Tuesday, May 11

6 Little-Known Historical Facts About Torrey Pines Golf Course, Site of the 2021 U.S. Open

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By Julio Sanchez

WITH THE U.S. OPEN RETURNING to Torrey Pines this June, I thought it would be fun to take a deeper look into the little-known history of this Californian golfing gem.

For those of you that may not know, Torrey Pines Golf Course is located in La Jolla, California, in the Torrey Pines Natural State Reserve, a gorgeous coastal setting. The bluffs overlooking the Pacific offer the most stunning ocean views. If you are planning a vacation, this course is definitely worth a visit and the area offers some of the nicest ocean view vacation rentals in California.
It has quite an interesting history and has gone through some changes before becoming the great golf course we know today. Here are some facts you may not know about the Torrey Pines Golf Course.
1. It is named after a rare type of pine tree.
The name Torrey Pines comes from the rare pine trees that grow in the state reserve. In all of North America they can only be found here and on Santa Rosa Island south of Santa Barbara.
The trees are remnants of a prehistoric mountain range that got submerged in the Pacific. The Torrey Pines Reserve is on the south end of the mountain while Santa Barbara is on the north end of the submerged mountain.
2. It was first a military base.
Before the birth of the Torrey Pines Golf Course, the area was first a military training center named Camp Gallan. The military camp opened in January 1941 and operated until 1945 when it was declared surplus, less than three months after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
During the time the camp was operational the area had become like a small city of 15,000 people with paved streets and nearly 300 buildings.
3. It was also used as a racing track.
After the military base closed, the buildings were sold to the city of San Diego and removed from the site but the streets remained. Races were usually held at Del Mar but a last minute disagreement with the Del Mar organizers left racers without a place to race in, and so, the Torrey Pines Race Course was born in 1951.
In 1955 the city of San Diego decided to build a 36-hole golf course on the site of the track. The last race was held in January 1956.
4. The city credited the wrong architect for its design.
Near the Torrey Pines golf shop, there are a series of plaques that honor the ones responsible for the present day course. One of them honors “William P. Bell Son” as the original architects. But the course was actually designed only by the son, William F. Bell. The father had been dead for four years when the design started.
The misconception comes from the fact that the city of San Diego first signed a contract in 1950 with the “William P. Bell and Son” co-partnership for the design of an 18-hole golf course to be constructed on the city-owned land in the Torrey Pines mesa. Due to a series of delays including his father's death in 1953, William F. Bell didn't manage to receive approval for his final design, which included 36 holes, not 18, until 1955.
Out of respect for his father, Bell didn't change the name of the company so the plaque got the name of the company right but not the one of the actual designer.
5. It was not a very good course initially.
The Bell family was a very popular choice when it came to designing golf courses between the 1920s and the 1950s. William P. Bell had worked on the Bel-Air, Riviera and Los Angeles CC layouts, alongside the legendary George C. Thomas Jr. But, as the father focused on quality, the son instead focused on quantity, mass producing courses efficiently and inexpensively after the death of his father. However, the quality of the courses built by William F. Bell is superior to the ones his father built.
6. It underwent multiple renovations.
The Torrey Pines Golf Course went through a series of renovations to reach its present state. The most recent one was in 2019-2020 when it was prepared for the 2021 U.S. Open.
In 1968 the San Diego Open moved to Torrey Pines and was renamed the Andy Williams San Diego Open. It was ranked among America's Top 100 Most Testing Courses by Golf Digest. But in reality it wasn't -- it was just not in the best shape. When the pros played there it was wet and windy, and its greens were nearly impossible, soaking wet in front, and rock hard on the back edges.
By 1973 the city of San Diego realized the course had to be rebuilt, and the contract went to local designer Billy Casper who had a design partnership with the golf architect David Rainville. It took them four years to redo all 36 holes while keeping the course open to the public.
Most of Rainville's renovation was swept away by the 2001 remodeling of the course by Rees Jones. But there is one contribution that remained untouched: the pond in front of the 18th green.
The Torrey Pines Golf Course surely is a special course with a unique history and I think that everyone is eager to see what this year's U.S. Open will add to the course's collection of memorable events. If it is anything like the previously hosted 2008 U.S. Open, won in dramatic fashion by Tiger Woods, it will most definitely not fail to impress.
Julio Sanchez is the owner of Cardiff Vacations, a luxury vacation rental business in Encinitas, California. 

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