Torrey Pines Undergoing
March 5, 2008
Mark Woodward, golf operations manager for the City of
San Diego, has been charged with gettingTorreyPines' South Course readyfor theU.S.Open thisJune. It marks the second time the championship will be
played on a truly public venue, the first being in 2002
atBethpage. In a recent interview with USGA staff writerDavidShefter,Woodwarddiscussed the course's transformation from the Buick
Invitational setup used in January and how close it is to
being ready to host theU.S.Open.
What are the challenges of getting an Open ready on a
public venue, where there's a lot of play?
One of the things we did when I first got here [in 2005]
was to build concrete cart paths on the South Course from
tee to green. And we're mandating that the power carts
stay on the cart paths, so we can get the turf where it
needs to be. We had a lot of compacted areas and a lot of
areas around the greens that were worn out from so much
traffic because we have so much play compared to a normal
U.S. Open course. It is a challenge. Even with that, and
keeping carts on the paths, we still have more play than
just about any other U.S. Open course. So it's
something we have to monitor. What we are doing right now
is we have actually restricted play in the afternoon.
We're only allowing play to tee off up until Normally
we would send play off until near darkness. We've cut
back on that substantially in an effort to get the turf
where it needs to be. It's helped out dramatically
around the green surrounds and some of the high-traffic
areas by having less people on the golf course.
Even with the limitations on tee times, I'm sure
demand is very high to play the South Course?
It's frightening right now. The demand is so high for
this place and the supply is going to even dwindle more
because a lot of people come out here and play the North
Course, which is going to close down next week to nine-hole
play. It will be played as a nine-hole golf course until
April 30, and then May 1 the North will go down completely.
And then the South Course . will close on May 21.
But people are just champing at the bit to play this golf
course. There are just a few cases in history that [the
public] can play a U.S. Open golf course up to three weeks
in advance of an Open championship. That's the beauty
of this place. If you have a tee time and pay the
appropriate fees, you get to play a U.S. Open golf course
right up until almost the last minute. In fact, my phone
just rings off the hook. That's probably our biggest
challenge right now is trying to balance the tee times with
the public play and get the course in shape and ready for
the U.S. Open.
The North Course is needed for infrastructure,
Starting this week, [the USGA] will start building the
corporate villages and the Trophy Club, the Merchandise
Tent and the Media Center. There's about 400,000 square
feet of tents. That's all on the North Course, which is
the beauty of this site in that we can put it all on the
North Course and not have the South Course impacted too
much by the infrastructure stuff.
How close is the South Course from being ready to have
theU.S.Open on it?
We still have some preparations to go with green speeds and
rough heights, and firmness is the biggest thing. We've
been having a lot of rain around here and as [people] know,
a U.S. Open course plays hard and we are not even close in
that regard. In terms of firmness and some of the speeds
and heights of cut, we're probably 85 percent ready. We
still have another 15 percent to dial into spring and to
get everything dialed in at the last minute here. We're
going to be one of those golf courses that peak at the last
moment. We have been doing a lot of projects on this golf
course. We've spent several million dollars on this
golf course with all the projects we've done the last
18 months. Now we are really focusing on the agronomics.
Now that the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational is in the
rear-view mirror, what kind of preparation is being done to
the South Course?
The biggest thing right now is they just barely got all the
bleachers and infrastructure off the golf course from the
Buick. We are in the process right now of re-seeding all
the green surrounds and all the bunker surrounds to try and
get the grass re-established fairly quickly. All in all,
our challenge right now is the golf course and the
agronomics and turf conditions.
Coming out of the Buick Invitational, how is the
condition of the course?
It's in great condition right now compared to
what it's been in the past. We're very pleased to
where we are at. Slowly, but surely with [USGA Senior
Director of Rules and Competition] Mike Davis'
direction and Pat Gross, the agronomist from the USGA
[Green Section], we're slowly starting to fine-tune
things to be U.S. Open ready. What I mean by that is
we've changed a few of the fairway widths. We're
slowly, but surely lowering the heights of cuts on the
greens and on the fairways. We're trying to get the
roughs as dense as we can get them and get it kind of
thickened up from all the [spectator] traffic at the Buick,
which trampled it down.
As far as the greens are concerned, they are in excellent
condition. The fairways, the approaches, everything is in
really good condition. It's a matter of fine-tuning
right now to meet the requirements of the USGA versus the
PGA [Tour]. They are a little different in terms of [course
It also has to be different because theU.S.Open is held inJunecompared to the Buick at the beginning of the year when
certain grasses are dormant.
The timing is different. We played the golf course for the
Buick on kikuyugrass and had the fairways and roughs
over-seeded with rye grass. We'll basically have that
same combination in June, but it will kind of shift a
little bit because the kikuyugrass is a warm-season grass
and it likes the warm temperatures. So as we get closer to
June, the kikuyugrass will get stronger and stronger. And
the rye grass will get weaker and weaker. It will kind of
reverse. We'll have more kikuyu in the sunny areas, but
we will still have some rye grass lingering in the shady
areas along the tree lines because the kikuyu doesn't
like to grow in the shade.
Is kikuyu a tough grass to play from, especially in the
It's going to be a major factor. That's why Mike
Davis isn't getting too carried away with the heights
you would normally see at Oakmont or Winged Foot, because
the grass is so thick and gnarly and it does grab the club
head and it's hard to get the club head through it to
make contact on the golf ball. We're looking at
probably fairly moderate heights around the fairways.
It's going to be the graduated cut from the fairway. .
So I don't think we will get too carried away with that
first cut of [primary] rough anyway.
How many fairways did you have to alter in terms of
Mike [Davis] came out Feb. 1, 2 and 3 and we dialed in No.
9 and he narrowed the second shot landing area on No. 9,
which is a long par 5 at 615 yards. At the Buick, the
fairway [on No. 18] would curve around to the right and the
approach would be on the right side of the lake. For the
Open, the fairway is going to go around both sides of that
lake, so it almost appears that the lake is going to be in
the fairway. We did a little bit of work on some of the
other [holes]. At No. 4, we dialed that one in a little
bit. We did the same on No. 6. There were maybe a handful
of fairways that we have modified since the Buick.
Basically, though, it's the same fairway widths that
you saw for the Buick.
Are you where you want to be with less than four months
to go before Open week?
I think we are. I was a little worried with all the
projects we had going. We built parking lots. We built
bunkers and tees. We did all kinds of things and I'm
thinking this is going to go down to the last minute here.
But we finally got all the projects done before the Buick,
so I feel pretty confident where we are right now.
How many staffers are assisting in the agronomic
We have 40 right now working on the course and then
obviously we'll bring in probably over 100 volunteers
from all around the country for those last eight days to
help dial everything in.
How do you rate the excitement factor right now atTorreyPines, or evenSan Diego, for theU.S.Open?
There's a buzz right now. People are finally starting
to see things go in and it's getting close enough where
they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The
men's club, the women's club, and everyone who
plays out here regularly, are really starting to embrace
this thing. It's actually good. We went through some
turmoil about a year or so ago with our business plan and
people were wondering what we were doing from a business
point, but now everybody has embrace this thing and they
are excited about it. You can just see it. I think the
men's club has about 200 volunteers who are going to
marshal the first and 18th hole. That's going to be
pretty exciting for those guys to have their home course
that they've been playing for years and years be a
major part of this event.
I don't know if you attended the 2002 Open atBethpage, which was the first truly public course to host this
championship, but is the hype atTorreyPines similar or greater than '02?
I think it's higher. Mike Antolini from the USGA
actually signed up a record number of volunteers versus any
other U.S. Open. They got 6,000 volunteers signed up in
record time. Plus I think he's got another 2,000 or
2,500 on a waiting list. So the buzz is really, really
intense here. And the city fathers and political folks
downtown are getting very exciting about it as well. So we
are right where we want to be and everybody is pumped.
They have never had a U.S. Open here so they have never
seen it up close and personal. The beauty of it is as the
USGA sets up the entire infrastructure and these tents and
everything, the public is going to be able to watch that go
up. They are going to see how big the magnitude and scope
is of this event. Whereas at Oakmont or Winged Foot, only
the members would be able to see that go up. So this is
kind of cool when people stand out on the balcony here at
Torrey Pines; they are going to be seeing all these tents
going up and all these roads being built and they are going
to be amazed when they see it all set up. Nobody has an
idea how big this thing is if you haven't seen it