Torrey Pines’ ‘little brother’ – the North course – offers TOUR pros a fresh look after its $12.6 million redesign
January 24, 2017
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
Torrey Pines’ ‘little brother’ – the North course – offers TOUR pros a fresh look after its $12.6 million redesign
SAN DIEGO — Growing up in nearby Poway, a rural community that sits 30 minutes northeast of Torrey Pines Golf Course, Charley Hoffman cut his teeth on two of the most well-known public courses in the world, logging practice rounds and competing in San Diego Junior Golf Association tournaments at the 36-hole facility.
Before his high school days -- when his parents joined a country club -- Hoffman would often wake up at 4 a.m. in hopes of getting an early start at Torrey Pines.
"When you live in the area and don't play at a country club,” Hoffman says, “Torrey Pines becomes a way of life if you're a local."
For 51 weeks out of the year, Torrey Pines belongs to the golfing public that regularly logs over 170,000 rounds annually between the North and South courses. The other week out of the year, the course is home to the Farmers Insurance Open — a PGA TOUR event it has hosted annually since 1968.
From a course design standpoint, the North and South remained relatively unchanged until 2001 when Rees Jones redesigned the South prior to it being selected to host the 2008 U.S. Open.
The North, on the other hand, remained frozen in time until last year when the City of San Diego hired course architect and 1973 Open Championship winner, Tom Weiskopf, to oversee a $12.6 million redesign of William F. Bell's original 1957 layout. Weiskopf’s work included a complete rebuild of the greens and nearly every bunker on the course.
"I think players will notice some changes when they see it for the first time during the tournament week," says Weiskopf, who has completed 60 course design projects since 1985. "Based on the amount of public play, we wanted to make it playable for the average golfer. But there were a few things we did that had the better player or professional in mind."
Hoping to get an early look at the course before the tournament week, Hoffman and TOUR rookie Xander Schauffele, who lives in San Diego and attended nearby Scripps Ranch High School before playing collegiately at San Diego State University, got in a practice round together right after the course reopened in November. They walked away impressed by the changes.
"I think Tom did a fantastic job with the course," Hoffman says. "To be honest, it was in need of a refresh. The greens were rolling true when we played, and there's a bit more length from the back tee, which gives you a couple different looks and a few more challenges.
“Overall, I think the TOUR players and the public are really going to like it."
Tom Weiskopf was connected to Torrey Pines well before he agreed to do the North redesign. It was back in 1968 when Weiskopf, just four years removed from turning pro, won his first TOUR title at the Andy Williams-San Diego Invitational, the predecessor to the Farmers Insurance Open.
"That was the first year they played the tournament at Torrey Pines," Weiskopf recalls. "This place will always be special to me. To come back and be chosen to do the redesign was quite an honor."
When Weiskopf accepted the task of reworking the 60-year-old North, he was well aware of the need to strike a balance between making it challenging for the better players and professionals but also playable for the casual amateurs that collectively average 82,000 rounds a year on the course.
"I'm a competitive guy, but you have to realize that there's already a significant challenge on the South," Weiskopf says. "For me, this job was about trying to bring the North into the 21st century with some smart, necessary updates that everyone would appreciate."
Topping Weiskopf's redesign to-do list was swapping the front nine, which features the course's scenic oceanside holes, with the back nine. The change means golfers will now finish their round along the Pacific Ocean instead of the inward portion of the course.
"You want to leave golfers with a lasting impression," Weiskopf says. "Giving them the chance to end the day right there along the Pacific is something I really wanted to do. I just appreciate that everyone was on-board with the idea from the start."
In addition to reversing the nines, Weiskopf stretched the layout to 7,258 yards from the back tees. Most of the extra length was used to turn the 17th hole (old 8th hole) from a par 4 that played 370 yards into a par 5 that's roughly 520 yards.
Weiskopf also added some risk-reward to the course, shortening the par-4 7th (old 16th) to 322 yards, making it a potentially driveable hole depending on the wind direction. Weiskopf acknowledged that he borrowed the idea from some of the driveable holes he played during the Open Championship at St Andrews Links.
From a course improvement standpoint, he started by reconstructing all 18 greens to get them up to United States Golf Association standards. That meant removing the existing poa annua grass and replacing it with a 100 percent bent grass blend called Tyee 007. The average green size was increased from 4,500 square feet (90,000 total) to 6,400 square feet (125,000 total) to accommodate six different pin locations.
Another subtle change was the decision to shave down the areas that front the greens to make it easier for golfers to use a putter instead of a wedge to get up-and-down.
One change that isn't visible but will make a noticeable difference to the quality of the greens is the addition of an advanced SubAir system that was positioned under each putting surface. According to Weiskopf, the SubAir pulls moisture out of the surface and keeps it cool during the hot weather months — two things that will improve the life of each green.
In addition to increasing the size of the surfaces, a number of split-level greens were added that could make for some intriguing tucked pin locations during tournament week.
"The green complexes are significantly different," Hoffman says. "[Tom] modernized the North to where it will be very competitive and challenging for the Farmers Insurance Open, but very playable for day-in and day-out play, which is the most important thing for that golf course."
The bunkers were reduced from 59 to 41, with many of them reconfigured or relocated. The only bunker that remained from the original course design was the right greenside bunker on the 11th hole. Players in this week's field will notice that many of the fairway bunkers were placed in spots that put them right in the path of wayward drives for the longer hitters.
Weiskopf's team also replaced five acres of turf with native plants that blend with the surrounding scenery. Depending on how the native areas react to their new surroundings, it's possible additional turf could be removed in the future for similar plant life in an effort to reduce water usage.
One downside to the redesign was the removal of close to 60 Torrey pines trees due to a beetle infestation. But in removing them, an upside was created with the introduction of some expansive views.
"The course is way more open now," Schauffele says. "I know the beetles forced them to remove some trees, but it actually gives it a nice look in certain spots on the course."
When it comes to the toughest test in town — or possibly the country — most locals admit you'll find it on the South Course. The Rees Jones redesign has played host annually to the Farmers Insurance Open, 2008 U.S. Open and is the future site of the 2021 U.S. Open.
"You can take a beating on the [South Course]," Hoffman says. "It's as good a test as you'll find anywhere. The views are great on some of the holes, but the second you let your guard down it will punish you."
At more than 7,500 yards from the tournament tees, the South Course is a behemoth that's managed to bring some of the best golfers in the world to their knees (but was also conquered in 2008 by Tiger Woods, who was essentially playing on one knee due to injury).
However, even with the extreme level of difficult, the South still tops the out-of-towner bucket list. Comparatively, the North doesn't receive near the fanfare. If anything, the North has historically been viewed as the quirky little brother that’s perhaps a little more fun, a little more manageable and perhaps just as scenic. San Diego native Phil Mickelson – who once had aspirations of renovating the North – described it as the “most beautiful canvas out there.”
"Growing up, the North and the South were viewed as really pretty courses," Schauffele says. "But if you want a view and a little bit easier of a test, you played the North. If you wanted to get your butt kicked, you played the South."
Both the North and South courses see action during the Farmers Insurance Open, with players getting at least one crack at the shorter and easier North that has historically played as one of the TOUR’s easiest layouts — it has never ranked higher than 28th in scoring average over the last decade.
Torrey Pines officials are hoping the redesign will change some of those opinions, and offer the North the opportunity to shine on its own without having to hide in the shadow of big brother.
With dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean on the new 15th and 16th (old 6th and 7th), many TOUR players have embraced the surrounding and slightly easier test. Some have even come close to history on the North, including two-time Farmers Insurance Open champion Brandt Snedeker, who flirted with 59 during the 2007 edition before "settling" for a share of the course record with an 11-under 61.
"It's got some of the prettiest views on the property," Snedeker says. "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."
How exactly will the newly redesigned North Course play during tournament week? Hoffman and Schauffele aren’t sure but having already played the course, they have a pretty good idea of what players should expect during the first two days.
One of the first things that caught the attention of both players from the outset was the sheer length of the first four holes – including a 241-yard par 3 and a 495-yard par 4.
"We were kind of shocked by the length," Schauffele says. "We didn't hit any balls the day we played, but we got to the second hole, hit pretty decent drives and we both had hybrid and 2-iron in on our approaches.
"We then got to the par-3 third hole that was playing 247 yards and both of us were like, 'Holy smokes, what's going on here?' The length, especially there at the outset was pretty startling. I'm not sure if it's going to play that long during the tournament, but it certainly got our attention."
While the length could pose new challenges, both players agreed that the easier North could produce even more birdies, thanks in large part to the new bent grass putting surfaces.
"For me, it's been hard to make putts on that course in the past because the greens were a little bit older and bumpier," Hoffman says. "The surfaces we played on during the practice round — there was no poa annua and the ball rolled great.
"I think you'll see players make more putts because of the new greens, which usually translates to lower scores. Tee-to-green, I think it's more challenging now that the course has been stretched out a lot."
Depending on how a player is driving the ball during a round, Hoffman noted that the relocated fairway bunkers could also pose an issue. In the past, players didn't have to contend with most of the bunkers because they were initially positioned for golfers and equipment during the 1950s.
That's no longer the case following the redesign.
"The bunkers are also much more strategic now for the TOUR player," Hoffman says. "You can tell Tom consciously placed them in spots where we'd most likely find them during the tournament. It's just one more thing you'll have to think about when you're out there."