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Torrey Pines "spat" a tale of rich, whiny San Diego golfers

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Tee times squeezed at storied Torrey Pines? There's nothing more to this "controversy" than wealthy San Diego golfers trying to keep a great golf course to themselves, Chris Baldwin writes.

Torrey Pines Golf Club - South Course
Step right up: The first tee at Torrey Pines' South course is wide open.
Torrey Pines Golf Club - South CourseTorrey Pines Golf ClubTorrey Pines Golf Club

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- David Gunas Jr. -- the barefoot golfing pseudo-celebrity from Big Break II -- walks right up to the old-school starter's booth at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course.

It's a beautiful San Diego Saturday. Gunas doesn't have a tee time. Hadn't even thought of making one.

He's teeing off within 10 minutes.

Outraged? Disgusted by another case of San Diegans being denied access to their municipal course in favor of visiting high rollers and celebrities -- even D-list celebrities? Ready to break out the Birkenstocks for a sit-in on the South Course's 18th green?

Keep those Depends on for a second.

You, me or anyone else could have been Gunas this past Saturday. At the height of San Diego's tourist season, on a gorgeous weekend afternoon, Torrey Pines turned out to be easier to stroll on than a public boardwalk.

Show up, wait maybe 25 minutes (if you came at a tough time) and you're swinging away on those seaside cliffs. You don't need to deal with a phone-reservation line more complex than an IRS form. And you certainly don't have to camp out. You just needed to have a pulse.

Even Paris Hilton has stiffer standards for her dance card.

"Getting on is no problem," San Diego County resident Steve Bowles said with a shrug. Bowles brought his brother Darren, visiting from El Paso, out to experience the North Course. And he's shrugging about getting on? At Torrey Pines?

This goes against practically everything that's been written about the course since the USGA awarded it the 2008 U.S. Open.

Sports Illustrated devoted several pages to the "controversy" swirling around residents' rights to play the municipal jewel. Local sports columnist Tim Sullivan lamented the tee times that were being taken away.

Having read all this -- and hundreds of other column inches on the subject -- I expected to find a bunch of frustrated golfers at Torrey Pines. I was primed to write a column sticking up for the little guy, the average golfer getting shut out.

Then I arrived at the club -- and started to wonder if anyone who's written about Torrey Pines has ever actually visited the course outside media day.

Searching far and wide, from the very muni (i.e. cramped and fenced-in) driving range to the towering pines that are the heart of the club, uncovered one upset, put-out golfer.

"This is a public golf course that's here for the benefit of San Diegans," local Hal Hartley said. "I think too many people forget that. I personally couldn't care less if a U.S. Open was ever held here.

"In fact, I'd prefer that it wasn't. They can take it somewhere else. Immediately."

All right. Now we're getting somewhere.

"As it's gotten more popular, there's a lot more traffic," Hartley continued. "It's very difficult to get a tee time."

So how often are you able to get on?

"I play it about once a week," Hartley replied, straight-faced.

Hello? He plays Torrey Pines -- one of the great mystique courses in all of golf -- once a week. For a $45 weekend resident rate. And he's complaining?

Sorry, this just doesn't count as one of life's great injustices. Or even one of golf's little ones.

Torrey Pines "underdogs": Grumpy BMW golfers

Torrey Pines definitely has a muni parking lot. It's as boxed in as the driving range, boasts a sign that's fit for the course from Caddyshack. Only this modest asphalt is filled with luxury cars. BMWs are the most abundant model by far, with a few gleaming Jaguars thrown in. There are a number of kids on the grounds, but they're largely concentrated at the driving range and putting green.

Forget all your visions of a utopian golf scene. Torrey Pines is a rich man's playground surer than many country clubs. Who do you think's living in La Jolla (average home price $1.7 million) anyway?

It's this BMW set that's trying to keep "outsiders" off this storied course.

That's what all the furor over the tee times given to a few hotels and trip packagers comes down to. It's a provincial grab by those who believe Torrey Pines is theirs.

Living in San Diego County shouldn't guarantee you a 9 a.m. tee time on Torrey Pines South whenever you wish. This should be a facility that's available for all. Groups like the Torrey Pines Men's Golf Club are fanning the flames of a nonexistent controversy with hot-button quotes in in well-placed stories.

Hey, like anyone else, we're suckers for the underdog. Only this time the underdog is a few grumpy rich guys who want to dictate the terms of golf paradise.

This is California, where fans' lukewarm passion for their sports teams apparently carries over into golf. At New York state's famed municipal Bethpage Black, golfers race each other to the parking lot to camp out overnight, knowing a tee time's as precious as Yankee playoff tickets.

At Torrey Pines, golfers saunter up to the starter's booth and put down a credit card. None of these "put-out" San Diegans are running past the guy from Chicago to the glass booth.

The truth is that visitors tend to show more passion for Torrey Pines than the residents.

"It's just great to walk those fairways," Phoenix golfer Jordan Ross said. "Even if you're a bad golfer. It gives you goosebumps."

Guys like Ross deserve their swings at Torrey Pines. Sorry, California grumps. Time to find a new fake cause.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Not a Fan of the Course

    Pat wrote on: Feb 20, 2008

    I played the South course about 3 years ago and was terribly unimpressed with both the couse condition and the layout. For the life of me I couldn't think of a good reason the USGA would host a US Open there.
    As a public venue, Bethpage is a much better track in every respect - minus the Pacific of course. I actually think the Red Course at Bethpage is a better track than the South.
    It can't be mentioned in the same breath as Winged Foot and many others.


  • Torrey Pines

    Ann wrote on: Feb 20, 2008

    This article is misinformed in many respects only one of which I will address: Getting on as a single is not all that difficult--it can take five minutes or a couple of hours' wait but it is very doable. What is extremely difficult is snagging a tee time for two or more. There are some guys out there who have mastered the art for, for most of us, it is almost impossible. When I play, however, I show up in my 2001 Ford Ranger pickup. Torrey is one of the world's great public resources.


  • Torrey Pines

    paul wrote on: Jun 4, 2007

    This story is a bunch of crap. The players I play with very much care about and appreciate playing Torrey when we get the opportunity.
    You may have been at Torrey during a slow time. Locals spend the night in the parking lot on Friday and Saturday night EVERY week just to get the opportunity to roam the famed fairways.
    YES, we have a sense of ownership, it is a muni and our tax dollars pay for municipal facilities.
    You should get all the facts before trashing the locals or the men's club. You mention the vehicles, did you ever consider some of those may belong to people that are paying a premium to reserve tee times. There are a lot of Hondas, Toyotas and Fords in the lot, but I guess you failed to mention that. Selective CRAP journalism I suppose.
    The hotel, the Lodge and the Pro-shop, which is NOT run by the city, all get preferred tee times. The locals either pay a premium to the City for an advance tee time, dial in 7 days in advance or come out and wait. Those are the only options.
    The Men's club is open to men and women and the sole purpose of the club is to promote tournament golf. The members of the club have no additional tee time benefits outside of the regularly scheduled events.
    This is another case of bad journalism, you clearly did not do all your homework before writing this pile of rubble!


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