The loudest roar I have ever heard on a golf course came during the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, when Tiger Woods made a bumpy downhill putt to equalize Rocco Mediate and force a 18-hole playoff the next day. It was as if this part of the San Diego coast had been lifted about 10 feet by the sheer volume of the crowd erupting.
It was one of the great moments of all time in history of the US Open, and that’s probably why the United States Golf Association is back at Torrey Pines 13 years later for the Open this weekend. But in the modern world of social media, this spectacular victory for Woods doesn’t shield Torrey Pines from criticism this week. Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or any other platform, Torrey Pines is unfavorably compared to other sites in the US Open.
The complaints are pretty consistent. The Torrey Pines south course is pretty bland, critics say, with too many long par-4s and par-5s that look and feel pretty much like other par-4s and par-5s. It’s an ocean course that doesn’t have the ocean on any hole and its only real defense seems to be the long Rough Open, critics yell.
The point is, Torrey Pines will never be confused with Pebble Beach or Oakmont or Winged Foot, other well-known US Open courses that most golfers seem to love. But even course reviews can’t really say Torrey Pines South is a bad golf course. It just doesn’t live up to their standards of what a US Open course should be.
The drama takes the course
But so often a US Open course is ranked not by its brilliant design, but by the drama it creates during the US Open itself. Pebble Beach, for example, saw a fine win from Jack Nicklaus with an excellent iron shot on the 17th par 3 hole in 1972, Tom Watson’s hole chip shot on that same par 3 in 1982, the first major victory for Tom Kite in extremely windy conditions in 1992 and Tiger Woods fled for a 15-stroke victory in 2000.
Olympic Club in San Francisco is another course some critics hate as it is built into the side of a hill and it can be difficult to keep a drive down the fairway. But he is also known for the great players who stumbled with the victory handy outdoors, from Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer to Payne Stewart and most recently Lexi Thompson at the Women’s Open. Again, the drama seems to overcome criticism of the course itself.
And so it is with Torrey Pines. Some reviewers will simply never like the course, and that includes many golfers on the PGA Tour. But it’s a course where Tiger Woods added to his legend at the Farmers Insurance Open and the US Open, where Phil Mickelson has won the PGA Tour three times and where many top players from Jon Rahm to Patrick Reed have won these. last years.
But there are other reasons that are important for Torrey Pines as an open course. You can go play there, for example, because it is a public golf course. It’s different from so many old Open courses which can be great but are private and inaccessible to the average golfer. And Torrey Pines is a municipal course – okay, a high-end municipal course – and that’s another way the USGA says it’s interested in gambling for everyone. Having a mix of public and private courses as open sites speaks to all golfers.
It’s hard to imagine that on Sunday US Open final will produce the drama of the 2008 Open’s fourth round or 18-hole playoffs this Monday. But someone will win a major championship, and the US Open always seems to be bound for some drama. But even if someone runs away and there’s no drama at all, it shouldn’t be a strike against Torrey Pines getting another Open in 10 or 12 years.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer, he can be reached at email@example.com at (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.