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Torrey Pines is a Great US Open course, but not for fans

Torrey Pines’ South course is exactly the course the players want at the expense of viewers.

As the sun set over the Pacific on Thursday, with round one yet to conclude due to darkness, a spirited debate on Torrey Pines and its merit in hosting the United States’ National Open took place across the internet. Golf course architecture aficionados argue Rees Jones and his contributions have taken what little strategic interest Torrey had away; others argue the other side: what more do you want in a US Open?

Truthfully, there is truth in both perspectives. Rees Jones has never been good at his job, so it should not come as a surprise to see him botching a $15,000,000 so-called ‘upgrade’ to a course only hosting another Major because of Tiger’s heroic 2008 win, but that does not mean it can’t be successful.

Torrey Pines’ brawny South course is the thesis to the USGA’s essay on the US Open. On the card, the course is long–likewise for the rough–and the challenges the player will face are directly in front of them. There is no guessing or hitting unique shots at Torrey. Everything you see this week is perfectly calculated in the yardage and green book, with a tournament decided purely on execution upon us. You will not see backwards pitched greens like Shinnecock, or reverse cambered fairways at the already far more interesting US Women’s Open. What you get at Torrey is a predictable challenge, and that is exactly what the players want.

The 2011 Canadian Open saw the last time the city of Vancouver played host at Shaughnessy, a historic A.V. Macan design that was beefed out and turned into a monster. -4 won thanks to the quasi US Open setup of pitch out style rough and slick greens. When Golf Digest came knocking, players voted for Shaughnessy amongst the likes of Augusta National, Harbour Town, and Riviera for their favourite venues on Tour. Shaughnessy by most accounts is a far more interesting golf course (I am a fan), but the transformation from friendlier members course to borderline US Open setup clearly got the players juices going.

A photo from the 2005 Bell Canadian Open at Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club. Credit: S. Badz, Ghetty Images

Like Torrey Pines, Shaughnessy provides almost everything in front of you, and with the setup in 2011, the Canadian Open became a test of execution versus a mix of execution and creativity like A.V. Macan would have wanted. The pros love this style of golf, and thus the US Open returns to Torrey Pines. When Victor Hovland described Quail Hollow as ‘driving range golf’ a couple weeks ago, one wonders if he was a couple weeks premature. Torrey Pines is driving range golf with a view of the Pacific, and while the drone shots of La Jolla are calming, the USGA has cured the insecurities of players who fail to adapt to more interesting architecture. All the thinking at Torrey Pines is done for the week. All that remains is the person who can numbingly strike the ball the best until Sunday afternoon. For players, this is the test you want; for us, there are far better venues to watch the world’s best play.

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