Torrey Pines Golf Course bustles with activity as U.S. Open draws nearer
Bleachers and other infrastructure go up to accommodate an expected 10,000 fans a day for the major tournament June 17-20.
Ryan Connolly’s drive on the 17th hole of Torrey Pines Golf Course’s South Course found the rough.
The rough was already thick May 18 at the La Jolla course, but with the 2021 U.S. Open just weeks away, it will grow and gain height as well.
The grass that grabbed Connolly’s ball wasn’t the golfer’s biggest concern when he walked up to assess the situation for his second shot.
“I blew my drive right and the bleachers were right in my way,” Connolly said. “I never played a course with bleachers on it.”
Until Torrey South closes to the public after play Sunday, June 6, the hazards will not be limited to sand and water.
Dozens of workers are on the property, some crisscrossing the course with equipment and materials loaded in carts and trucks or on forklifts, while others saw and hammer and bolt things into place to create infrastructure for the tournament that will return to Torrey Pines June 17-20 for the first time since the epic 2008 U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods.
Bleachers are going up around several greens, most notably on the eighth, 13th, 15th, 17th and 18th holes.
There also are TV wells adjacent to most of the greens.
A platform built among the trees off the seventh fairway is representative of the structures that will be used for hospitality and dining, which still will require social distancing.
The acreage on the North Course, which was closed the last week of April, will be put to a variety of uses, as it was in 2008.
The fairways on Nos. 1 and 18 will be converted to a driving range. The player complex, media center, hospitality structures and other tents also will be on the North Course, the northeast corner of which will be used for parking.
The merchandise tent on the fairway of No. 10 North will take up 10,000 square feet. That’s sizeable, but dwarfed by the massive 42,000-square-foot big top that occupied the space in 2008.
In contrast with the U.S. Open, the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open was played at Torrey Pines without fans in January because of COVID-19 restrictions and had few of the telltale signs that a major professional event was being staged.
The restrictions have been relaxed over the past four months. The U.S. Open will allow spectators, though it will be a fraction of the record 295,000 who attended the 2008 event.
How many? That’s a good — and fluid — question.
“It’s going to be a moving target,” Craig Annis, chief branding officer for the U.S. Golf Association, said during a recent visit to Torrey Pines. “As the state starts to open up, we’re going to do our best to accommodate even more fans. ...
“We’re not a stadium, so we don’t have designated seats. At some point, even if we’re able to have thousands and thousands of fans, there will be a set number that we think we’ll be able to accommodate safely, which will be important to us.
“It’s finding that sweet spot of accessibility and safety, and that’s where we’ll land. We don’t know where that number is, but we’re excited to have fans.”
USGA has emphasized that anyone attending the event will be required to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or a recent negative test.
Last month, a USGA official estimated that 4,000 to 4,500 fans — as well as 3,000 workers — would be allowed on the grounds each day.
USGA originally sold tickets to the event in September, when it was anticipated the country would be through the pandemic enough to accommodate a larger crowd.
When it was determined that wouldn’t be the case, refunds were issued and fans were reticketed.
New tickets went on sale April 26. They sold out in 40 minutes.
Last week, additional tickets were made available. Emails were sent to USGA members, who were offered the opportunity to purchase two tickets for one day of the event.
The most recent estimate is that crowds approaching 10,000 a day will be allowed in.
With Gov. Gavin Newsom planning to allow the state to be fully reopened June 15, two days before the U.S. Open begins, there’s a chance even more fans could be accommodated.
A USGA official did not return a call seeking comment.
Perhaps there will be more bleachers on the course as well.
Connolly thought it was enough to contend with the bleachers that stretched nearly 100 yards on the 17th hole.
“I blocked them out and went right over them,” he said. “I was worried about hitting some of those workers, but I blocked it all out and somehow stuck it 10 feet from the pin.”
Connolly’s birdie putt missed the mark, so he settled for a par. It didn’t diminish the experience.
Connolly, who was playing with Bobby King, a buddy from Dallas, was overwhelmed by the surroundings.
“This is what heaven looks like, I’m pretty sure,” Connolly said as he walked along the 18th fairway. “I’ve got to remember each of these holes so that when they’re playing [the Open] I can just put myself in their place.” ◆
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