Torrey Pines Golf Course - South (1957)
John Torrey never saw the tree that that was named for. Not that many others had either. The pine tree with the clusters of foot-long needles is one of the rarest trees in North America. It grows only in sparse groves on an island off Southern California and along cliffs on a sliver of the mainland. Torrey was a 19th century New York City biologist whose mission was to catalog all the flora of the United States. Most of his western specimens came from explorations, such as the one Charles Parry was on in 1850 when he happened upon the relic from a prehistoric mountain range mostly submerged by the Pacific Ocean.
Today there are only some 100 native Torrey pines growing in the wild. There are probably more places named for the tree around La Jolla than the individual trees themselves, including a 36-hole municipal golf complex operated by San Diego Parks and Recreation. Before it was a golfer’s paradise, however, the Torrey Pines mesa did duty as anti-aircraft artillery training center. Camp Callan grew into a base of 15,000 people during World War II but when the war ended it disappeared fast. Many of the servicemen liked San Diego just fine and decided to stay in the area causing a building supply shortage. The wood of some 300 buildings was sold to the city for $200,000 which turned around and sold thelumber for twice that total.
In 1951 a brouhaha between the California Sports Car Club and the Del Mar racetrack canceled a planned event at the last minute leaving organizers scrambling for a race course. Someone suggested the abandoned macadam at Camp Callan and for five years Torry Pines became a favorite stop for gearheads frequented by top drivers like Caroll Shelby, Phil Hill and Dan Gurney. The races attracte thousands of spectators to the 2.7-mile course but the San Diego City Council prefered the aerodynamics of golf ball to those of Porsches and Jaguars (change!).
The city hired William F. Bell to build two new golf courses atop the old military base. Bell’s father, William P. “Billy” Bell, had been a fixture on the Southern California golf scene from 1911 until his death in 1953 and was a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. His son picked up his father’s busy practice.
Bell laid down the original holes across 100 acres but there have been many fingers on Torrey Pines since, especially since the PGA Tour arrived in 1968 with the San Diego Open. Billy Casper, a former winner and hometown hero spent a chunk of the 1970s rebuilding greens and bunkers one at a time to keep the public course open for play. In 1999 Rees Jones was not so delicate as he overhauled the entire property.
Eldrick Woods had already won five Junior World Golf Champions, including three in a row when he came to Torrey Pines in 1991 as a fifteen-year old to the course where his father Earl used to bring him to watch the pros play. He was still being called “Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods” by the local papers. The sophomore from Western High School fired a final round 69 to become the first 15-year old to win the 15-17 division of the event that had started in 1968. Afterwards when asked by a reporter how many tournaments he had won, Woods replied, “I quit counting after 11-and-under. I had 110 trophies, I threw them all in the garbage.”
But they started counting the wins at Torrey Pines. His first win as a pro came at the 1999 Buick Invitational, his eight career Tour title. Then he won again in 2003 and four more times in a row beginning in 2005 to up his career wins at Torrey Pines to seven when the South Course hosted the U.S. Open in 2008. In the months between the Buick Invitational and the Open Woods had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and was limping noticeably as a second round 68 put him in contention. A 70 on Saturday put him in the lead - a position from which he had won each of the previous 13 majors.
On Sunday he double-bogeyed the first hole for the third time in four days and spent the after jockeying with the dogged Rocco Mediate for the lead. Both players would up tied at 283 and went at it again in an 18-hole playoff the following day. Woods birdied the 18th hole to force sudden death and won it when Mediate bogeyed the par-four 7th hole, the 19th of the match. Two days later it was revealed that Woods had, in fact, played the tournament with a double stress fracture in his left tibia - he had beaten the best players in the world in America’s hardest tournament on one good leg.
In 2013 Woods won at Torrey Pines for the seventh time and his 75th on the PGA Tour. He had just about built a Hall-of-Fame career on a single golf course.
Grande Oaks Golf Course (1959)
Over the years Hollywood has churned out 50 or 60 films that in some way could be termed “golf movies.” But one towers above all others - Caddyshack.
Caddyshack came from the minds of Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray who were wielding power at Orion Pictures after the bucketloads of money earned by their campus classic, Animal House. To write the script for “Animal House on a golf course” the trio pulled from their past experiences with golf growing up, mostly Doyle’Murray’s time as a caddy in the Chicago suburbs at Indian Hill Country Club.
Indian Hill was considered for location shooting when production started in the fall of 1979 but the Chicago weather was considered too unpredictable at that time of year. Souther California had perfect weather but the National Lampoon alumni wanted a little more distance from the studio bosses. And so Caddyshack landed in Florida at a public course called Rolling Hills whose main qualification for the job was an abundance of oak trees rather than palm trees so it could pass as the fictional midwestern country club, Bushwood.
Rolling Hills was the handiwork of William F. Mitchell who began his golf career tending to Donald Ross-designed greens at Lake Sunapee Golf Club in New Hampshire. After a stint as a Navy flier in World War II Mitchell jumped into the middle of the post-war golf construction boom with a design and construction firm. Mitchell was especially busy in the New York area and picked up many Florida commissions as well, following his clients to the Sunshine State - Rollings Hills in Fort Lauderdale was a 1959 project. He is often credited with coining the term “Executive Course” for those shorter layouts favored when time is at a premium.
As originally envisioned, Caddyshack was a coming-of-age tale of a young henchman learning life at a private country club. But as the shoot unfurled it soon became apparent that the improvised footage of Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, who spent only six days on site with no provided dialogue, on the Rolling Hills course had to be at the center of the movie. Caddyshack morphed into a haves versus have-nots class morality play.
Scenes were shot in the sprawling rustic clubhouses and around the actual caddyshack. Little was done to the golf course besides building a hill on the 18th hole that was blown up in the - is a spoiler alert for Caddyshack possibly warranted? - film’s climactic ending. The owners of Rolling Hills were adamant that no actual explosives be ignited on the property so producer Jon Peters arranged a special lunch for the club staff on the scheduled day of shooting so they were unaware of the pyrotechnics on their home hole.
It is difficult to find a golf fan whose favorite movie is not Caddyshack. One who wasn’t was apparently Wayne Huizenga who borrowed $5,000 from his father to buy a garbage truck and built North America’s largest recycling business, Waste Management. Among the playthings Huizenga bought with his profits were Blockbuster (how many Caddyshack rentals?) and the Miami Dolphins.
In 1999 Huizenga bought Rolling Hills and converted it into a private club called Grande Oaks. Down came the clubhouse and the landmark caddyshack. Raymond Floyd was brought in to do a full redesign of the golf holes. The groves of old growth oaks remained but all mentions of Caddyshack were scrubbed away.
The Huizenga era did not last long, however, and the course is not owned by Nova Southeastern University. The Caddyshack connections have been resurrected and the course triumphantly announces its place in cinematic history as the “Home of Caddyshack” on its website. Golf balls with the Gopher are on sale in the pro shop.
As for the cast, Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield, the main antagonists, were not golfers. Chevy Chase could break 100 on a good day and Michael O’Keefe, who spent a couple summers looping as a caddy at Winged Foot as a teen-ager, became a reliable bogey golfer. Bill Murray, whose golfing expertise in the movie was limited to decapitating flowerheads, plays to a single digit handicap. Over the years he emerged as the last torchbearer for celebrity hijinks in the increasingly corporatized national pro-am at Pebble Beach that was once the playground of Bing Crosby and his Hollywood friends.