Tom Weiskopf thrilled by chance to re-do North Course at Torrey Pines
By Tod Leonard
LA JOLLA, Calif. – Tom Weiskopf was driving and had to pull off the road. There was no way he could talk excitedly over the phone about his upcoming work on the Torrey Pines North Course and manage the road safely.
After he’d rolled to a stop, Weiskopf said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to enhance an extremely dramatic and special site.”
Of four designers and construction companies that bid to do a renovation of Torrey North after a project led by Phil Mickelson fell through due to state regulations, Tom Weiskopf Designs and Wadsworth Golf Construction prevailed in a selection process by the city.
Preparation work already is being done, Weiskopf’s designs on paper are complete, and the first dirt at Torrey Pines is supposed to be overturned shortly after the conclusion of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 31.
Come the fall of 2016, regular golfers and tour professionals will play what essentially will be a new course covering the skeleton of the old.
“My challenge,” Weiskopf said, “is to not get caught up in what the best players in the game are going to do here in one round a year. The important thing for me is to make it challenging but fair … memorable, and a fun experience that is a totally different look for its future.”
Weiskopf, 73, and Torrey Pines already hold a special place in San Diego golf history. In 1968, the first year the Andy Williams San Diego Open was played at Torrey, the Ohio native, then 26, notched his first pro victory by draining a 25-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole to beat Al Geiberger by one shot.
In all, Weiskopf captured 18 tour titles, including the 1973 British Open.
Weiskopf has been in the golf course design business since retiring from full-time play in the early ‘80s. Working for decades with architect Jay Morrish, with whom he has since parted, Weiskopf has designed more than 60 courses – the most notable being the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course, the longtime host site for the Phoenix Open.
In 2014, Weiskopf performed a renovation at the TPC, owned by the city of Scottsdale, that is not unlike what he is being asked to do on Torrey North, and with a similar smashed-together time frame. He moved bunkers and some tee boxes to accommodate the modern game, and the greens were reshaped and resurfaced.
Weiskopf and his company proudly point out that the TPC project came in under budget and on time.
At Torrey Pines, the scope of the $12 million to $14 million project, funded by the city’s golf enterprise fund, is to replace all tees and greens, move and reconfigure bunkers, add forward tees for women, install new irrigation and provide continuous cart paths.
Mickelson’s original vision that he presented to the city and local golfers in 2012 entailed each of those elements, along with removing more than 20 acres of turf and replacing it with natural material so as to bring the aesthetic of the nearby canyons more into play. Mickelson proposed shaping fairways and green surrounds to be more forgiving for average players while using bunkering and larger greens to create more challenging pin positions for the pros.
Weiskopf’s goals are not dissimilar, other than proposing only five acres of turf removal, which should retain more of the current North feel. In his bid proposal, acquired by the Union-Tribune, Weiskopf offered no drawings, but included a detailed description of every hole.
Key takeaways from the proposal: the greens will, on average, be about 20 percent larger; there will be fewer bunkers and more chipping areas around the putting surfaces; greens will have distinct quadrants, divided by gentle spines.
Fear not, average hack. Weiskopf said the greens won’t be overly diabolical.
“I’ve just never tricked up our green designs because of one factor,” Weiskopf said. “The speeds at which we can achieve with mowing equipment these days, if you get real contour you’re just slowing down play and making it harder for the average guy.”
For the bunkering, Weiskopf wants to create a more classic look. He joked that some of the current bunkers on the North “look like they were created with mortar rounds.”
“I always enjoyed the bunker style of the L.A. courses,” he said. “Riviera, L.A. North, Bel-Air Country Club. That’s the style we’re heading to. Those have stood the test of time.”
Weiskopf said he will take full reins of the project once the construction work begins. He plans to be on site at least two days a week and every decision will ultimately be his.
As with the rest of this process for Torrey North, the selection of a new architect was arduous after the city was advised in September that hiring Mickelson to do the final design work would produce a conflict of interest, according state regulations.
New bids were solicited, and the architects and construction companies that applied were Weiskopf/Wadsworth, Robert Trent Jones Jr./Frontier, Cary Bickler/Landscapes Unlimited, and LPGA Tour player Natalie Gulbis/Heritage Links.
Jones emerged with the highest scores from a city golf committee, but it was then discovered that his company’s bid included work for about $2 million over the established budget. That automatically eliminated Jones from the opportunity, said Kevin Oliver, project officer from the city’s public works department.
“It struck me about a week ago,” Oliver said. “We’re getting exactly what we asked for. I think we’re headed in the right direction and are going to have a great product when it’s done.”
This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.