Torrey Pines' U.S. Open reality: North Course down to nine holes, while the South's rough runs wild

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LA JOLLA, Calif.- Golfers, forget Torrey Pines as you know it. Or heard about it. Or watched it on TV.

Torrey Pines
Torrey Pines North will soon be overrun with USGA tents.
Torrey PinesTorrey Pines rangeLa Costa North - San Diego golf resort
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It no longer exists. At least not for the next six months. The San Diego-area's most famous golf complex, having been examined and tweaked by United States Golf Association officials for nearly six years, is entering its final stages of preparedness for June's U.S. Open.

This means a completely different experience for regular golfers who come here in the months before and after the Open.

Some of the changes will be downright crushing to Torrey Pines lovers. The North Course - which many regular everyday golfers swear is actually the better of the two courses - will be a shell of its former self. Literally.

Starting March 1, Torrey Pines North becomes a nine-hole course and a disjointed one at that. Golfers can play holes 10-17 and No. 9. And that's it. A massive hospitality area (the USGA could stand for "White Tents R Us") takes over the first five holes. A temporary driving range that's already under construction needs some of the land on the ninth and 10th holes, meaning golfers will play a shortened version of an already truncated North course.

North's 18th hole is being converted into a pitching practice area. Temporary roads will cut across the fairways of the first and second holes.

But besides that, everything will be normal.

Of course, many Torrey Pines regulars (and these guys can make "Hannah Montana" fans seem calm and relaxed by comparison) cannot even see gallows humor.

"I really worry about what we're going to be left with after the U.S. Open leaves," San Diegan and once-a-week Torrey player Hal Hartley said. "It's not going to be pretty."

Certainly not on the North Course where officials concede that there will be plenty of grass under tents and temporary structures that doesn't get any sunlight for months. While Torrey Pines North is still open, it will be cheap.

During its nine-hole life, Torrey Pines North will be $20 walking weekdays and $26 on Fridays and Saturdays. The North Course closes completely on May 1, with plans for it to reopen as a nine-hole course again on July 1.

Course officials don't expect Torrey Pines North to be cleaned up and ready for 18-hole public play again until September. And you thought the winner of the U.S. Open might have a long hangover?

Torrey Pines South - the course that will actually be played by Tiger Woods and followers - figures to come out of the experience in much better shape.

Golfers can still play a full 18 on South until May 21. And plans call for South to reopen to the public just six days after the last putt from the pros drops on Sunday, June 15.

Of course, you won't be playing the same course that other ordinary golfers got used to playing over the last few years. The USGA's already made several changes to Torrey Pines South, making openings tighter, approaches more difficult and giving the lake a new starring role on No. 18.

Then, there's the rough. That thick, ball-devouring, utterly diabolical USGA rough. The stuff that turns golfers as good as Phil Mickelson into whiny children. Want to experience the full force of it, in all your double-digit handicap glory?

Play Torrey Pines South the week after the Open. It will barely be mowed, and the butt-kicking might as well come with a guarantee.

"Everyone's going to want those tee times," golfer Rex Anderson said. "Are you kidding me? We all love punishment. Really, why else would you golf?"

No need for Torrey Pines or bust

Of course, you could just play somewhere else in greater San Diego until after the U.S. Open big top leaves town. Truth is, your Torrey Pines experience is not going to be normal this year no matter when you play.

Golf packagers like Tim Hurja of Palm Springs Golf Central (Tel. 800-767-3574) might advise golfers not to play Torrey Pines - if they thought it would do any good.

"There are a lot of fantastic golf courses in San Diego," Hurja said. "But a number of them tend to get overshadowed."

There's a brand new $300 million golf resort - the Grand Del Mar - with a revamped Tom Fazio golf course with 18-foot waterfalls. It's the only Fazio course in San Diego, but it's still largely under the radar with the resort only now starting its publicity push.

Grand Del Mar figures to be the buzz next year after the U.S. Open's gone. You could play it before everyone starts talking, though.

Or how about La Costa Resort and Spa and its own venerable North and South courses? Just because the Match Play Championship abandoned it for Tucson doesn't mean the golf's suddenly bad or the resort's any less lush.

If you're in a true spirit-of-Torrey-Pines-municipal-course kind of mood, it's impossible not to like Coronado Golf Course. This is a $25 course (that's $25 prime times) out on Coronado Island with some stunning views of San Diego Bay. Yes, you're golfing on the dock of the bay.

Still think that USGA-manipulated (and literally run over, in the case of North Course) Torrey Pines is your San Diego end all?

Okay, you probably do. Just go in with open eyes, and don't trip over a tent.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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