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.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.
“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.
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.