Editor’s note: Read even more about the 2021 U.S. Open, Torrey Pines Golf Course and its journey from humble SoCal muni to two-time major championship host in Team Torrey Pines and the 2021 U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods may not have returned, but Bill Sinclair did stage a comeback.
Thirteen years ago, Woods recorded a drama-laced U.S. Open championship at Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego, defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff during which Woods had a fractured tibia and ruptured ACL. On Feb. 23, 2021, Woods was in a single-car accident near Los Angeles and suffered severe injuries to his right leg. He is currently in rehabilitation, with no timetable for a possible return to golf.
Sinclair, however, was able to be at Torrey Pines last month when the venue hosted its second major. He came out of retirement to work on the agronomy volunteer team that helped prepare the South Course for the 121st U.S. Open, in which Jon Rahm prevailed on June 20.
Sinclair worked for the city of San Diego and its golf division beginning in 1993 at Balboa Park Golf Course before transferring to Torrey Pines as an assistant a few years before the facility hosted the 2008 U.S. Open.
Upon his return this June, Sinclair absorbed some playful ribbing courtesy of Torrey Pines superintendent Rob Browns. “You know where you’re going, right, Bill?” Browns said as the crew and volunteers headed out for their first assignments during tournament week. Sinclair chuckled and replied, “Yeah, maybe. ... But I may get lost.”
Sinclair, though, has a vivid recollection of what happened in 2008. The Scotland native says it was a treat working side by side with then-South Course superintendent Candice Combs. He recalls what Woods told Combs the week before championship rounds started. “He told her when she saw him on the No. 2 green those were the fastest, greatest greens he’d ever played,” Sinclair says. “We had them upward of 14 (on the Stimpmeter) all week.”
Currently a high school assistant girls golf coach who retired from Torrey Pines three years ago, Sinclair has a flag from the fourth hole in 2008 that Woods signed, and he relished helping Torrey Pines make history once again. “This will always be a beautiful place to me,” Sinclair says.
Anthony Kiser took the what-have-I-got-to-lose approach when he showed up one day at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Now mind you, this is no ordinary club. It’s the same Oakland Hills where Walter Hagen, whose 11 major championships only trail Jack Nicklaus (18) and Tiger Woods (15), once served as club professional. Oakland Hills has hosted six U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships and a Ryder Cup.
After seeing on the job search website Indeed.com that Oakland Hills was hiring — although it didn’t say for what type of job — Kiser paid the club a visit. He was directed to the maintenance department, where he was asked whether he thought he could handle coming to work before sunrise. He said yes, was hired the next day, and, after two weeks of early mornings on the crew, was smitten. “I fell in love with it,” says Kiser. On his second day, he was, as he says, “dirty and sweaty” when he looked up and saw actors Julia Roberts and Tim Allen on the course for a fundraiser.
A student at Michigan State University on track to graduate next May, Kiser is interning until August at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. It’s all quite a change of pace for Kiser, who originally went to school to study elementary education and play soccer at Rochester University in Rochester Hills, Mich., before he discovered the golf industry.
Kiser says the Torrey Pines experience has been inspirational, and he likens being a part of the crew to his days on the soccer field. “The grounds team has a great backbone — people who want to help you and see you succeed,” says Kiser, a two-year GCSAA member who envisions a career in golf or perhaps sports turf. “Seeing these pros playing on the surfaces we all helped create is very cool. This is our art.”
When he departed Torrey Pines, U.S. Open volunteer Andrew Updegrove took with him more than just the belongings he’d brought.
You see, Updegrove is the 2022 U.S. Open director of operations and projects at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., which will host the event June 16-19, 2022. Part of Updegrove’s mission at Torrey Pines was to gather insights and ideas that will benefit the club when it welcomes its first U.S. Open since 1988 and its fourth total. The Country Club, where GCSAA Class A superintendent Dave Johnson is director of grounds, was one of five charter clubs that formed the USGA in 1894.
“The nine days I spent at Torrey was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Updegrove, a 15-year GCSAA member. “I learned more than I could have imagined from Rich (McIntosh, senior superintendent) and his team. They are true professionals and experts in the field. The insider knowledge, daily observations and working together as a team has truly helped to prepare me for the 2022 U.S. Open.”
One particular lesson that Updegrove gleaned from the Torrey Pines experience was how McIntosh brought in seasoned superintendents early in the week, among them Paul B. Latshaw, CGCS, director of golf course operations from Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.; GCSAA Class A superintendent Chad Mark from Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio; and GCSAA Class A superintendent Matt Powell from Dedham (Mass.) Country and Polo Club. “Rich had his core group. He surrounded himself with great colleagues — not to rake bunkers, but to walk the course with him, help put his mind at ease, spitballing ideas and letting him know, ‘You’ve got this course ready,’” Updegrove says.
Agronomically, a key aspect Updegrove studied was the attention to detail given to the greens and how critical it was to hit firmness marks established by the USGA. “We’re going to start prepping data for our greens that will lead to how much water we’ll use on our greens for next year’s championship — find out which ones firm up and which ones we may have to baby some,” he says.
As for the volunteer part of it, Updegrove plans to nail down as early as possible who’ll be on-site, and then provide those volunteers with ample information about the club and the course long before their arrival. “I think having them familiar with things beforehand made his (McIntosh’s) job easier,” Updegrove says of this year’s U.S. Open volunteer workforce, “and he could focus on the golf course.”
Last Friday, Updegrove presented a PowerPoint to his staff about what he gained from his Torrey Pines visit and how those lessons can enhance their efforts ahead of next year’s main event. Updegrove also spoke with the club’s executive board about the experience. “I chatted about the different relationships I formed and the support from the entire crew, which is what makes our small industry so great,” Updegrove says.
Rather than stocking shelves or bagging groceries, other things were in store for Devin Cullen. “I hired him straight out of high school. I think he was planning to get a job at Safeway,” says Steven Kimbrough, CGCS, golf course superintendent and director of landscapes at Sun City Roseville in Roseville, Calif. “He was as green as could be when he joined us, but from the get-go, he was a go-getter.”
Look at him now.
Cullen, assistant at Torrey Pines Golf Course, was in the thick of things during the 2021 U.S. Open. He launched his career under Kimbrough at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, Calif., and followed Kimbrough to work on golf courses for the city of Roseville. Cullen was stationed at Diamond Oaks Golf Course in Roseville when he pursued an opening at Torrey Pines. Kimbrough knew Cullen was ready to go for it. “I told him it was a no-brainer,” says Kimbrough, a 21-year GCSAA member. “He skyrocketed with us. He worked hard, had the crew’s respect. I’ve had a lot of guys go on and do good things. Devin’s going to be one of the shining stars in that group.”
Of his time working at Oakmont and in Roseville, “It opened my eyes, opened the door, to the possibilities of what I could do,” Cullen says. He also sees a lot of himself in Torrey Pines senior superintendent Rich McIntosh, whose first hire was Cullen. “I had the same feeling that Rich has had — I will not fail,” says Cullen, a nine-year GCSAA member, who started at Torrey Pines in April 2016. “We had a mountain to climb to prepare for this, and we were determined for this to be the best it possibly would be. I was going to do whatever was needed to help make it happen.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.