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2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines provides profit to city, a big improvement from 2008

Jon Rahm celebrates his birdie putt on the 18th green to win the U.S. Open in June at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

USGA payments this year covered the city’s expenses and more, dwarfing the amount San Diego received to host the golf tournament 13 years ago.

There are varied ways to gauge the impact and reach of this summer’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla.

Start with the 150 hours of total television and digital coverage that reached 177 countries and territories, including 25 million viewers in the United States alone — a postcard-perfect glamour shot for La Jolla and the San Diego region.

Consider the nearly $3.5 million the U.S. Golf Association paid the city to cover costs of the tournament, won by Jon Rahm on June 20.

Birdies on the final two holes carry him past Louis Oosthuizen for his first major victory.

The city’s contract with USGA required the course to remain closed the first two days of the following week, building in extra tournament days for weather delays or extended play. When tee sheets for the following Wednesday popped up online, it was like tossing a sirloin steak into a shark tank.

“It took 45 seconds to fill the entire tee sheet for the day,” said Scott Bentley, deputy director of the city’s golf division. “We’re talking 6:15 in the morning until 6 at night.”

USGA paid the city $3,469,256, according to a public records request by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

That came in the form of six rent checks to cover, in part, the closure of the South Course in advance of the tournament and the North Course as it morphed into a driving range, media center, parking lot and more. USGA also paid $450,000 to offset public safety work and permitting.

Revenue sharing was included in the final total in the form of 20 percent of hospitality packages and 10 percent of hotel receipts, amounting to $269,256.

Patrick Reed hits from the sand during the first round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

This year’s multimillion-dollar total dwarfed the $500,000 San Diego received to host the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008.

USGA payments 13 years ago did not come close to covering lost money from course closures. The 2021 tournament produced some plus-side revenue, in addition to regional tourism impacts.

Hosting an Open cannot be measured solely in dollars and cents, though. The incredible finish orchestrated by Tiger Woods in 2008, for example, delivered a marketing bonanza.

“Worldwide interest and demand in the course skyrocketed,” according to city spokesman Tim Graham. “[Hosting again] keeps Torrey Pines Golf Course top of mind in the golfing world.”

Though the city covered its expenses and more this year, the hospitality portion fell well below projections. Natasha Collura, executive director of the city’s special-events group, indicated in a June 22 email that an inquiry was sent to USGA because the money was “not nearly the level anticipated.”

The city estimated before the COVID-19 pandemic that a normal U.S. Open would bring San Diego $1.3 million to $1.7 million related to hospitality. Then COVID limitations stunted attendance.

‘Amazing to see it all come together’

Players and USGA officials universally gushed about the playing conditions. The course became one of the Open’s stars.

Rees Jones, who redesigned the Torrey South Course, thinks it should be awarded another U.S. Open.

In 2008, “one of the big concerns was the condition of the golf course,” Bentley said. “We hadn’t done an Open before, and being a muni[cipal course], they had lots of concerns about the condition of the course.

“We made a lot of changes in our agronomic practices, so the courses are in much better condition than 2008. This year, they had very few concerns.”

That was an achievement given that the golf division — as with other city groups — faced staffing reductions because of COVID.

“People were surprised we were able to pull it off, because we were short-staffed,” Bentley said. “We were down about 30 percent of our maintenance employees. The whole spring, getting ready, we were scrambling. It was amazing to see it all come together.”

Bleachers and other infrastructure go up to accommodate an expected 10,000 fans a day for the major tournament June 17-20.

Despite the sparkling report card, concern ripples about when or whether the tournament will return.

A Golf Digest story headlined “Why Torrey Pines is a possible goodbye to the U.S. Open’s era of true public courses” explained a shift in USGA thinking about whittling the number of public courses to increase windows for historic, core courses.

Though USGA officials hinted Torrey Pines is likely to be included on a short list that has gotten shorter, questions swirl.

“I’m very optimistic we’ve got a good shot at it,” Bentley said. “They say they listen to the players, and the players were happy. We produced another memorable event and great finish. San Diego’s a great town with great weather.

“I’m not sure why it wouldn’t come back.” ◆