 4 under 400 yards.
Additionally, the picturesque, 195-yard third hole, which plays downhill into the prevailing wind, is still the signature par 3. With multiple teeing areas and wind directions, it can call for anything from a pitching wedge to a long iron.
The dogleg-right sixth hole, a par 4 for the U.S. Open, plays as a 560-yard par 5 for the Farmers. The easiest hole is usually the 568-yard, par-5 18th, the site of Tiger Woods’ do-or-die putt at the 2008 U.S. Open, and Dan Hicks’ call: “Expect anything different?”
It often decides the tournament, too – just ask Jon Rahm. He holed a long eagle putt on the 72nd hole to win the Farmers in 2017 and birdied both 17 and 18 last summer to win his first major.
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.