This week, Torrey Pines is the center of the golf universe.
The 121st U.S. Open will be played on the South Course, the jewel of the track on the La Jolla coast. Torrey Pines is no stranger to big golf events. The PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open is played here every January.
But, a Major Championship is a completely different animal.
“With them having the Farmers here the golf course is really in pretty good shape,” says Darin Bevard, Director of Championship Agronomy for the USGA.
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And what, pray tell, is agronomy?
“The study of plants and soil.”
That makes sense. Bevard is the man in charge of getting the South Course ready for the Open, and they’ve been at it for a while now.
“Really here we started back in 2017.”
That’s the year the golf course underwent a renovation with eyes on bringing the U.S. Open back for the second time. So, they’ve been working for four years, preparing for this one weekend.
2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines
It’s not a complete transformation, but It’s also not a small change. Let’s give Darin a chance to go full metal agronomist on us.
“First off, the golf course is overseeded with perennial rye grass so it’s going to have a different look to it. More kikuyu now, the fairways are primarily all kikuyu grass. The rough’s going to be a little higher and it’s also going to have a little kikuyu grass in it, which is the warm season grass that enjoys this hot, sunny weather.”
Part of the reason for all the different grasses is the weather change between the Farmers Insurance Open and the U.S. Open.
“They tend to have rain during the Farmers for a day or, whatever, and we’re not going to have to worry about that so the golf course is probably going to be a little firmer and faster than what you see in January.”
There’s also a playability factor to having multiple grasses in the rough. The United States Golf Association wants this tournament to be a true test of golf. When you have different grasses in one area, it changes the way the rough plays.
One grass grows a little longer and thicker, another grows a different direction. So, this week you could see two players on the same hole, in the same rough, within five feet of one another, yet one player has a chance to go for the green while the other needs to just punch out because he has a terrible lie.
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It’s one of those fun things you can do at courses like Torrey Pines, but not many other places.
“The irony out here at Torrey Pines is, I don’t think we have many U.S. Open venues that the 156-player field is actually a decrease from the amount of daily rounds they do out here, which is upwards of 200 rounds a day.”
Torrey Pines is one of just six municipal courses to have ever hosted the U.S. Open, which is mostly contested at private clubs. When you have a course that’s used to taking a pounding it can be a little easier to keep the grass under control.
Still, the grounds crew, led by superintendent Rich McIntosh, will be monitoring every inch of it closely and constantly. Much like human athletes, hydration level is right at the top of the list of concerns.
“They’re collecting soil moisture readings and, depending on how much we lose in a day, we have to put enough water back to make sure we maintain turf health.”
So, bottom line this for us Darin. How is Torrey Pines South as the best players on earth prepare to take their shots at it?
“When I arrived on site on Tuesday this place was ready to get ready. There were really no concerns.”
Bevard obviously loves what he does. But, he finds joy in the recognition that comes when the broadcast team raves about the course’s beauty.
“It’s really cool to see the your own golf course on TV and best golfers in the world trying their hand at it. So, I’m fortunate that I get to do this every year but I really enjoy seeing it on TV and enjoy seeing what we do for the guys that have put in all the hard work to get it to this point.”
The 121st U.S. Open tees off on Thursday on Torrey Pines. You can watch all the action throughout the weekend on NBC 7 and the Golf Channel.