Torrey Pines Undergoing Transformation

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?

Woodward: 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?

Woodward: 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, correct?

Woodward: 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?

Woodward: 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?

Woodward: 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?

Woodward:  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 setup] philosophies.

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.

Woodward: 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 rough?

Woodward: 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 width?

Woodard: 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?

Woodward: 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 preparation?

Woodward: 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?

Woodward: 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?

Woodward: 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 before.


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