Editor’s Note: I had planned to write this after my last round at Torrey in June, but the summer schedules, projects, etc. got in the way. I was prompted to revisit what I started, however, when Golf Digest named the South Course at Torrey the 17th toughest course in the country so I’ve revived and completed that post. I can asked about Torrey all the time when I travel. Here’s the underlying truth beyond all the unbeatable views and dreamy scenery: It’s tough.
Playing the South Course at Torrey Pines reminds me of the joke about eating an elephant.
How do you eat an elephant?
Punch line: One bite at a time.
Same thing with the South Course, although you never eat the elephant; the elephant eventually eats you (or more like sits on you). But you learn to savor the little victories, such as:
I’ve played the South six times. I’ve parred the postcard-perfect par 3 3rd five of them, including in June. Little victory.
I stayed out of the right traps off the tee for the first time during that round. Little victory.
I finally hit the fairway on No. 12. Then … reality showed up.
But first a little of my personal history with this hole, because I think I can sum up the challenge of the South Course for amateurs in one hole.
The 12th is a straightaway par 4 played back toward the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of several long par 4s at Torrey that eventually grind amateurs to dust – and here’s why. Being 280 off the tee doesn’t cut it here as it does as many courses. At Torrey, that often still leaves you 180-190 or more (given the wind) to get home. Amateurs might connect on one or two long irons or hybrids like that a round, but not five or six. But that’s what Torrey does – it seems like you’re always one club beyond your comfort zone, even when you’re playing well.
From the blue tees, No. 12 plays a daunting 462 yards, but you can forget that number. Add 20-30 for the wind. It’s now a short par 5 posing as a par 4.
This outgoing par 4 shares a common boundary with the parallel par 5, No. 13. I’m acutely familiar with this territory because I’ve visited it off the tee – nearly every time. And I’ll never forget the first time.
After pushing my tee shot right, I finally located my ball in some deep rough (Note: I found five others first. Yeah.). Fully prepared to take my medicine, I pulled out a 5 iron and simply wanted to get back in the fairway. I hit it flush and then watched my ball come out like a dying quail. The best shot I had in me came up 5 yards short of the fairway and left me still battling the rough.
This is the emotional toll that Torrey takes. Exasperation with a side of double bogies becomes your fate.
With that in mind, let’s go back to No. 12 last June. The Cobra Fly-Z driver I’m playing is the straightest I have ever owned, which left me hopeful I might fare better on the difficult par 4s and particularly No. 12.
And sure enough, I hit a bomb right down the middle which … still left me 185 yards into the ocean wind.
Playing the shot more like 200, I flushed a hybrid that started right of the green (good) and then started to draw (holding breath) and then got pushed by the breeze into the left greenside trap (uh-oh) and into a recovery with an awkward stance (ugh).
My recovery flew into the opposing trap. My next out ran off the front of the green. I ended up taking 7 – from what’s Position A for most of us. That’s the South Course.
Feeling like I’d like just suffered scorecard whiplash, I turned to my playing partner, a local head pro, and asked, “So I was supposed to take 7 iron there and play for a wedge shot and par?”
He replied, “Maybe … but what fun would that be?”
And that’s how scorecards become virtual confetti on the South, which is why I don’t keep one. You learn to live for the pars 3s and 5s, the far better bets for your scoring chances.
And, to be clear, Torrey isn’t a good walk, it’s a great one. I recommend it to everyone but with a caveat to be prepared for a dose of tough love about your golf game on a tough golf course. I’ve taken the test of the South Course and prefer to break it down into pop quizzes.
And if I ever “ace” No. 3, I’ll be more emotionally bulletproof about a round at Torrey everafter.