The Torrey Pines golf experience: What to know and how to get a tee time

Host of the 2008 and 2021 U.S. Open as well as the annual PGA Tour stop, Torrey Pines South is one of the most scenic, popular and difficult municipal courses in the country.

LA JOLLA, Calif. — New York's 90-hole Bethpage State Park on Long Island and San Diego's 36-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course make strong cases as the two jewels of municipal golf in the United States.

Both work triple-duty as a place for local residents, bucket-list chasing tourists and as venues for the best professional tournaments in golf.

But Torrey Pines' La Jolla setting on bluffs high above the Pacific Ocean can't be matched by any other muni. Toss in the fact that Torrey Pines' South Course hosted an epic 2008 U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods over Rocco Mediate in dramatic, playoff fashion (the U.S. Open returns in 2021), it's one of the most desired tee times in public golf, and rightfully so.

The courses have improved in recent years as well. In 2017, the North Course reopened after an extensive renovation by architect Tom Weiskopf. The South Course underwent extensive renovations from 2018-19 that were completed by early 2020. So the courses in 2021 should be in pretty top nick.

The most coveted municipal courses are always a little trickier to get a tee time than simply booking online or over the phone. So here are a few things you should know as you plan your San Diego golf trip and want to include a round or two at Torrey Pines:

The 'muni' side of golf at Torrey Pines

San Diego is well known for its luxury golf and spa resorts, so thanks to properties such as the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, Park Hyatt Aviara and Omni La Costa, expectations for visitors are very high when it comes to service, conditions and amenities.

Torrey Pines has a few areas where it can't hang with the top shelf: The driving range is small, with beat up, limited-flight eggs, and there's not much of a short game area. (It was mats-only the two days I was there, too.) Electric golf carts are ordinary with no GPS or USB, and the clubhouse, halfway houses and on-course restrooms are pretty basic. You pay your green fees at a walk-up window designed for quick transactions and little chit-chat. The pro shop, however, is large with an ample collection of logo swag.

The courses serve a tremendous amount of traffic. More than 80,000 rounds annually are played on the North Course alone, while the South receives 60,000 (this traffic seems to show itself most on the middle tee boxes of par 3s). This figure is that much more incredible when you consider the fact both courses close a week prior to the staging of the Farmers. Dress code is pretty lax, and fivesomes are permitted. (We were behind a fivesome during my round on the South, which took about 4:40.)

That said, the staff at Torrey Pines was exceedingly friendly, which can also be said for much of the tourist and service industry around San Diego.

Read Reviews
See what your fellow golfers have to say about the experience at Torrey Pines North and South.
La Jolla, California
Public/Municipal
3.2832294118
38
La Jolla, California
Public/Municipal
4.8730705882
33

Tips for booking Torrey Pines tee times and golf packages

I just did my best to dissuade you from playing Torrey Pines. Still reading? Okay, here is what you'll need to pay:

2021 rates for Torrey Pines South: South are $202 weekday and $252 on holidays and weekends. You can save money during twilight ($122-151), which begins between 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. depending on the time of year.

Torrey Pines North: $128 weekday, $160 weekend. (Twilight: $76-$96)

Tee times can be made up to 90 days in advance, and if you're hoping to play on the weekend, we'd recommend calling ahead as much as you can. (That said, it's not as tough of a tee time to get as Bethpage Black or St. Andrews.)

Don't expect dynamic pricing or last-minute deals like most other courses around San Diego. Tee times can now be booked online by non-residents from 4-90 days out. You can also call (877) 581-7171 but staff is only answering the phones from 9am-3pm PT. The kicker is that in order to book an advanced tee time 4-90 days out, which you will in all likelihood do, it's another $45 (non-refundable) per golfer due up front. Ouch.

For more details, the city has set up this webpage with more booking and policy information.

Golf carts are $25-40 extra and are paid separately in the golf shop. Carts are kept on path leading up to the Farmers Insurance Open and U.S. Open so I'd highly recommend walking so you can keep a line on balls that end up buried in the thick rough.

So what happens if you call to make a tee time and they are sold out? Your next option is to book a stay-and-play package with two partner properties, the Lodge at Torrey Pines or the Hilton Torrey Pines. Course officials note that while the Lodge, located right next to the practice green, is the favorite among golf groups, the Hilton -- a fine hotel in its own right overlooking the South Course -- doesn't always use their allocated rounds, so check in with them, and you may get lucky.

Lastly, there are some walk-up times reserved each morning (the first 30-60 minutes) on a first-come, first-serve basis.

If you're planning a long weekend San Diego golf trip, consider making your Torrey Pines tee times for the weekdays and saving the resorts for the weekend. You should have an easier time getting out, and green fees will be lower.

When to play Torrey Pines

If you play Torrey Pines in January as I did, get ready for gnarly 3-plus-inch rough (when I played in early 2017, the local weather had been extremely wet as well, making the grass incredibly thick).

After the Farmers, the rough is shaved down a bit, and during the course of dry summer, gets thinner and trampled down. But officials say the greens generally stay fairly consistent until aeration occurs in the fall.

The new-and-improved Torrey Pines North Course

A view of Torrey Pines North's par-3 15th hole, which can play 202 yards from the black tees.

The North Course reopened in the fall of 2016 after an extensive renovation and redesign by golf course architect Tom Weiskopf.

Considering the North is already used as a Thursday-Friday PGA Tour venue, the bones for a great layout were already there. But Weiskopf's task was to modernize it a bit, install some enhancements to help with the traffic and attract more tourist play. Greens were enlarged, and compared to the South Course, approach shots are far less intimidating -- and it's a little shorter, too.

In terms of the overall experience -- if you set aside the Tiger-Rocco drama of the South -- the North, frankly, hangs pretty close, at least from the perspective of your average visiting golfer playing the middle tees. Ocean views are equally wonderful, highlighted by hole No. 14-No. 16. I'm not a course rater for the mags' Top 100 rankings, but I'd say the North is maybe a few filler holes short of being a Top 100 public candidate, but there are at least 10-12 really neat holes here.

Having said that, at just over $100 weekdays, it's an excellent value and one of the better deals among not just PGA Tour venues but also any Pacific Ocean-fronting course. If you either don't want to pay the South green fee or couldn't get a tee time, the North is still easily a Top 10 public (and probably closer to Top 5) layout in the destination. (Read Tucker's full Golf Advisor review for the North.)

Tour the new Torrey Pines North with Tom Weiskopf

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Torrey Pines North renovation

The South Course

Narrow fairways, plenty of bunkers, gnarly rough and smallish greens define the challenges of the South Course. It wastes little time getting good, as the first thole plays straight towards the ocean, and no hole is more photographed than the par-3 third. The long, par-4 fourth then plays entirely along the bluffs. The good news for duffers is that it's pretty tough to earn a penalty stroke here, with the only real hazard in play coming on the approach to the 18th green. You simply can't take a shot off here, and three of the par 3s play pretty long. (Read Tucker's full review of the South.)

The 19th hole at the Lodge at Torrey Pines

The Lodge at Torrey Pines is steps from the putting green and has a great bar for after the round.

All great rounds of golf must have a fabulous 19th hole. At Torrey Pines, it's the Lodge at Torrey Pines, a classy operation.

Be sure to pop into The Bar (you'll see it right next to the practice green) for drinks and a meal. About the only thing it's missing is a thrilling view of the course. But it's a wonderful indoor-outdoor space, and golfers are certainly welcome at the Lodge for a meal and drinks. Check out our Torrey Pines Golf Resort page for more information about stay-and-play options at Torrey Pines.

Outstanding, major championship-worthy municipal courses paired with lavish resorts make San Diego a legendary SoCal getaway.
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Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Commented on

Played the Torrey Pines North course May 2015. It was great! Then i made the mistake of playing the South course October 2015. The course was being prepared for the Farmers. It was push carts only. The ruffs and fairways were uncut. It was a miserable and exhausting round. I wouldn't recommend playing the South Course when it's being prep for the Farmers.
I have played The Omni LaCosta Resort & Spa golf course and The Aviara Golf Club severe times. I enjoyed playing these courses. Put these courses on your to play list.

Commented on

You want to play Torrey?? Show up at 6:00 am with your bag, ready to go, pay your greens fee, and wait on standby. Hang out by the starter, don't go eat or sit in your car or you'll miss the boat. Works EVERY time !!!

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It’s disappointing that when I called both Torrey Pines and their tee time coördinators (Steve & Joe Mendoza) for $85 refund per player (4 of us) due to canceled San Diego May conference (virus issues and CA canceled all CA big gatherings), both entities said they could not refund. Why would I ever want to promote Torrey Pines to friends or play this course in the future? How about some flexibility since its almost two months out and out of our control!

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Just finished playing three rounds on the north course right before it closes for farmers open

Article is spot on. As a single (sandwiched golf between a conference) it was easy to get on the north course. Got on the website 3 days ahead as a non resident 7 pm pst) and found numerous options to play. Early golfers before 730 were able to get around in 3.5 hours walking. Was cart path only so walk it

Definitely have lunch or a snack at the Torrey pines grill. You can see the course and putting green and ocean! If you have the time the outdoor fireplace or table fire pits make for a great 19th hole and relaxing venue

Tips. Bring water... a number of the course water fountains were not working. Leave time to walk from parking lot to starter to practice range (about 400 yds apart) and have to check in minimum 30 min early n be on tee 10 min early
Rough will eat your balls especially if foggy or overcast ...bring extra

Beverage cart makes frequent passes

If golfing am in January, then bring extra shoes or socks... the rough was wet and high. If a single be prepared for the starter to offer an earlier tee time and take it!

Everyone was very nice and accommodating and as a 12 handicap if you pick the right tees the course is fair, stunningly beautiful on the back nine and easy to walk wth the exception of two holes that are steep inclines on back nine

Enjoy

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Just played the north course late feb. it was such a great time we’re goin back late May. Anyone know if group of 5 is allowed?

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No fivesomes, thank god.

Staff
Commented on

There was a five-ball ahead of me when I played it. It was twilight, so maybe they relax the rules then.

Commented on

they do (informally ) relax the rules at twilight.

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