When people talk about the best golf courses in America, you generally hear the same names; Augusta, Pine Valley, Shinnecock, Merion (one I was lucky enough to sneak onto as a kid in suburban Philadelphia). They’re all amazing, and they provide some of the most fair and gorgeous tests of the game. They’re the ones everyone that loves the sport dreams of playing.
And they’re also basically inaccessible to 99.9% of the public.
Sure you can play Pebble Beach or Pinehurst anytime you’d like, but that’ll cost you a stay at a very expensive resort, as well as an outrageous amount for a tee time. Right now it’s about $870 per night for the cheapest hotel affiliated with Pebble, and then another $575 for the greens fee. Double-bagging caddies are $190 plus tip.
And we wonder why golf gets older and struggles to maintain a younger demographic? The game cordoning off its best tracks, the ones fans can watch PGA Tour players attack, to only those with means is a recipe for disaster in the long-term. The game has to grow at the grass roots level, and that means being available to everyone.
This is why Torrey Pines is my favorite course in the world: A really tough test of golf with views that will take your breath away, and it’s under $200 with a cart for an out-of-towner. If you happen to live in San Diego County, that drops all the way to $102 Monday-Thursday, cart included.
Is that cheap? No. But it’s accessible and not intimidating. If you are someone without a ton of disposable income, a loop at Torrey is still something you can put down as a treat yo’self.
It feels weird calling a place this drop-dead gorgeous a “muni,” but it’s run wholly by the City of San Diego. They took an old U.S. Army installation from World War II the military no longer needed, and built a public paradise that’s accessible to all.
I’ve played the South Course three times, most recently a month ago for my birthday as they were setting up for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open already. Check out the views, and then notice what I’m wearing before putting it in the bunker in front of the sucker pin on No. 3. I even told my playing partners it was a sucker pin, and then did it anyway.
That’s this guy on the left, and me on the right in a Homefield hoodie from my alma mater. It was a bit chilly. We saw people out there in jeans and no spikes. The official dress code is “no tank tops or cutoffs.” Come how you like, be comfortable, and enjoy a course that’s just as gorgeous as the hoi polloi could ever deign to keep you from playing.
So many courses you see on the PGA Tour now are just chip-and-putts for the best players in the world. Two out of the last three weeks, -27 after four rounds took home the trophy. But that’s not going to happen at Torrey, especially with three of four rounds on the South course. Narrow fairways, speedy greens with plenty of undulation, and truly penal rough challenge the best players in the world on any random day they play.
And yes, that means an even bigger challenge for us weekend hackers.
And I hit this about a yard off the fairway.
Throw in that the entire staff could not be nicer and bend over backwards to accommodate. We had a small glitch with our tee time in December, but the starter got us out there anyway and handled it perfectly. Even the kid that made sure our carts were good to go provided a few extra tips.
The snooty golf course behind gilded gates is mostly an American thing, as gems like St. Andrews or Bally Bunion and most of the great loops of Europe are available to all. But we don’t do nearly enough of that here in the USA. Torrey breaks the mold, giving you an unforgettable golf experience available for a price that’s reasonable, and accepting of the entire proletariat. Plus tee times are available starting 90 days from when you’ll be there.
While many of the best courses in the U.S. are what golf is, the gem in La Jolla shows what golf can be, and where the sport should be going. Torrey Pines is a can’t-miss, amazing test of golf that can compete with any track in the world. But what it stands for makes it truly special.