How to Play Torrey Pines (Note: Prior to the 2001 Redesign by Rees Jones)
Here is a hole-by-hole description of the South and North courses, and my best attempt to provide strategy to play each of them. I am assuming play from the blue tees, but the guidelines apply just as well to play from the other tees. For reference, I'm including at the beginning of each hole its par for men (blue, white tees) and women (red tees), its length from the blue/white/red/(South)gold tees, as well as its handicap for men (blue, white tees) and women (red tees).
Torrey Pines - South Course
Hole #1 (Par 4 - 452/444/432/415/368 yards - Handicap 5/7)
Tough starting hole. Long par-4 and into the prevailing sea breeze, which creeps up the coastal cliffs usually by mid-morning. Bunkers left and right off the tee, semi-elevated, bunkered green --both a common feature in this Rees Jones renovated Torrey South. Stay on the left side off the tee for a better angle to the green, which is slanted to favor a faded approach.
Hole #2 (Par 4 - 387/362/347/318/281 yards - Handicap 15/13)
An early breather here. Accuracy off the tee is the key to this short par-4. Consider a 3-metal, instead of driver. Again, bunkers on either side of the fairway will catch the errant drive. The two-tiered green is protected left and right and is narrow at the entrance. If the hole is in the front, a smart, conservative player might play just short of the green to take the bunkers out of play. It's easier to chip up and one-putt than to two-putt for par from the back of the green.
Hole #3 (Par 3 - 198/160/149/142/113 yards - Handicap 13/15)
This hole is to Torrey Pines South what the 6th hole is to Torrey Pines North. A thing of beauty. Take your picture,call your family, and thank the heavens you play golf to be able to see this par-3. Dramatic change in elevation produces a lot of hang-time, so be careful with the wind. Aiming a bit right won't hurt. There is a generous bail-out area there. If you pull your tee shot it's a certain 5 (at least) on your card.
Hole #4 (Par 4 - 483/471/460/450/388 yards - Handicap 3/9)
After three holes you are probably thinking: "(Torrey Pines South) beautiful, but not THAT tough". Well, here's a tooth of the beast for you. A long par-4, mostly into the wind,cliffs on the left, bunkers right. Green perched on a cliff. A simple, great golf hole. A drive slightly left is a bit better than right, particularly if the rough is not too long. The two-tiered green is well protected front and left. You might consider running your approach up the hill to the right of the green, taking advantage of the slope of the terrain. Make a par here and it'll feel like a birdie. Only hole at Torrey Pines South next to the ocean in its entirety.
Hole #5 (Par 4 - 453/404/393/380/324 yards - Handicap 11/11)
Straightaway medium length par-4, once more bunkers protect either side of the fairway and green. Hit the fairway and a par is within reasonable reach. You may get a bit of help from the wind. While on the fairway, watch out for sliced tee shots coming from the 4th tee. No mysteries here. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get.)
Hole #6 (Par 5 - 560/530/518/501/452 yards - Handicap 9/1)
First par-5, dog-leg right. Don't get too greedy trying to cut the corner, as your ball may end up in the canyon bordering the entire right side. Still, right is better than the heavily bunkered left side off the tee. The ever present up-slope in front of most greens does not help in running up your ball on the green, if you decide to go for it with the second shot. Worst case you'll be short, or in one of the greenside bunkers. The green is tricky, with small undulations and tiers. At this hole Torrey Pines begins to meander its way inland.
Hole #7 (Par 4 - 462/442/434/424/381 yards - Handicap 1/5)
Even though it is a bit shorter than #4 and thus is rated seAnother tough par-4. Aim to the right edge of the fairway bunker on the left side. The slope of the land will bring the ball back towards the center. If you hit a long, straight drive, you'll end up with a downhill lie for the second shot. Too far right off the tee will make it impossible to reach the green in regulation. Just too many trees there. The approach to the green favors a fade (for a back pin). Bail-out area is on the left side.
Hole #8 (Par 3 - 176/164/154/131/96 yards - Handicap 17/17)
Interesting par-3, wind on your back to a slightly elevated green. Still, it plays a half to a full club longer. The green is wide but shallow, and protected by a vicious bunker in the front and s sneaky bunker in the back. So short and long is not good. Miss it right or left and you will still have a chance to make your par. Correct clubbing is the key to this hole (well, to most par-3's anyway).
Hole #9 (Par 5 - 613/590/535/516/432 yards - Handicap 7/3)
Another breather. A chance to take one back. Not a very difficult hole, but still demanding a good tee shot to set it all up. More "beach" on either side of fairway and green. A soft draw is the right approach shot for a back pin. Running up a second shot is possible but made difficult by the upslope in the front. Go ahead and make your par or birdie here, then go grab a drink at the "Half-Way House" and get ready for the back nine.
Hole #10 (Par 4 - 405/376/362/349/299 yards - Handicap 16/10)
Here Torrey Pines South begins its route back towards the Pacific. It's not a difficult hole, but could become complicated if the drive is not accurate. Just like on the 2nd hole, you may want to use a 3-metal off the tee to place the ball on the fairway and avoiding the fairway bunkers that, once more, defend this hole on either side of the fairway. The green is also bunkered on both sides, but the approach, usually a short iron, should not be too hard. A two-tiered green breaks mostly towards the ocean.
Hole #11 (Par 3 - 221/203/193/162/105 yards - Handicap 14/18)
Par-3 dead into the teeth of the ocean breeze. A hidden culvert about 120 yards off the tee boxes, a water hazard, will catch "low screamers" and pop-ups. It's a long iron shot to a well bunkered, tiered green. You should be able to notice some of the activity further ahead, by the Torrey Pines Municipal Hang Glider Port. Para-gliders, hang-gliders, all soaring above the cliffs. Awesome view. Before proceeding to the 12th tee take a good look at the hole location on the 13th green to your right.
Hole #12 (Par 4/5 - 504/447/456/443/394 yards - Handicap 2/2)
Another monster par-4. Long and also into the wind. One more time, altogether now: bunkers left and right off the tee, bunkers left and right of the green. No way around this one. You have to drive it long and straight, then have a very accurate long iron shot (or fairway metal) into a semi-elevated green. Just a slight miss on the approach and you'll have to blast out a deep bunker. More of a par four and a half than a par 4. Enjoy the soaring gliders and don't feel too bad if you walk away with a bogey here. Toughest hole at Torrey Pines South.
Hole #13 (Par 5 - 541/539/521/505/408 yards - Handicap 6/6)
Here's a hole with some character. Par-5, usually downwind, very inviting to bombing the ball off the tee ... which leads to overswinging and blocking, resulting in a push-slice. That's probably why the bunkering is only on the right side of the fairway. The second shot, if not going for the green, is just as important. There is a deep swale that bottoms about 120 yards from the green. From that position is a blind shot to the green, which is protected in the front right and left by three rows of tiered bunkers. There is also a bunker behind the green to catch airmails. Crucial in this hole is to pick the right club from the bottom of the swale to reach and hold the green. It's usually one more club, in spite of the favorable wind.
Hole #14 (Par 4 - 435/417/404/390/276 yards - Handicap 8/14)
This is, arguably, the most improved hole of the entire renovation carried out under Rees Jones direction. From just another par-4,this hole became a medium length hole, gentle dog-leg left with some risk-reward choices off the tee, and a green heavily guarded by a canyon wildlife on the left side and back. And, yes, more bunkering. The approach is the key here. Just put the ball in play off the tee, and then be very accurate on club selection for your second shot. You can't miss the green anywhere but short. A pin back right will make sure that only the daring ones will get the birdie. My favorite par-4 on Torrey Pines South.
Hole #15 (Par 4 - 477/462/392/345/286 yards - Handicap 12/16)
The only non-par-3 at Torrey Pines South that is not defended by fairway bunkering. Interesting fact. They may have run out of sand, or something. Just the usual right and left greenside bunkers protect this hole. Not too long from the regular tees, but a bit of work is required if played from the back. The fairway is not very wide, and more forgiving to those shots missing right. The entire left side is populated by large eucalyptus trees. Not a lot of personality this hole, but you still have to deal with it.
Hole #16 (Par 3 - 227/206/192/185/176 yards - Handicap 18/12)
Last par-3 in the layout. Usually the wind is a factor -- either in your face, or from the right side. Similarly to its brother, the 11th hole, this hole demands a long iron and is well bunkered on either side. As with most of the new greens on this course, there is little room for error if the pin is cut in the narrower lower tier. The green widens from front to back, thus providing for a larger margin of error if the hole is cut towards the back.
Hole #17 (Par 4 - 442/429/419/400/347 yards - Handicap 4/8)
Medium-length par-4, guarded by trees and a canyon all along the left side. In 2001, Phil Mickelson bounced his tee shot off one of these trees to make the fairway, still made double-bogey but it was good enough to beat Frank Lickliter's triple-bogey at the playoff to win the Buick Invitational. Elevated tee provides a beautiful view of the hole ahead and of the spectacular surroundings behind and to the left. Only one large fairway bunker on the right. The green is somewhat more elevated than it seems, so taking half to one more club for the approach will ensure you hit the wide green. Keep it right off the tee.
Hole #18 (Par 5 - 571/551/524/486/416 yards - Handicap 10/4)
This par-5 hole used to pose a great risk-reward situation for the player. In the old times you could make any number here, from 3 to 7, or more. But now, going for the green in two shots is pretty much suicidal. Heavy bunkering on either side of the fairway will punish anything but a prefect drive. And even then, the undulations on the fairway may make it nearly impossible to strike with solid contact a fairway metal. "Devlin's Billabong" lurks farther ahead, in front of the green, threatening to gobble up whatever comes its way. A safe second shot, if you still decide to go for it, is to aim at the narrow passageway between the pond and the greenside bunker. From there, dry land, a birdie is still a possibility.
Torrey Pines - North Course
Hole #1 (Par 5 - 520/511/504 - Handicap 7/3)
It's a nice starting hole: straight away, nothing to hide. Usually plays into the prevailing wind, but you may catch it downwind on some early morning ocassions. If you are going to play it in 3 shots, use a 3-wood off the tee to miss the fairways bunkers on either side. Your second, or lay-up shot, is best if it's on the right side because the green not only slopes sharply from back to front, but also to the right. If you are trying for the green in two, missing it on the right side is better. Don't miss it long to avoid and early ulcer.
Hole #2 (Par 4 - 326/313/303 yards - Handicap 15/13)
Another nice hole to keep warming up. It plays opposite to #1, so it's usually downwind. Best position off the tee: long and left. The compromise: a long iron down the middle. The approach plays 1/2 club longer due to the change in elevation, which is subtle but effective. The green slopes towards the front and left. The most difficult pin placement is back right.
Hole #3 (Par 3 - 121/112/109 yards - Handicap 17/17)
WYSYWIG (What You See Is What You Get). Ponder the wind, usually on your back, and hit a good short iron to the green. If the pin is in the front the best play is to hit past it and let the slope of the green help your ball spin back towards the hole. Don't get too agressive if the pin is located in the back portion of the green, because it's a tough up&down from up there. The lip of the back bunker is shallow, so if you land in it and have a good lie, you may want to PUTT out of it. Downhill putts on this green are usually pretty quick.
Hole #4 (Par 4 - 398/384/374 yards - Handicap 3/7)
Straight away hole. The prevailing wind is from the ocean (left), so a blocked or sliced shot will really really go right. There is bunch of trees there, and a shallow fairway bunker. The ideal tee shot is left side of the fairway. It will give you a good angle to the green, no matter where the pin is located. But be carefful! Too far left and you'll be chatting with wildlife (mostly friendly but dull). And if you drive it on the left side of the fairway and too long, you'll find an annoying eucalyptus right in the path of your approach. The green slopes from back to front, and towards the ocean. No mysteries there. If you fly it over with your approach, you'll end up with a tough lie, into the thick grain. Hard to stop your pitch from there.
Hole #5 (Par 4 - 371/355/346 yards - Handicap 9/11)
Here's a simple hole that can jump and kick you in your teeth. A shortish dogleg left, usually into the wind. You hook your tee shot and all kinds of nasty things can happen to you: canyon, trees, snakes. If you miss your tee shot it'd better be right. A simple 3-wood down the middle will do here. Your approach shot may be compromised a little by a downhill lie. The change in elevation from the fairway to the green compensates a little bit the fact that you are hitting into the wind. On a calm windless day, if you hit it long the sloping of the fairway towards the green will add quite a few yards to your drive and leave you with a short pitch for your second. The green is another one of those that you don't want to miss long. If in doubt, play just short of the front and to the left. It slopes from back to front and mostly from left to right.
Hole #6 (Par 3 - 206-160/150/141 yards - Handicap 13/15)
This one is a beauty. Your pre-shot routine should include taking a couple of pictures, particularly if the air is clean. There's a tremendous change in elevation here. It usually plays to about 145 yards from the "lower" back tees to the front. The "higher" back tees have a 206-yard marker, but due to the wind, it may play anywhere from 160 to 185 yards. This is a "wind" hole. The green slopes sharply from back to front AND to the right. A par here is a good score. Enjoy the view. This hole could be called the "signature hole".
Hole #7 (Par 4 - 400/354/346 yards - Handicap 5/5)
A narrow par 4 that demands accuracy off the tee. From the back elevated tees the view is awesome ... if you look back. If you look ahead, you'll see a scary narrow fairway with canyon on the left and thick trees and a shallow fairway bunker on the right. Anything straight off the tee is good here. For your approach take one more club. It's uphill and your shot will feel the change in elevation. The green is wide and slopes more than you think towards the ocean (left) and from back to front. The greenside bunkers are not difficult. The one on the right catches a lot of balls left short due to misclubbing.
Hole #8 (Par 4 - 436/418/404 yards - Handicap 1/1)
On paper, the most difficult hole on the front 9, but only because of its deceiving yardage. Actually it's easier than #7. It usually plays downwind, its fairway is wide and can only get you into real trouble if you hook one bad off the tee or on your approach. The green slopes from back to front, which happens to be also the direction of the grain, and to the left. It's very receptive to long iron shots. Don't miss the green long, or too far right.
Hole #9 (Par 5 - 497/480/470 yards - Handicap 11/9)
A par 4 1/2 which demands a straight tee shot. Aim to the left side and let the slope of the fairway roll the ball back to the middle. A straight-down-the-middle tee shot may roll into the right rough. If you are playing it as a 3-shot par 5, your lay-up shot should land on the right side of the fairway to have the best angle to the green. The green slopes from back to front, and severely towards the ocean (right). Leave your approach below the hole and you'll be looking at a birdie putt. If you have a long downhill putt you'll be glad to 2-putt. If you miss the green, it'd be nice if you did it on the right side. You'd have a pitch into the slope of the green and into the grain.
Hole #10 (Par 4 - 416/404/391 yards - Handicap 6/4)
Another straight away par 4. The only trouble off the tee could be trees on either side. A really good tee shot may reach the right fairway bunker. The one on the left is only reachable by huuuuge tee shots. The prevailing wind will try to make your approach drift to the right. Make sure you take enough club to carry the bunkers guarding the front of the green. Never go long on your approach (as in "over the whole thing"). The green breaks to the left, even if it doesn't look like it will. Par is good here.
Hole #11 (Par 4/5 - 437/422/410 yards - Handicap 2/12)
The most difficult par 4 on the back side, they say. Off the tee, left is canyonland, right is a bunker. It's a slight dogleg left and the change in elevation is not that noticeable on your approach. If you miss it right off the tee you may want to take advantage and use the bathroom there, if you need to. On the other hand, if you hook one left you can use the canyon, if you need to. The green has no mysteries. Like most Torrey's greens, it slopes from back to front and to the ocean (left). If you miss your approach, make it short or left of the green.
Hole #12 (Par 3 - 190/174/159 yards - Handicap 10/16)
Plays 1/2 to one full club longer. It's usually into the wind and slightly uphill. It's an easier pitch from the left than from the right, if you miss the green (grain, slope of the green). The bunker on the left is big, but if you land there chances are you'll have and uphill lie in the sand. Not life threatening. The sideways slope of the green is mostly to the left.
Hole #13 (Par 4/5 - 430/418/407 yards - Handicap 4/10)
A really nice and challenging par 4/5 that brings the risk/reward gamble into play. It usually plays downwind, so if you feel brave and trust your driving you may want to cut the corner over the left fairway bunker, or even further left, and leave yourself with a 130'ish or shorter second shot. If you hook it into the canyon you are looking at a 6 right in the face. Compromise and aim over the right side of that bunker. If you carry it you'll have about 155 to the middle of the green. Too far right off the tee and you'll have a very long second to get home. Because the wind will take your ball towards the right, the best approach is to aim at the entrance, in between the greenside bunkers, and let the wind bring it in. Behind the green there is a huge Torrey pine with protruding roots everywhere. It's a nice place to sit down and have a beer, but not to chip back into a green that slopes away from you. Again, the break is towards the ocean, mostly (watch out for an opposite break if the hole is cut right over the right bunker!). Best miss: short, or over the left greenside bunker.
Hole #14 (Par 5 - 507/490/478 yards - Handicap 14/2)
Slight dogleg left. Aim your tee shot at the right edge of the first fairway bunker on the left side. The slope of the fairway will bounce the ball back to the middle. A block to the right and you may end up hitting the tree in the fairway. Hook one way left, and you may end up playing the hole along the 15th fairway which will make the hole play shorter, by the way, but into incoming people and grain. The green is slightly elevated so it's hard to see where the hole is located exactly. Trust the color of the flag. If you play "by the book" and can't get home in two shots, lay up on the right side of the fairway for the best angle. The green slopes very similarly to #9, from front to back and towards the right. Putting from below the hole is the best chance for a birdie.
Hole #15 (Par 4 - 397/387/377 yards - Handicap 8/8)
No secrets here. But if you slice one off the tee, make it a big slice so you can play your second from the 16th fairway and feel like Seve. The wind will help your slice. Left off the tee is good. You'll be at the mercy of the rough, though. The best angle for the approach is from the left side of the fairway. If you miss it, again, miss it short, or left off the green. There are two bunkers guarding the right side of the green. They are not very visible from the fairway, but they're there. The green slopes just like the others: back to front, and towards the ocean (left). There's an optical illusion that may make you believe there is a break to the right. You don't have to have your eyes examined, just trust me and play the break towards the ocean.
Hole #16 (Par 4 - 338/323/314 yards - Handicap 18/14)
Looks narrow, but the slope on the left side will USUALLY, not always, bring the ball back towards the fairway. Aim at the left edge of the fairway and let the slope of the land "be your friend". The green is narrow but long, and slightly elevated. The approach is about 1/2 club longer than you think. If the hole is in the back, take one full extra club. The green, just like the others, slopes from back to front, and towards the ocean. We're on #16, so if you haven't figured out the general slope of the greens by now you need to go back to Course Management 101. Uphill putts are slooow and will die right.
Hole #17 (Par 3 - 172/159/125 yards - Handicap 12/18)
Just like #6, this hole is a "wind" hole. Plays shorter because of the change in elevation, but sometimes longer due to the wind. The best bet here is to have enough club to put the ball anywhere on the huge green. Don't hook it short or you'll join the ducks in the pond. The green is no mystery. Slow into the slope going uphill, with break towards the ocean (right) mostly everywhere.
Hole #18 (Par 5 - 485/472/460 yards - Handicap 16/6)
A nice finishing hole because you can score anything between a 3 and a 6 here. Off the tee favor the left side, but not too much so you don't get caught in either of the two (invisible off the tee) fairway bunkers. The land will roll your tee shot back to the fairway. A long hook left and you go back to the driving range. Lots of balls from the range on the left side of this hole. The right side has a small, yet pesty, fairway bunker, and several small trees. Nothing serious, but you'll be risking your chance to get home in two. If you are going for it, the best shot is a long iron, or 3-wood, cut into the wind. If you don't have enough to fly over the right frontside bunker, you may want to consider running your second shot up the front of the green. The slope will take the ball towards the right nicely. The entrance is rather narrow, but playable. If you lay up, you'll be better off from the left side off the fairway. Take the front bunker out of play and account for the slope to the right. Some trees on the right side may block a short iron shot, but the entire left side of this hole is "buickland" (parking lot: OB). The green slopes just like #9 and #14. Don't be long and don't miss it on the left side. Best misses: short and short right.