Torrey Pines Golf Course: Municipal beauty still a beast on the PGA Tour, and you can play it

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- When the marine layer rolled in on Torrey Pines South on Sunday of the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open, the leaders were suddenly facing chilly, windy conditions so tough that someone said the 2008 U.S. Open broke out.

Summer turned to winter.

No. 4, a formidable 488-yard par 4 along the Pacific Ocean coastline, was so nasty the leaders were struggling to hit the green on their third shot. Lucas Glover, only a shot out of the lead when the day started, carded a double bogey after hitting it in rough so gnarly he could only advance it a meager distance -- twice.

Cold, wind, impossible rough -- need any other challenges?

"This golf course is a beast and you've got to realize that," Harris English said. "This is like a U.S. Open."

"This golf course is a big, ball-striking course," J.B. Holmes said. "So you've got to hit it in the fairway, you've got to hit some good approach shots and give yourself a chance for some birdies. Then, you have a lot of 10-footers for par. The rough probably plays worse today than it did in the 2008 U.S. Open."

Does this sound like a challenge you want to tackle? You can because the South and North Course at Torrey Pines are open to the public. But most days are postcard perfect with sunny weather and 70-degree temperatures.

Renovation muscled up Torrey Pines South

Rees Jones turned Torrey Pines South into a big boy golf course in 2001. His $3.2 million facelift completed for the Buick Invitational (now the Farmers Insurance Open) lengthened the par-72 course to a brawny 7,569 yards, more than 500 yards longer than before the makeover. And its brash new bunkering distanced it from the original South Course designed by William Bell Sr., which opened in 1957.

The scorecard even has the words "permission only" where the back tees are listed.

The United States Golf Association likes Torrey Pines South so much that it has been selected for the 2021 U.S. Open. Tiger Woods, who won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines South in a classic duel with Rocco Mediate, will be 45.

The only other municipal golf course to host a U.S. Open is the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., which hosted in 2002 and 2009.

Changes by Jones started on no. 1, a 452-yard par 4 where a bunker was added just at the length where the big boys hit them today. The ninth was lengthened from 540 yards to 610 yards and no. 14, formerly 390 yards, is now 440 yards. You get the idea. More length, more bunkers, higher rough, tougher putting surface targets with contours, greens moved to edges of bluffs.

And even though length was added from 515 yards to 570 yards at the par-5 18th, Jones didn't change the famous water fronting the green called Devlin's Billabong. It was during the 1975 Andy Williams San Diego Open that Bruce Devlin came to the last hole in contention and his approach nestled halfway submerged in the water. It took him six swings to get the ball on the green and a plaque commemorates this ultimate boo-boo. It's the only water hole of the 36 at Torrey Pines.

Torrey Pines North Course waits for its remake

Phil Mickelson, a native of San Diego, was selected to give the North Course a remake as soon as the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open concluded. But city government red tape and high bids by only two companies has delayed start of a retooling until 2016.

Some purists hope renovation never happens because the North Course may be more fun for the average golfer. No need to beef it up, and the 6,874-yard par 72 might just heal that bruised feeling of being humbled by the South.

Possibly the best thing about Torrey Pines North is being paired with locals who have been playing the course for years. Keep those cameras ready at the 12th. It's a sensational downhill 174-yard par 3 for the mortals with sweeping views of the Pacific and La Jolla.

Stay and play at The Lodge at Torrey Pines

It is tough to get a tee time at Torrey Pines, but stay at The Lodge at Torrey Pines because it has daily reserved tee times.

Resplendent, but earthy -- that's The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Since opening in April 2002 this striking property is a must for travel golfers. It is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.

Luxury is found in rooms that range from 520-1,500 square feet. Indulge yourself with the spa's signature coastal sage scrub or dine at A.R. Valentien. Casual diners can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at The Grill, just steps from Torrey Pines' practice putting green, a great place to watch the pros during tournament week.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.
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U.S. Open will be a hoot on this course. 

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Awesome story!  Felt like I was there again with a fog bank rolling in.

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Torrey Pines Golf Course: Municipal beauty still a beast on the PGA Tour, and you can play it