My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
Torrey Pines is where it all started. I was 16 at the time, and took a family vacation with my family to the West Coast, which included a stop in San Diego. We were staying at North Island Naval Air Station on Coronado Island, and I had convinced my parents to let me bring my golf clubs. This was well before the era of baggage fees on planes, so why not? Knowing this trip was coming, and knowing a little bit about the area, I tried getting a tee time at Torrey...no luck. The call-in reservation system wasn't doing me any good. But, we'll bring the clubs anyway I thought and maybe get a round in elsewhere. However, the more I learned about Torrey Pines, the more I learned that there still might be a shot to get on. Similar to Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines is a municipal course, owned by the Park and Recreation Department of the City of San Diego. Tee Times are booked through a phone reservation system with preference going to residents of the area. However, those tee times don't start until 7:30, with play before then open to walk-ups. What's more, Torrey Pines has two golf courses. More on that in a bit.
So, with my dad being an early riser and with us being east coasters who weren't yet adjusted to Pacific Time, he agreed to hop in the car and drive me out to La Jolla to give it a shot as a walk-up. If I didn't make it, we'd grab breakfast before the rest of the family woke up. But, if I did make it?!?! So, the 4:30 AM wake-up call hit, and I jumped out of bed with my fingers crossed. When I arrived at the Torrey Pines clubhouse, I got in line with a bunch of others hoping to do the same thing. If I remember correctly, the line started moving at 6:00 AM, when you worked your way through the line, gave your name, and gave your preference for what golf course you wanted to play (North or South). What I learned is that many of the residents don't really care which course they play. They've played here enough that all they want to do is get out. So, every time I heard someone in front of me state "Either way" when asked which course they wanted to play, my hopes got greater and greater. Greedy, and wanting to check off a bucket list course even before I had a bucket list, I stated firmly "South" when they asked my preference. A short time later, they started announcing names and calling them to the tee. As it got closer to 7:30, I started getting more an more nervous that this wouldn't work out, but this was going to be my day, and eventually my name was called to the tee to join two other gentlemen to do our parts to sweep the dew off the course. FYI...the process for walk-ups is slightly different and more formal today. See this website for instructions
Even better, when I played, I was only 16 and qualified for a junior rate, which I remember being only $45! Today the peak non-resident rate is $229. Oh, what a US Open will do to your pricing. Yuck! However, when compared with some of its peers up the coast (Pebble Beach, Spyglass, etc...), this price isn't horrible I suppose.
Torrey Pines was a great experience, and it was hard! Moreover, this was before Rees Jones came in to update the course for the 2008 US Open that the course would be hosting. Therefore, I assume it's even harder today. However, what I remember is getting beaten up on the poa annua greens to the tune of 39 putts and narrowly missing a round in the 80's because of it. Since Rees Jones has re-done this course, you could make a case that I haven't really played the South Course that exists today, but if you eliminate a course every time a tee is added or bunker is added, I'd never finish this list. So, as far as I'm concerned, Torrey is checked off, even though it was pre-Rees. If you're in the area and are looking for a good public track, I would also suggest trying Coronado Golf Course, another muni with great views of the Coronado bridge and the iconic Hotel Del Coronado.
This is the extend of my write-up on Torrey. Being the first course to get checked off, I didn't even have a list at the time, and also played it before the age of digital cameras.
Here are a few reviews done by other folks:
#98, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2013)
#25, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2012)
#4, Best Public Golf Courses in California(2012)
#38, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)
#20, Best in the State of California(2013-2014)