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.
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 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.
April 30, 2007