6 Things You Didn't Know About Torrey Pines
The course and its location have far more history than its annual PGA Tour event.
1. It is named for a rare pine tree.
The namesake Torrey Pine is a remnant of a prehistoric mountain range now submerged in the Pacific. The tree was discovered in 1850 by Dr. Charles Parry, who named it in honor of his mentor, Dr. John Torrey, a botanist from Columbia University. Unlike other white pine varieties, the Torrey grows in irregular fashion, with clusters of five pine needles that can reach nearly a foot in length. Its pulp is pliable, so the trees get gnarly and twisted in strong winds.
In all of North America, the tree is found only on the Torrey Pines mesa, locale of the 36 holes of Torrey Pines and adjacent Torrey Pines State Reserve, and on Santa Rosa Island south of Santa Barbara (the north end of the submerged range). It is against the law to cut one down. It can only be transplanted. So during the recent clean-up of the South Course, while hundreds of other trees were removed to open up vistas and improve turf conditions, 30 Torrey Pines were carefully relocated, and all survived.
2. The site was formerly an army camp.
In 1940, fearful of a Japanese invasion, the federal government leased 710 acres of the Torrey Pines mesa from the city of San Diego for $1 per year, as well as 500 adjacent acres from private landowners, to create an artillery training camp. Camp Callan opened in January 1941, 11 months before Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II. It became a city of 15,000, with paved streets and nearly 300 buildings, including three theaters and five chapels.
Less than three months after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the camp was declared surplus and the lease terminated. The feds then sold all the buildings to San Diego for $200,000, a princely sum at the time.
3. The site then became a race course.
After the buildings had been razed, the streets of Camp Callan remained, and with the use of some rubber cones and hay bales, it became the Torrey Pines Race Course in 1951, a twisting, turning 2.7 mile circuit on which both sports cars and grand-prix racers competed. There is nothing left of the race course today, but old-timers recall the start-finish line somewhere in the vicinity of the eighth green of the South course. Drivers headed north, turned left (across what is today the sixth fairway) on a loop that headed toward the ocean, then away from it (east on the first fairway of the North Course). Turning north again, the race track soon made two right turns to head south on a long "straightaway" (which had a couple of jogs in it) parallel to the Pacific Coast Highway (now Torrey Pines Boulevard). Today, that straightaway is occupied by a small practice range, parking lots, the Torrey Pines Lodge, a Hilton hotel and many office buildings. The final loop crossed somewhere along the ninth and 15th holes.
In 1955 it was decided to convert the raceway into 36 golf holes. Its last race was conducted in January 1956, an endurance contest of six hours, about the same amount of time needed for a weekend round at Torrey Pines these days. Some guy named Woods won the race. Pearce Woods, not Tiger.
4. The city credits the wrong guy with the course design.
Near the Torrey Pines golf shop, a series of plaques honors those responsible for present-day Torrey Pines. One gives credit to William P. Bell & Son as original architects. That's wrong. The son, William F. Bell, designed the two courses. His father, William P. Bell, had been dead for four years at the time construction started.
Here's how the confusion occurred. In November 1950 the city of San Diego signed a contract with William P. Bell and Son, "a co-partnership," to submit a plan for an 18-hole golf course "suitable for construction on city-owned land in Torrey Pines mesa."
Through a series of delays (and his father's death in 1953), Willam F. Bell didn't receive approval for his final plan—which called for 36 holes, not 18—until 1955. Out of respect for his father, Bell had retained the company name. The city's contract was with "William F. Bell, golf course architect of Pasadena, Calif., doing business as William P. Bell and Son, Golf Course Architects." The plaque got the corporate name right, but not the actual guy.
5. In the beginning the courses weren't very good.
The Bell family dominated golf design in California between the 1920s and the 1950s. The father, William P. Bell, had worked with the legendary George C. Thomas Jr. on the the Riviera, Bel-Air and Los Angeles CC layouts.