The 109th playing of the California Amateur Championship
, which is set to begin Monday, is important on a number of levels.
For starters, back in March and April, with golf in much of the state closed down -- the host course was closed from mid-March to May 1 -- many of us wondered if there would even be a tournament this year. And then there's the iconic venue hosting for the first time. Torrey Pines is the host of an annual PGA Tour event, the 2008 U.S. Open, and the IMG Junior Worlds.
And if that isn't enough, consider the excitement of having the "state am" at Torrey Pines, just a year prior to the venue hosting its second U.S. Open.
So many future stars have been crowned at Torrey Pines during their amateur days that the list reads like a golf history book. If you can win at Torrey Pines, your game will travel.
None of them dominated the cliffside fairways of the famous South Course at Torrey Pines like Tiger Woods. Counting the younger age brackets, Woods took home six Junior World titles, before winning his first 15-17 age bracket as a fifteen year old, hitting it 50 yards by the older players. He went on to amass eight PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open titles. And then there was 2008, when he gritted his teeth in pain on a broken knee, and still won the U.S. Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.
2019 champion William Mouw
with the Edward B. Tufts trophy
One can only wonder if Woods would have had his name etched onto the amazing trophy if the California Amateur was held at Torrey Pines. (For the record, Ed Cuff famously beat Woods in the semi-finals in 1994, ending his best run at the title.)
The California Amateur was originally held at Del Monte GC but shifted to Pebble Beach Golf Links when it was built in 1919. The championship remained at Pebble Beach through 2006, with the exception of 2000 when it was played at Bayonet and Blackhorse GCs due to the U.S. Open. (Remember Tiger's 15-shot victory?) That was also the time and place that a little golf website named AmateurGolf.com
launched with a gorilla marketing campaign during the Open.
The California Amateur starts with 156 players playing two rounds of stroke play on July 27 and 28 on both the South and North courses at Torrey Pines. A field of 32 golfers who qualify for the match play portion will compete for that title on the South course, from July 29 to August 1.
NORTH COURSE PREVIEW
The North Course
went from good to great, after a multi-million dollar renovation and remodel under the direction of Tom Weiskopf opened in late 2016, in time for the 2017 Farmers.
The nines were reversed, and the par of hole Nos. 17 and 18 (old 8 and 9) changed from finishing 4-5 to finishing 5-4. Weiskopf's argument in making the change is that all of the most scenic oceanfront holes were formerly on the front nine, and he was right.
Beyond adding some length (particularly with some new back tees aimed at Tour players) the biggest change is the overall condition (it plays firmer now) and particularly the green complexes. If you haven't played there since the renovation you'll notice the turf reduction in the form of sandy areas with tufts of grass - they are definitely worth staying out of but most of the time you will be able to recover fine as long as you have a stance and swing.
The tee shot on the par-3 15th on the North
The greens (all with installed "SubAir" systems beneath) are fast, firm, and some of them bigger. The aforementioned par-5, No. 17 is now a really good risk/reward hole with the green standing right up against a barranca, Long hitters will have no trouble reaching the green and taking advantage, but it is a daunting shot from farther out.
On the front nine, the 7th hole can be set up as a reachable par-4 but its green is probably the most controversial of Weiskopf's putting surfaces. A swale as big as a bath tub can send slightly missed shots on the right down a collection area into the rough. But for such an easy hole, it's really not unfair. Besides, when you pitch up to the green from the right side of the fairway -- or from the right rough where many tee balls wind up -- you'll see some creative pitch shot options using a backboard behind the green. It's a fun hole but because the hole isn't part of match play I'm guessing they won't use the forward tee this week.
Overall, the North is going to play easier than the South, as you typically see in the Farmers. But it's no pushover.
Related: Open for Play: Torrey Pines North Course Review
SOUTH COURSE PREVIEW
The South Course
opens with a firm handshake -- if it was a Covid knuckle-bump your hand would be sore for a few holes. Bunkers left and right off the tee in the landing zone set the tone for much of the round since "Open Doctor" Rees Jones redesigned Torrey South -- it's not lost balls or deep rough that causes the most problems off the tee on the South, it's the diabolically positioned fairway bunkers. (Hit 10 of 14 fairways on the South and you've done well.) But the second shot, into the prevailing ocean breeze to a narrow, well-protected green, will really grab your attention.
Again, the first hole tells you everything you need to know about approach shots into the greens at Torrey Pines South. You know some courses where hitting a drawing 7-iron into a green, maybe missing your target by a few feet and bouncing off the edge of a bunker winds up giving you a five foot putt for birdie? Not so at Torrey South. Balls that miss the mark routinely get rejected like NBA jump shots. And while many of the greenside bunkers are fairly manageable, some -- like the cavern on the right of No. 7, or the church pew bunkers on the par-5 13th, are really penal.
My favorite hole is No. 4, pictured above. It's a lengthy par-4 guarded by bunkers on the right off the tee, and with just a seemingly tiny patch of rough separating the fairway from the cliff edge. The water isn't in play
so much as it's just there in all it's resplendent glory. The play into the green for longer shots is to use the hill on the right, avoiding the small bunker and collection area in front of the green. The little bunker and collection area were a nice change from the previous design, a huge bunker surrounded by patchy rough.
If one, two, and three didn't capture your attention, No. 4 most certainly did. For the rest of the day, par on any hole will be a good score -- for the long hitters in the field this week, it will be the par-5 holes (Nos. 6, 9, 13, and 18) where you can do the scoring.
Among the par-4s, No. 12 stands out as one of the toughest perennially on the PGA Tour. Tees that stretch the hole back to over 500 yards and a deep, back-to-font sloping green (with the pacific ocean as a backdrop) demand 100% attention for all 17 minutes you play No. 12, but you can at least take a moment to watch hang gliders taking off from the nearby glider port defy gravity.
Starting with the tough par-3 11th, the back nine never lets up. The tee shot on No. 17 is particularly daunting with trees being removed on the left side - exposing the dangers of the barranca that guards the entire left side.
Avoid "Devlin's Billabong" (where Australian legend Bruce Devlin famously rinsed a couple of goes at the green, dashing his chance at the title) on No. 18. Not only does hitting the par-5 green in two require a perfectly judged carry, the water also comes into play for wedge shots, as Kyle Stanley
famously found out at the Farmers in 2012. I would expect the California Golf Association to push the tees on No. 18 up at least one day, to allow matches that make it to the last hole to finish with theatrics.
Related: Torrey Pines South Course Review
Some of the most famous winners of the California Amateur include San Francisco Bay Area legends Ken Venturi (1951) and Johnny Miller (1968). Bobby Clampett could sleep at home for the short drive to Pebble Beach. He won it twice, in 1978 and 1980. Mark O’Meara made the trip up to Pebble Beach from Mission Viejo, and won the title in 1979.
Lets not forget the amateurs, especially friend of the company -- and anyone who has played with him or had him carry for them at Pebble Beach -- professional caddie Casey Boyns
. Boyns has won the title twice, but he's such a humble guy that most of the players he caddies for never even know. (If you are ever lucky enough to have Casey caddie for you - listen to his advice...)
Standout golfers who have tried to win the title and failed, include Craig Stadler, Corey Pavin, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Woods reached the semifinals in 1994 before falling to Ed Cuff. The oldest champion remains Vern Callison, who won in 1967 at the age of 47. Mac Hunter is the youngest champion, having won in 1972 at the age of 16.
Spectators will not be allowed for the medal play portion of the championship on Monday and Tuesday July 27-28. Starting with Wednesday's matches, things open up a bit however attendees should be prepared to follow all San Diego COVID-19 safety protocols.