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The South Course at Torrey Pines – Home of the Farmers Insurance Open

If you have been fortunate enough to play the South Course at Torrey Pines, you already know how stunning the venue is. For those of you who have yet to experience the breathtaking views of the public golf course sitting atop the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll want to pay attention to the following sections closely.

Our team of golf gurus is going to take you on a tour through the location of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open. We’ll discuss the factors that led to the property coming to be, as well as illustrate the course’s layout in great detail.

Don’t worry; we’ll have a section devoted to the unforgettable U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, won by a “one-legged” Tiger Woods.

If you want to experience a United States Open at Torrey, all you have to do is be ready for the summer of 2021. The USGA will be returning to Torrey Pines for their National Championship that June.

We’re going to tell you everything you need to know so that you can be walking the ropes with the world’s best players.

Do you want to follow a Major Championship at one of the most scenic tracks that exist in the world? Then it’s time to get prepped on Torrey Pines.

All you have to do in order to accomplish that is follow along! Start with this table highlighting some basic facts before transitioning into the bulk of the guide.

Torrey Pines: South Course – Key Facts

La Jolla, California
Year Opened
Owner/Operated by
The City of San Diego/Torrey Pines Club Corporation
Course Designer
William F. Bell, Rees Jones (redesign)
7,698 yards
Host to
Farmers Insurance Open (1968-Current), 2008 and 2021 U.S. Open
Official Website
Torrey Pines South Course Hole 1

Let’s Start from the Beginning

We want you to understand how the Torrey Pines Golf Course originated, so we have to start from the beginning, back when the land was being used for something much different than chasing a white ball around a grassy field.

They may have started playing golf at Torrey Pines when it opened in 1957, but back in 1941, the grounds were used as a military training center.

Camp Callen

During World War II, about 750 acres of Torrey Pines Mesa were “borrowed” from the City of San Diego and used as a training ground for soldiers. It was called Camp Callen, and it was designated as an “anti-aircraft artillery replacement center.”

It lasted this way until the end of 1945, although portions of the area did remain open for public access. Another part of the deal the City of San Diego made was that the military could not permanently damage any area of the park, as they knew one day they would further develop on the lush land.

Torrey Pines Golf Course Opens

William Park Bell may have passed away in 1954, but he had a vision that his son would thankfully carry out for him three years later. The caddie master from Annandale Golf Club turned greenskeeper at Pasadena Golf Club always dreamed of building a golf course that combined exquisite design with natural beauty.

Of course, this couldn’t be done just anywhere, as only the perfect setting could offer the spectacular views that Torrey Pines does.

Two years after Bell’s passing, the City of San Diego set aside about 100 acres from the old Camp Callan site and deemed it the location of a new golf course. Fortunately, Bell’s son William F. would be the one to supervise the project, thus enabling the execution of his father’s vision.

The next year, in 1957, Torrey Pines opened a pair of 18-hole courses aptly named the North Course and the South Course. Both were designed by William Bell Jr., who is also the creator of Southern California gems like Saticoy Country Club and Sandpiper Golf Course.

The north track at Torrey Pines offers ocean views and is certainly no slouch, but the South Course is something special, something unique.

In 1999, the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department decided they wanted to make Torrey Pines not just a regular PGA Tour destination but a featured stop on the PGA Tour schedule.

Not only did they want to attract better fields, but they had the idea of one day hosting a U.S. Open. In order to accomplish this, they knew they needed to “beef up” the course.

That’s when Rees Jones, the famed golf course architect, was brought in to apply his magical touch. This meant repositioning bunkers, re-contouring the putting surfaces, and adding more than 600 yards of length. The result was an absolute ruthless test of golf.

The redesign was completed in 2001, and the following year, Torrey Pines was chosen as the host site of the 2008 United States Open.

We want to tell you more about the characteristics of Torrey Pines’ South Course that make it stand out, but for that, we’ll need a separate segment.

Envisioning the South Course at Torrey Pines

The difficulty of playing the South Course from the back tees is hard to put into words. If you looked up the definition of a “ball striker’s golf course,” you’d probably see a picture one of the holes from Torrey Pines’ South Course.

Being a good putter helps, as it does at any golf course, but you’ll need a whole lot more than that to post a good round here.

It doesn’t matter what time of day or what time of year you play the South Course in; it’s never going to be easy. During tournament time in late January or early February, the PGA Tour will try and set the course up so it plays firm and fast.

If you play Torrey when the sun is shining and the temperatures are warm, avoiding the deep rough is near impossible.

On the other hand, the early-morning fog cast from the Pacific Ocean or any sort of rainfall will soak up the fairways, thus producing no roll. This makes the golf course play extraordinarily long, and that’s for the longest guys out there.

If you are an average-length hitter playing Torrey Pines in wet conditions, all we can do is wish you luck and tell you to say a prayer.

Right from the onset, the opening hole lets golfers know they’ll need to have their “A games” if they want to survive the 18 holes unscathed. The opening hole is a 450-yard beast, and don’t be surprised if there’s a gentle breeze from the Pacific Ocean pushing back into your face.

To clear the two fairway bunkers on the right side, you’ll need to carry the ball some 300 yards. And remember, this is at sea level, not at “altitude” where the ball flies significantly further.

If one wants to argue that the second and third holes offer players a sigh of relief, then surely they’d echo the sentiments that the 4th hole at Torrey Pines is absolutely no bargain.

At 483 yards of straightaway par 4, balls hooked left of the fairway will fall off the cliff and be down on the beach. It doesn’t help that the prevailing breeze is pushing balls to the right and away from the target, nor does it help that the green is protected by a deep greenside bunker that swallows any mis-hit approach shots.

Any player will gladly take a par here, as they would on just about any hole at the South Course. The 6th hole is a par 5 that low-handicap players can take advantage of, except the USGA decided to covert it into a par 4 during the 2008 U.S. Open.

Believe it or not, the 515-yard (now par 4) 6th hole wasn’t even the toughest hole the participants faced during the week!

The 12th Hole

The most brutal hole the players had to contend with was the 12th hole, and it’s almost the same story every single year the week before the Super Bowl when the Farmers Insurance Open is held.

The hardest hole at Torrey Pines measures 504 yards and is always almost dead into the wind.

There’s a massive sand trap just right of the fairway that starts at 275 yards from the tee, and it’s 309 yards to carry. This bunker is the recipient of plenty of tee shots, and it’s also the site of lots of bogies and doubles.

Unless you can hoist some sort of long iron about 220 yards over the lip and onto the green, you’re just laying up and hoping to make par the hard way.

Considering just 15 birdies were made over the course of four U.S. Open rounds compared to 29 double bogies and 7 triple bogies or worse, you can see how tough this hole plays. To help further put it into perspective, 210 bogies were made, one more than the 209 pars that were recorded on the hole.

A Finishing Par 5

The 18th at the South Course is a par 5 that the longer guys can muscle up and hit in two, as long as they find the fairway with their drives. Players can’t carry the left and right bunkers, so their only choice is to fit one right up the middle.

Those who flush their tee shot will have a decision to make, as the approach shot is “all carry” over a pond. The green has massive undulation, sloping severely from back to front. Even well-struck shots can land on the wrong section of the green and wind up in trouble. Just ask Kyle Stanley.

The Clemson product needed to make just double-bogey on the final hole of the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open for the win, but it all came apart when this wedge shot came rolling back into the hazard on the final hole. Stanley would go on to make a triple-bogey 8 and lose the tournament in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker.

While that may be an ugly memory depicting the culminating hole at Torrey Pines’ South Course, there have been more than enough cherished ones.

We’ll get to the biggest one here shortly when we break down Tiger’s victory in 2008, but let’s first talk about the Farmers Insurance Open. For those of you keeping track, Tiger hasn’t done too poorly in that event, winning it a mind-boggling seven times.

The Farmers Insurance Open

It seemed like Tiger Woods owned this event for years, continually stamping his footprints at Torrey Pines at the Buick Invitational. Don’t get confused; this is the same golf tournament it always has been, just with a different name.

After originating in 1952 as the San Diego Open, it went by a variety of names through 1995. It was called the Buick Invitational from 1996-2009 before Farmers Insurance took over as the title sponsor in 2010.

Regardless of the name, it’s been a significant event on the PGA Tour schedule ever since Tiger made his first mark here in 1999. To give you an idea of how much exposure it has received and how much the tournament has grown, check out this figure.

When Davis Love III won the first “Buick Invitational” in 1996, he received a first-place check for $216,000. Fast forward to the whopping $1.242 million that Jason Day was awarded for winning the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, and you see the implications that Tiger Woods’ dominance at the track has had.

For years, every golf fan in the world knew that Tiger would make his season debut at the end of January at Torrey Pines. In a sense, this was the “coming-out party” for Tiger each and every year. Did you really think that the golf channel and news outlets wouldn’t be all over the tournament’s coverage?

Consequently, it’s because of Tiger’s incredible performances at Torrey Pines that we seem to forget about the other guys who have found success here. Since 2012, both Brandt Snedeker (2012, 2016) and Jason Day (2015, 2018) have won this tournament twice.

Scott Stallings, the winner in 2014, almost defended his title the following year, losing in a playoff to Jason Day. Ironically enough, it was Day who finished runner-up to Stallings the year before.

Clearly it’s a place that certain players have found an affinity for. The players who don’t hit the ball solidly will be packing their bags on Friday after a missed cut.

As far as some of the most memorable moments from the event’s history go, there are a few that stick out. We already alluded to Kyle Stanley making a “snowman” on the final hole to lose the tournament in 2012 in heartbreaking fashion.

We mentioned that Tiger Woods has won this tournament a remarkable seven times; trying to recount and reminisce about each of those victories would have to be the subject of a separate page.

However, we would like to share a snippet from the playoff in the 2004 Buick Invitational when John Daly hit this miraculous bunker shot to seal his first victory in nine years.

You can see the emotion pouring out of Big John when he was interviewed following the win.

And how about the ending to the 2016 edition? Surely nobody can forget Brandt Snedeker’s brilliant performance in the unbearable conditions that included gusts up to 60 mph and forced play to be finished on a Monday.

Not only was “Sneds” the only player of the 71 who made the cut who broke par in round 4, but 23 guys didn’t even break 80. Brandt actually made the cut “on the number,” while the 54-hole leader (Scott Brown) fired an 87 the last day.

If that doesn’t tell you that anything can happen when the PGA Tour rolls into La Jolla every winter, we’re not sure what will.

The 2008 U.S. Open – A Tournament for the Ages

Remembering the most impressive finishes at Torrey during the annual PGA Tour stop was fun, and it sheds light on how much drama has been witnessed over the years at the South Course.

However, they pale in comparison to the inspiring and flat-out astonishing performance displayed by Tiger Woods during the 2008 United States Open at Torrey.

Most players like to show up for a U.S. Open test having plenty of practice and preparation in the weeks leading up. Tiger was coming off knee surgery and hadn’t competed for 2 months.

The layout Tiger was attempting to return on wasn’t exactly the “walk in the park” you’d like to debut on coming off a serious procedure like knee surgery.

In order to indicate just how difficult the course was playing this particular week, keep these stats in mind. The cut was seven over par, and +6 earned you a top-10 finish. Only two men finished in the red for the week, and that was Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate.

Rocco was actually already in the clubhouse at 283 (-1) and was about to have his name engraved onto the U.S. Open Trophy.

And then, Tiger did this.

Needing to hole a 13-foot, downhill, left-to-right breaking putt is tough enough. Add in that it was about 7:00 pm, on Poa Annua greens, and it was to force a Monday playoff at the U.S. Open. This would be a close to impossible task for a regular human being. For Tiger Woods, it was just another day in the office.

Ironically enough, the 18-hole playoff the following morning wasn’t enough to decide the Championship, because the same scenario played out. Needing a birdie on the final hole to tie Rocco, Tiger did what Tiger does.

After matching with rounds of even-par 71, it was off for another hole, the 91st of the tournament.

After Mediate failed to get up on the first sudden-death hole (the par-4 7th), “the fat lady had finally sung.” Tiger Woods had won his 3rd U.S. Open and 14th Major Championship overall.

The Location Can’t Be Beat

If you have been dying to make it to a U.S. Open someday, don’t worry, and start getting excited. The 2021 edition is coming to Torrey’s South Course, and it’s the perfect opportunity for you to cross “going to a U.S. Open” off your bucket list.

Or perhaps you are just thinking about heading to Torrey Pines for an upcoming Farmers Insurance Open? In either case, if you plan on coming to the shores of La Jolla to watch a golf tournament, just make sure you set aside ample time to explore the rest of the area.

Those of you who live in San Diego or have visited “America’s finest city” can consider yourselves lucky, because not everyone gets to experience sunny weather and warm temperatures year-round.

Regardless of if you attend the PGA Tour event in late January or if it’s the U.S. Open in June of 2021, you’ll want to bring a bathing suit and plenty of sunscreen.

Torrey Pines Golf Course is located just a stone’s throw away from La Jolla Cove, one of the cooler beach settings you’ll ever encounter. Del Mar just north, and SeaWorld is just south. You’ve got downtown San Diego and the bars in Pacific Beach just minutes away.

We can’t really think of a legitimate reason why someone wouldn’t want to come to Torrey Pines and spend a few days.

For those serious golfers who would rather play the course themselves than impatiently watch the tour pros, you are in luck, too. Torrey Pines is not only open to the public, but they have reduced rates for seniors and twilight times that make playing the South Course extremely feasible.

It’s time to stop wondering when you’ll get your chance to compete on a Major Championship-quality venue. Head to Torrey Pines now.

Some Thoughts to Take Away

Most tracks that are utilized for Major Championships are so private that the average fan can only dream of playing them. The majority of courses that are this difficult don’t possess as much raw beauty, and that’s what makes Torrey Pines stand out.

In a nutshell, you typically just can’t find a golf course this prestigious that comes with such a scenic landscape.

With the South Course at Torrey Pines, not only does this place exist, but it’s also completely accessible for you and your friends.

As great as it is reading about golf courses that are full of history and tradition, it’s even better when you have a chance to experience them for yourself. Our goal of explaining the origins of the facilities as well as depicting the layout was intended to give you a full understanding of what Torrey Pines offers.

Rehashing memories of Tiger pushing through injury to capture the 2008 U.S. Open is just an example of what has transpired on the green pastures off the cliffs of the La Jolla shores.

Talking about the Farmers Insurance Open and how it has become a flagship event on the FedEx Cup schedule is just another case of this place being a staple on the PGA Tour schedule.

It’s the reason why the USGA is already slated to come back to host their National Championship in 2021. With all there is to do and see in the vicinity, it’s hard to imagine why someone wouldn’t want to be there.

We’ll be there first-hand taking all the action in, and we hope you will be, too!

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