Torrey North Redo Update: Rendering Revealed

Tod Leonard files an update on the Torrey Pines North Course redo unveiling to the public, which includes a rendering of Phil Mickelson's vision for the remodeled muni.

The cartoonish drawing published with the story looks like someone who has never played golf is trying to put Aviara on the coast.

The Tuesday meeting was the third with the public, and Phil Mickelson Design Director Mike Angus spent more than an hour presenting a hole-by-hole portrait of the renovated North. At the heart of the work – estimated to be $7.8 million with a completion date of summer 2015 -- are a modernization of the greens and bunkers, more playability for the average golfer, and an aesthetic change that will eliminate 22 acres of plant material to create more “natural” terrain on the edges of the course.

And not to be underplayed: The course likely will be more appealing to the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, though plenty of pros have said they haven’t seen any need to change the North.

There is also now a push to turn a portion of the property into upscale lodging for the Lodge at Torrey Pines, which it sounds like went over about as well with golfers as you'd expect.

Bill Evans, owner of the Lodge at Torrey Pines, said his idea for that space is to transfer a few Craftsman-style homes to the site and create a small “colony” of accommodations similar to Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. Transportation to the site would be carts only, Evans said.

"Mickelson's Torrey Pines Vision Taking Shape"

Tod Leonard on the unveiling of Torrey Pines North's first three holes as Phil Mickelson would like to update them.

Most of it sounds solid, but some of this type of earth moving in the wrong hands could backfire:

Most significantly, three bunkers that guard the front of the first green would become one smaller bunker to the right-middle, while Angus said a bank on the left side would kick balls toward the hole. There is a swale to the short right of the green that golfers might find if they go for the hole in two shots.

• At the par-5 first, current fairway bunkers that are closer to the white tees will be eliminated, with new bunkers requiring carries of 278 and 310 yards for the pros. Where most amateurs would land, the fairway would be widened and raised to provide better views of the ocean. The green would be lowered by 8 feet to show off more water.

Public Viewing Set For Glimpse At Phil's Torrey North Redo

Tod Leonard shares some new details on the Phil Mickelson-helmed renovation of Torrey Pines North, including a $7 million price tag, a 2015 start date, wall to wall cart paths (sigh) and a public meeting to be held December 18th at The Lodge.

No word on whether Phil will shield himself behind chicken wire since the locals weren't exactly thrilled when Rees Jones redid the South and that was for much less.

Mickelson’s ideas for the North are being executed by the leader of his design team, Mike Angus, with additional input from Mickelson’s friend and former instructor, Rick Smith. The city has included in the team Glen Schmidt, a local landscape architect who has worked on many projects with the city.

Before any work begins, Marney said the plans will have to go before the city’s Design Review Committee, Park and Recreation Board, Planning Commission, and, depending on the permit requirements, the Coastal Commission. Marney said the City Council will have to approve the creation of the capital improvement project.

Peter Ripa, the tournament director for the annual Farmers Open, applauded the possibility of the renovation. Torrey North is not very popular among PGA Tour players, who ranked its 48th of 52 venues in a poll by Golf World magazine earlier this year.

Ripa said he believes tour players would appreciate less disparity in their scores between the South and North, but he also emphasized that the work “shouldn’t be done just for Easter Sunday. … It has to be a golf course that is enjoyable and playable for people of all levels.”

Leonard also files an excellent column imploring Mickelson to be sensitive, writing that "this could be as much a part of your legacy in San Diego as those three green jackets."

This project shouldn’t be about making the course harder or more “strategic” for the two days a year the PGA Tour plays the North. In fact, I’ve talked to numerous pros who say the North should stay exactly the way it is.

From what I hear you want to make the North “playable” and more “fun.” I’m not sure what your definition of that is, because as a golf entertainer you are equal parts Sinatra and Knievel. But we’ll assume that it doesn’t mean tiny greens surrounded by more sand than the Sahara. We’ll hope that it means the average guy can still run the ball up to the green, and not have to fly it to every dang hole (yes, we’re talking about you Rees). We’ll hope that the greens aren’t so tricky that we’d need Bones to read them.

We know that there isn’t much rerouting that can or will be done, and that’s a good thing. Do the greens have to be redone? Is the public clamoring for it? No. Even some pros say that despite the softer poa annua, they’d rather putt on the North than the South because the North’s surfaces are more consistent.

Kyle Stanley, Torrey's Pond And The South Course Future

Many folks have voiced their discomfort with the sight of Kyle Stanley's third shot spinning back into the pond fronting Torrey's 18th. And while I wish the lake wasn't there or that the green complex worked better, I can't agree with the view that he received an unfair break.

A few random thoughts to consider...

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Taking Turf Out Of Play

One of the points raised in my Obama-WPA piece for Golf World revolved the idea of taking turf out of play and in general, irrigating less (perhaps with government incentives, as pointed out in this example). I close the piece wondering if golfers can actually accept less green in the name of Green.

I asked Tom Naccarato, who does digital photo work for architects and clubs looking to simulate what something will look like, to work on a couple of Torrey Pines photos I took last year. Because I can't think of a course with more acreage that needs to be converted to non-irrigated native. (There was one choice spot right of the 7th fairway where irrigation has been turned off and Tom used that for the rough look you'll see in the photo below).

While I was walking around Torrey prior to the Open I met consultant Andy Slack, the irrigation guru brought in to try and right the troubled irrigation system at Torrey. When asked how many acres on the property could be converted to non-irrigated without impacting play, Slack said he felt that 50 acres was an easy target. I would agree. And the ensuing cost savings in irrigation, energy and man power of reducing 50 acres would be incredible.

Furthermore, does this really look so bad? I know the PGA Tour would have a coronary because there isn't full turf coverage and many golfers would wonder what's wrong, but this would seem to me where golf is going to have to if it wants to survive and reclaim some of its "native golf" roots. Click to enlarge Tom Naccarato's digital enhancement of No. 14 at Torrey Pines:

“It was a bet for the city of San Diego, because the city didn't have the money to put up for this bet"

While I enjoyed Brent Schrotenboer and Eleanor Yang Su's look at the complex relationship between The Friends of Torrey Pines and the city of San Diego that left the city out of profiting from the U.S. Open, it was hard not to wonder why this question wasn't raised before the Open.

And while I'm happy for Jay Rains and the "Friends" who pulled off a stunning success in the face of many hurdles, it was always quite clear that appearance of conflict was there. Only now that the Open was a huge success do the city advocates want a piece of the pie. I say, too late!

Anyway, the key numbers, which would seem to back up the Sports Business Journal estimate of a $50 million profit, which David Fay refuted last week

The USGA projected in November that it would generate about $58.3 million in revenues from the 2008 Open, according to a city permit application filed by the association. That includes ticket sales, hospitality, concessions and merchandise. Television rights are not included. Sports Business Journal recently approximated those at $40 million and suggested total revenue might approach $100 million.

The USGA estimated its expenses at $51.5 million.

To sum up the projected revenues:

 For the USGA, at least $58.3 million, plus TV deals.

 For the Friends, $5.37 million from rent and hospitality shares, interest and a $950,000 reimbursement from the city for some of the course renovations.

 For the city, about $500,000 in rent from the Friends, plus cost recovery up to $350,000 and another $350,000 for other golf course work.

The city also derived other benefits, many of them hard to quantify, such as five days of national television exposure. Additionally, the Friends said they would give the city $300,000 to $500,000 to improve the irrigation system at its golf course in Balboa Park.

 

"The fact that you've not heard anything should not be construed as meaning there's a problem."

Several interesting items in the USGA press conference at Interlachen where David Fay, Roberta Bolduc and Mike Davis faced the inkslingers who miraculously asked some great questions (offsetting the point missers lobbing stuff about a U.S. Senior Women's Open). After Davis talked at length about Interlachen's design attributes and Brian Silva's restoration work there, he shared this about the bunkers at Torrey Pines:

The bunkers like we have been doing the last few years, we did stir up the bottoms to try to make the bunkers a little bit softer so that the player can't get as much spin. And I was telling somebody the other day, one of the best things I heard at Torrey Pines, it just -- I almost wanted to do a cartwheel is when a player actually said, we were trying to avoid bunkers at Torrey Pines. Because we haven't heard that in who knows how long.

Davis, on driveable par-4s this week at Interlachen and in future USGA course setups:

 You have to have enough risk but you've got to have the reward with it. They have to match. And in fact David and I talked about it before Sunday of Torrey Pines, that I thought it was going to work well for the reasons I kept going through in my mind, but you don't really know. And if only ten players out of the 80 went for it I would call it a failure but I think there was 57 or 56 or whatever that went for it. And it's, you know, there was a blend of scoring.

But when we did it at Oakmont it worked. Because those holes were architecturally set up for it. We did it the one hole at Winged Foot. But, no, we will not force it. So it won't necessarily be a trademark. But I think when you get that opportunity, it's really neat because you do make the players think. And we want -- we don't want this to be gimmicky, but at the same time we want it to be the hardest championship of the year, whether it's the U.S. Girls Junior, the Women's Open, the U.S. Open or the Senior Men's Amateur, but at the same time there's nothing wrong with introducing more risk, reward and making the players think, giving them opportunities, and taking a hole and really saying if you play it great you can make birdie, eagle, but if you don't play it so great, if you try something and don't pull it off you're going to pay the price.

And look at this troublemaker with the killer follow up about those R&A lollygaggers.

Q. David, could we get an update on the groove situation? Wasn't that due for some sort of roll out in January, I think, in theory? Has there been any developments on that front or are we going to have to all change irons?

DAVID FAY: The latest update is there's no update. We are still on track, we hope. There are a number of components that we have to get everything resolved. A number of -- and we're moving ahead on that. But to give you a timetable at this time, it would be premature.

Q. R & A still a part of the equation in getting them signed up for the same time?

DAVID FAY: Well the R & A, it's a change in equipment, a change in any rule will not happen unless both sides support it. Fully. The fact that you've not heard anything should not be construed as meaning there's a problem. It's just that we -- anything dealing with equipment, particularly these days, is complex. You deal with the specifications, manufacturing tolerances, I think that one thing I would say that we have never, at least in my experience at the USGA, researched and done the lab testing and the player testing to the degree that we have with this subject of grooves.

Just not enough for the R&A!

Kikuyu At Torrey Pines

Over the last few days, I have heard Tilghman, McCord, Kostis, Baker-Finch and Faldo all note that the kikuyu will "take over" this summer at Torrey Pines and create much heartier rough. Several have noted it will be an entirely different course.

Apparently the memo didn't reach our friends in the broadcast booths, but the Torrey Pines roughs were overseeded with rye this fall and rye grass will be the predominant grass at this year's U.S. Open, contrary to what they are proclaiming hourly on the broadcasts.

Yes, kikuyu is out there and it will be most noticeable in the fairways this June (which would also contradict a lot of the talk about how fast the fairways will be since kikuyu is spongy). However, the combination of rye grass being the one thing in the world that stifles kikuyu and the cool climate at Torrey Pines means it will be a blend of grass, with rye grass dominating the roughs. (A good thing by the way. Kikuyu is silly as a rough.)

Here's what Mike Davis had to say about it in a recent piece by Brian Hewitt:

Kikuyu grass is very ‘grabby.’ And as a result, said Davis who was at Riviera in 1998, “it made the players, at times, look almost stupid around the greens. That blade of grass at that time of year is just too strong.”
 
The greenside roughs at Torrey Pines are also primarily kikuyu. But Davis says the plan is to overseed and create a friendlier blend of ryegrass and kikuyu to give the players a fighting chance around the greens.
 
Greenside kikuyu at the Buick Invitational, played at Torrey Pines this week and at the Northern Trust Open, played at Riviera next month, isn’t healthy enough in winter to present the kinds of problems it does later in the year.

“Which one would I rather play? The old South. Now? The new North.”

So much for the South Course growing on players. Rex Hoggard reports on the Golfweek blog:

Wandered out on the North Course this afternoon. Not to see Tiger Woods inch his way closer to No. 6 on the SoCal coast, but to get one final look at the venerable North.

Come June when the golf world descends on Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open the South Course will be cast under a microscope while the North will just be cast under. The North – one of the most scenic and enjoyable munis anywhere – will become the home to corporate villages, media tents, driving ranges and infrastructure during the national championship.

Here’s the rub. Ask a local to pick their Torrey Pines favorite and many will say the North Course. A few years back Southern Cal native Charley Hoffman summed it for many. “Which one would I rather play? The old South (before the 2001 redesign). Now? The new North.” 

 

The Restoration of Torrey Pines!

Tod Leonard caught up with Mike Davis after the USGA setup man toured Torrey Pines and decided that A) the expensive South course conversion with kikuyu sod was a nice experiment while it lasted but, alas, the place will be overseeded in rye this fall, and (B) that what everyone knew--the par-5 18th made a lousy par-4 even though the city spent thousands of dollars to make it a par-4--so the USGA is now going to restore it to its par-5 status.

Davis, the USGA's director of rules and competitions, could never get comfortable with the idea of a 500-yard par-4 that required players to hit over a pond to the green.

“These guys are good, but they're not that good,” Davis said with a chuckle.

Fresh in Davis' mind was the experience of this year's U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, where the USGA was delighted with three short, risk-reward par-4s – including the thrill-seeking 17th – that were the talk of the tournament.

“The one thing about Torrey Pines is that it wasn't built with any of (those risk-reward) holes in mind, with the exception of 18,” Davis said. “And you just defeat the whole thing by making it a par-4.

“So I'm excited about having it play as a par-5. You're going to see some chances at eagle, some birdies and some double bogeys. As a par-4 you weren't going to see many birdies.”

Davis admitted he had been so concerned about the 18th that he briefly considered playing it as both a par-4 and par-5 during the tournament – which would have been unprecedented.

“It was a goofy idea, so we took that off the table early on, but it was something I did consider,” he said.

Now, I have full confidence in Davis and don't doubt these are positive developments for next year's Open. And understand he is reversing at least one decision made before he had any say in the setup of Torrey Pines.

 

However,  I do believe it was the USGA's idea to make 18 a par-4 and they were either behind the idea or strongly recommending the expensive conversion to kikuyu.

The 18th fairway was leveled this year and the fairway bunkers altered, but the traps didn't much come into play from a forward tee, Davis said. Now they will on the 570-yard par-5, and the USGA will tightly mow the area around the pond to make it more dangerous for approaches that spin back.

Okay, great, but back in January 2005, the San Diego City Council okayed $400,000 for improvement project that centered around the re-grading of No. 18's fairway to make it a par 4. Because as you know, the USGA is not fixated on par.

Should the USGA, which is estimating all time record "inventory sales" from the Torrey Pines U.S. Open, compensate the city for courses changes made and paid for by the city, and subsequently reversed? If they had class, of course they would. This is not a classy organization anymore.

Anyway, other nuggets from the Leonard story:

Rees Jones, the “Open Doctor” architect who redesigned the South Course in 2001 and was at Torrey Pines last week, has been adamant about wanting the South to play as a par-70, so the USGA will likely convert the ninth hole into a par-4 that can play at 500 yards or longer. It will join the sixth as the other converted par-5 to make the course a par-70.

But hey, at least the USGA isn't fixated on par. Just the Open Doctor.

And for those of you keeping score at home, here's the rye grass part.

The USGA made one other key decision on its visit: to overseed the rough with rye grass this fall to make sure it's thick enough for the Open. The USGA originally had hoped the Open would be played on an all-kikuyu grass surface, but despite the city putting in 1 million square feet of sod this year, there hasn't been enough grow-in time for the warm-season kikuyu, especially in the shady areas around the greens.

“We just don't think we can get a stand of kikuyu good enough for the U.S. Open,” Davis said.

City Golf Manager Mark Woodward said he will overseed the rough with rye in September and that should provide better rough for the Buick Invitational in January, and a big test for the U.S. Open. Torrey Pines and other courses on this year's West Coast Swing were hurt by a cold winter that produced enough frost to stunt the rough's growth.

In the future, Davis and Woodward said they believe Torrey Pines will look and play better because of the conversion to kikuyu.

That's why the local courses were getting rid of it. And by the way, I've only seen one thing stunt kikuyu grass. Rye grass.

And this is encouraging...

The USGA has been looking for ways to make the Open look and play differently from the annual Buick Invitational, and the par-5 13th has a spectacular new tee that will only be used for the Open. The tee is set 145 yards back to the west and north of the regular tees on the hole, and it will require about a 250-yard carry over the canyon. The yardage will be about 620 yards.

At the par-3 third on the cliffs, Davis likely will use the back tees (205 yards) a couple of days and then move to the forward left tees that would require only a 145-yard shot. But, the pin on those shorter days will be tucked to the left and front, leaving only a sliver of green between the bunker and steep drop of the canyon.

“So the amount of revenue the city gets for the big golf tournament, the U.S. Open, will be $500,000?”

2008OpenLogo.gifIn the Millard Golf World piece on the USGA and Walter Driver, the Executive Committee's "hands-on" approach (euphemism for conflict of interest) is explored and yours truly weighed in with an "acerbic" remark. In light of Tod Leonard's San Diego Union-Tribune story Sunday, maybe I was not acerbic enough.

From the Millard piece:

Says one current staffer, "The last two administrations have been very hands-on. Personally, I'd say too much. I think they've gone too far."

One current example of this trend is the case of Cameron Jay Rains. Rains is the co-chairman of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He is also a member (since 2003) of the executive committee. This circumvents the time-honored practice in which local championship chairs report to USGA staff. When asked whether the arrangement presents a conflict, Driver says, "He was the chair of the '08 Open before he came on the executive committee, and we essentially screened him off from any potential conflict." Pressed to admit Rains' dual interests could at least raise some eyebrows, Driver is dismissive. "Doesn't work that way," he insists.

Some observers aren't so sure. "The person negotiating on behalf of the city of San Diego [Rains] is also on the USGA executive committee," says Shackelford. "He's on both sides of the table. So when San Diego [officials] want to know how many hats were sold and what their cut of the revenue is, this isn't a problem? Who is [Rains] looking out for? It's just astonishing."
Oh but now we learn from Leonard that it's just so much worse.
It has been estimated that the '08 Open at Torrey Pines could produce as much as $100 million in gross revenues for the non-profit U.S. Golf Association, which uses its net proceeds from each U.S. Open to fund virtually all of its other championships and programs for the year.

By contrast, the city will receive $1.2 million from its contract with the Friends of Torrey Pines LLC, the organization formed to be the negotiating entity between the city and the USGA.

Only $250,000 of that will be in a cash payment, due in January of next year. Another $250,000 is going to the city from merchandise sales in the Torrey Pines pro shop, for total revenue of $500,000.

Oh just wait, that's the positive news!
Beyond that, the Friends of Torrey Pines agreed to spend $350,000 on course work related to the Open and $350,000 for public safety services such as police and paramedics during the week of the tournament. It is spending an additional $100,000 on a practice facility for the Open.

Meantime, the city's golf enterprise fund will make no direct money from the U.S. Open, while about $3 million has been spent on projects related to the Open, according to Golf Manager Mark Woodward. That work includes the acquisition and installation of one million square feet of kikuyu turf, the moving of trees, repainting the clubhouse and restrooms, and the construction of new cart paths to minimize damage to the grass.

So the city is losing money on this deal. You say, big deal! The tax revenue will be worth it. The branding will be out of this world. And...uh, maybe not.

With part or all of the North Course to be shut down from April to August of next year because of corporate hospitality for the Open, the city will incur significant, as-yet untold losses in green-fee revenue. While Woodward estimated in a budget hearing on May 23 that the city's green-fee earnings will increase by $2.9 million in the 2008 fiscal year, he said last week that number will have to be lowered for the final budget.

Woodward said $3.5 million is being spent on the renovation of the main parking lot and the course's maintenance facilities, neither of which is being directly tied to the Open, though both projects will be complete when the tournament arrives.

“The percentage of compensation is unconscionable. I feel like there's a stinginess on the USGA's part in the face of this big bonanza,” said Paul Spiegelman, a founder of the San Diego Municipal Golfers Alliance, which gathered 1,400 signatures last year in opposition to the city's five-year golf business plan. “The golf enterprise fund should not take a beating because of this Open.”

Okay, and this before we get to the fun part...

Spiegelman spoke at the May 23 budget meeting of the city's Natural Resources and Culture Committee. At the meeting, Councilwoman Donna Frye, who was not on the City Council when the Open lease was approved, referred sarcastically on two occasions to the “wonderful” deal made by former Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring.

With a tone of incredulity in her voice, Frye asked Woodward, “So the amount of revenue the city gets for the big golf tournament, the U.S. Open, will be $500,000?”

Ah, here we go.

In San Diego, the Friends of Torrey Pines is the organizing body that will earn a percentage of corporate hospitality sales.

Jay Rains, a La Mesa attorney who led San Diego's Open bid and raised the $3.5 million from private entities to have the South Course reconstructed in 2001, is the local co-chairman of the tournament and also sits on the USGA 15-member executive committee.

Yes, and that appointment came after negotiating this deal on behalf of his hometown. Or was he really negotiating on their behalf?: 

Rains said this week he believes the Friends of Torrey Pines will receive about $3.5 million from the Open – $2.5 million in corporate sales and the $950,000 the city reimbursed it for the South's reconstruction.

Rains said none of that money will be kept by the nearly 30 individuals and businesses that compose the Friends of Torrey Pines.

“The money that comes back will be given to charity,” Rains said. “I don't want anybody to say we made money off a public golf course.”

Would that be we, the Friends of Torrey Pines, or we the USGA? Which side are you speaking on behalf of?

Though Rains said he will leave it up to the individual donors on how they donate their share, he intends to encourage funding a project that will enhance the experience for city golfers. He said he could not be more specific at this time.

Spiegelman said he is opposed to the Friends of Torrey Pines controlling the money earned from the Open.

“I wouldn't begrudge the Friends of Torrey Pines for creating money for charity if the city wasn't taking a beating on this,” Spiegelman said. “I don't think there should be any profits until the city and the golf enterprise fund are fully reimbursed.”

The Open windfall for the golf enterprise fund will come in the future, when in 2011, for example, residents will pay $73 and tourists $218 on weekends to walk one of a handful of public courses ever to hold the U.S. Open.

Actually, now I know who Rains is negotiating for. And it isn't his hometown.