Magnificent muni: Torrey Pines tops menu for GCSAA Golf Championships

GCSAA’s visit to the South and North courses comes on the heels of the Farmers Insurance Open and a decision on a state legislature bill that targeted California’s public golf facilities.


GCSAA Golf Championships
GCSAA members compete in the scramble event on the North Course at Torrey Pines on Sunday, Feb. 6, as part of the 2022 GCSAA Golf Championships. Photos by Montana Pritchard

The municipal golf courses at Torrey Pines in San Diego are the crown jewels of the city’s sprawling parks and recreation offerings.

The South and North courses, which sit on picturesque bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, have been playgrounds for the city’s residents for generations. They are also significant drivers of tourism, attracting golfers from all over the world willing to pay as much as $220 per round to take on courses that have hosted two U.S. Opens and an annual event on the PGA Tour. And then there’s the financial component attached to those big events, which have pumped millions of dollars into the local economy over the years.

Considering all that, it’s no surprise there were a few raised eyebrows around Torrey Pines as the California legislature considered a bill that would have given municipalities the authority to close golf courses to make room for high-density residential and commercial developments. That the debate took place on the eve of the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open (and just a few short weeks before GCSAA paid Torrey Pines a visit as a part of the GCSAA Golf Championships) made it even more curious.

To be fair, there is almost no scenario in which the city of San Diego would consider shuttering Torrey Pines, even if it had that authority. And the bill itself never even made it to the full legislature, dying on the docket of the assembly’s appropriations committee on Jan. 20.

Still, for someone like Devin Cullen, Torrey Pines’ head superintendent, the mere existence of such a bill in a state that’s home to so many notable municipal courses was a head-scratcher.

“(The bill) was definitely a topic of conversation, but while it was being considered, we were really just focused on the golf course and taking care of our business,” says Cullen, a 10-year GCSAA member. “Obviously, this is a prime piece of real estate, but you just think of what Torrey Pines brings to the city as far as tourism, media coverage, the U.S. Opens and the history here. To give something like that up — I don’t see that ever happening.”

GCSAA Golf Championships 2022
Torrey Pines North Course
GCSAA Golf Championships Torrey Pines
2022 GCSAA Golf Championships
Scenes from the GCSAA Golf Championships on the Torrey Pines North Course on Sunday, Feb. 6.

What’s happening today at Torrey Pines South is the final round of the GCSAA National Championship, capping several days of golf action on both the South and North courses at Torrey Pines along with several other standout venues on the Southern California golf scene. The conclusion of GCSAA’s event comes just nine days after Luke List captured his first PGA Tour win on the very same greens, tees and fairways, and plenty of infrastructure from that event is still in plain sight.

The course conditions have also resembled what the pros faced during the Farmers, though Cullen says he and his team are in the process of “pumping the brakes” as Torrey Pines returns to more regular play.

“A lot of people come out here, especially after the Farmers, and they’ll want to play from the tips ... to get the full experience,” says Cullen, a Southern California native who has been at Torrey Pines for six years and took over as interim superintendent in mid-December when his predecessor, Rich McIntosh, departed for Colonial Country Club in Dallas. “But these courses are tough, especially the South, and that just makes for really long, slow, tough rounds. So, we’re doing everything we can to try to make things as playable as possible. We still want people to come out and enjoy the scenery and enjoy the property.”

Since the conclusion of the Farmers, Cullen’s team has worked to make the greens more receptive and welcoming for the GCSAA field and for everyday players who endeavor to tackle Torrey Pines. “We’re not doing anything drastic, and don’t want to throw up speeds like nines and 10s, but we want something that’s a bit more practical for your everyday golfer. They’ll still be rolling great, but hopefully a little more manageable.”

The rough at Torrey Pines has been another point of emphasis. Widely considered to be the property’s main line of defense, especially on the South Course, the kikuyugrass rough topped out at between 4½ and 5 inches during the Farmers. As of last Friday, close to 2 inches had been trimmed off those totals, and Cullen says they’d like to lose another half inch before all is said and done.

Editor’s note: Hear from the Torrey Pines agronomy team about readying the kikuyugrass rough on the South Course ahead of the 2021 U.S. Open in Maintaining kikuyugrass at Torrey Pines.

“The weather has been on our side ... so it has been a clean cut and we’ve been able to get down to 2½ inches pretty quickly,” Cullen says. “We’re almost done going through the property the first time around now, so it’ll be going back through the primaries, trying to clean them up a little bit more, but it actually hasn’t been as difficult as in years past.”

Three other San Diego golf facilities stepped into the spotlight for the GCSAA Golf Championships, presented in partnership with The Toro Co. for the 28th consecutive year:

  • Singing Hills Golf Resort played host to both the Four-Ball Competition and two rounds of the Golf Classic. Andrew Rees is the superintendent at Singing Hills.
  • Bernardo Heights Country Club, where 27-year GCSAA member Kent Grass oversees maintenance, hosted the Golf Classic portion of the event.
  • Encinitas Ranch Golf Course was also a host to Golf Classic rounds. Todd Kochanowski is the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Encinitas Ranch and an 18-year member of the association.

Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.