In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of the good.
The South Course at Torrey Pines is not the most architecturally sophisticated golf course to host a U.S. Open, or a regular PGA Tour event. Far from it. In its current iteration, courtesy of outgoing "Open Doctor" Rees Jones, it suffers from a bit of hole-to-hole monotony, with most greens heavily bunkered and therefore demanding aerial approaches from skinny fairways that, themselves, are lined with 41 bunkers. By contrast, fellow Californian U.S. Open site, the Olympic Club's Lake Course, has just one.
Torrey also does not take full advantage of its land. Cliffs and canyons wrap and cut through the site. Holes like the par-3 third and par-4s fourth, 14th and 17th - just ask Louis Oosthuizen - bring peril into play more than before the course's most recent updates, but it's entirely fair to wonder if more could be done to help the course become its best self.
Amid a frenzied South Course discourse, some pundits lost sight of the good out of frustration that Torrey Pines is not its best, much less (their idea of) perfect.
On Sunday, one of the most star-studded leaderboards we will ever see coalesced and then resolved in Jon Rahm's stunning closing birdies, giving Spain its first U.S. Open champion. Meanwhile, the prior days' scorching-hot takes that the course "sucks" and is "offensive" looked increasingly strained, not just for their hyperbole but for the way in which they punched down at one of America's great, though idiosyncratic, examples of golf for the people, even while offering some good ideas. Golf's pretensions to gentility do not always extend to her scribes.
Not only did the course ultimately identify the best golfer, but it did so in a way that challenged another pillar on which the loudest detractors based their ire: the arrangement of the leaderboard. One marker of an inferior championship test, it is said, is a bunched-up final leaderboard. There is truth and logic to this: when confronted with a course that tends to encourage one main style of play, the week's best golfers will struggle to distinguish themselves from the rest. At the beginning of the back nine on Sunday, that very scenario seemed to be playing out, with 11 players within a shot of the lead at one point.
But then the week's best players - Rahm and runner-up Louis Oosthuizen - separated themselves from the pack by three and two shots, respectively, while even thoroughbreds like Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau fell away. With all the on-course chaos and ultimate resolution, the overall narrative of the 2021 U.S. Open was satisfyingly dramatic.
Not that they are the best judges of architecture, but the almost universal acclaim for the course from the players is noteworthy, too. Phil Mickelson, far from Rees Jones' biggest fan, declared the setup the best he'd seen in his U.S. Open career. DeChambeau called it a "great test," and Brooks Koepka delivered some of the most affirmative praise, saying "I love this golf course. It's fun to play. I think it's perfect for a major championship."
A combination of solid shot demands, approval from the players, a spectacular setting and a mounting history of dramatic finishes all combine to earn Torrey Pines another U.S. Open turn, in my view. It is a strong compliment to other future sites.
I don't have any inside information, but if I were a betting writer, I would guess the U.S. Open will return to Torrey Pines soon, perhaps before the decade is out. The 2028 site has yet to be announced, and there are currently no munis on the calendar. If desired, seven years is plenty of time to effect some further refinements at Torrey Pines; I think trading out several greenside bunkers for more thoughtful short-grass surrounds would be a good start. But even if the course looks much the same then as it did this weekend, we should still expect an exciting championship.
Other golf course news and notes
TITAN OF GOLF TRAVEL - Cecil Brandon, 91, passed away in late May. Brandon was instrumental in the growth of Myrtle Beach from sleepy seaside town to world-renowned golf destination (#13 on our list of the world's 100 greatest). His involvement in pioneering marketing organization Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday serves as a model for how courses and resorts in all golf-centric locales should cooperate. [LINK: Myrtle Beach Sun News]
UBER-LUXURY RESORT REOPENS - What used to be the CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa on the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla is now the Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club. Its Greg Norman-designed course is being refurbished and all will be ready for a November reopening at the $1,000-a-night property. [LINK: Travel Weekly]
GOLF REAL ESTATE BAIT-AND-SWITCH? - New residents of a community built on a redeveloped 18-hole golf course are at odds with the developer, who has yet to fulfill his promise of building a new 9-holer on the property. [LINK: Meriden Record-Journal]
HILTON HEAD-AREA REOPENING - Rose Hill Golf Club, whose checkered recent history includes its former operator being arrested for a six-figure unpaid sales tax bill, will reopen on August 1 under new management and ownership. The course will be run by Hallmark Golf, which operates nearby Eagle's Pointe Golf Club, Crescent Pointe Golf Club and the Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes. [LINK: Island Packet]
GOLF-ADJACENT - A mini-golf course as an office amenity at a Wisconsin aeronautical engineering firm? Sure, why not? [LINK: Ozaukee Press]