Should the U.S. Open Be Here...Or Here? Torrey Pines and Riviera, separated by 70 miles and seven days on the Tour schedule, find themselves vying for the same prize

February 18, 2002

The 2002 west coast swing concludes with next week's Match Play
Championship, but don't put your tray table in its upright and
locked position. The battle for California--the competition to see
which of the state's courses will get the 2008 U.S. Open--is just
heating up.

The contestants, separated by 70 miles and seven days on the PGA
Tour schedule, are Torrey Pines, the municipal course near San
Diego on which last week's Buick Invitational was played, and
Riviera, the exclusive country club that's the site of this
week's Nissan (a.k.a. Los Angeles) Open. Publicly the two parties
deny the rivalry, but clearly the battle has been joined. Both
courses brought in big-name designers for expensive makeovers.
Rees Jones, known as the Open Doctor for his frequent preppings
of major championship venues, did a $3.3 million, Joan
Rivers-sized redo on Torrey Pines's South course. Tom Fazio gave
Riviera a Greta Van Susteren-like facial--subtle yet
significant--for an estimated $2.3 million. Both courses also sent
representatives to the USGA's annual meeting earlier this month
to lobby for the Open, which is almost certain to be on the West
Coast in 2008. Riviera, though, has gone a step further in
attempting to cozy up to the USGA by hiring publicist Karen
Moraghan, wife of Tim Moraghan, the influential director of
championship agronomy for the USGA, as well as retaining as a
consultant Paul Latshaw, a USGA favorite who was the course
superintendent at Congressional when that club held the 1997
Open.

Although 2008 seems a long way off, the Open already has been
assigned to Midwestern and Eastern locations through 2007, and
the loser of the bake-off will probably have to wait until 2013
or later to get another chance. That's because the Open is likely
to return to Pebble Beach before the end of the decade, and the
USGA is reluctant to hold the tournament in California three
times in four or five years.

There were signs last week that Torrey Pines might be the leader
in the clubhouse. Tom Meeks, the USGA's senior director of rules
and competitions, was seen strolling the course, and the pros
were effusive in their praise of it. "They could hold an Open
here tomorrow," said third-round coleader Jerry Kelly. Added Jay
Williamson, who aced the South's 3rd hole last Saturday, "Torrey
Pines is as good or better than Pebble Beach, and much harder."

No question, the South course plays stronger than Shaq. At 7,607
yards it's longer than any other course on Tour, with three of
the par-4s at least 475 yards. "The [477-yard] 15th is a great
hole," says Kelly, "but moving that tee back was sadistic."

The average score on the South was 73.6 over the first two
rounds, almost four shots higher than the North (69.7), the other
18 used during the first two days of the tournament. "There's
nothing on Tour that plays this long," Chris Smith, one of the
circuit's big hitters, said of the South. "You really have to
smash it around and hope you're hitting it straight. If you had
some wind to go with U.S. Open rough, you might as well pack a
lunch, because you're going to be here all day."

The seven-under 65 shot by tournament winner Jose Maria Olazabal
on Sunday was the second-lowest score of the week on the South
(Greg Chalmers had a 63 in the final round) despite four days of
relative calm. Olazabal's total of 13-under 275 matched the
highest by a winner since 1993. By comparison, only six of the
past eight champions had a score worse than 18 under. Torrey was
so tough that three-time Buick winner Phil Mickelson missed the
cut, while Tiger Woods shot a 77 at the South on Friday--his worst
score in three years--and had to rally with a birdie on the 36th
hole to extend his consecutive cut streak to 81. "The USGA wants
to get its foot on your throat and never let you up," says Peter
Jacobsen, the '95 Buick champ who came in 58th last week.
"They've built 18 finishing holes here."

In fact, one of the most noticeable changes was to the par-5
18th, which is now 571 yards--73 longer than last year--and no
longer a driver, seven-iron two-shotter. Although John Daly
reached the new green in two in the third round (amazingly, with
an iron), few players attempted to carry Devlin's Billabong, the
water hazard fronting the green. "Mark my words, they'll play the
18th as a par-4 for a U.S. Open," Kelly says. To do so, all the
USGA would have to do is move up the tee so that the hole is 500
yards. That would make it about the same as the 18th at Atlanta
Athletic Club, a hole that created so much drama at last August's
PGA Championship when David Toms laid up, then had to get up and
down for par to win.

As the players will see this week, Riviera is more of a beast now
too. Fazio restored elements of George Thomas's 1926 design, such
as the sprawling bunker that occupies 35 yards of fairway near
the landing area on the left side of the par-4 7th hole. An
alternate fairway at the par-4 8th, lost during a flood in 1939,
was rebuilt, offering another route to a green that has been
enlarged to its original size. New tee boxes for five holes
(numbers 5, 8, 9, 12 and 13) have added 207 yards, stretching the
Riv to 7,157, but, says Tour veteran Jay Haas, "one of Fazio's
guys told me they drew up a plan to build tees way back, so
Riviera could play 7,600 yards if needed."

Riviera already has one of the best finishing holes in golf, an
uphill par-4 that curls right and ends in an amphitheater (during
a rainy playoff at last year's Nissan Open, some players used
three-woods for their second shots), but more important, the
course is the game's very own History Channel. Past champions at
Riviera, which first hosted the L.A. Open in 1929, include Ben
Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller. The
course has been known as Hogan's Alley ever since the Hawk won
two L.A. Opens and the 1948 U.S. Open there in the span of 17
months.

All the other intangibles favor Torrey Pines. It's a muni, and
what's more P.C., an Open at a public track or at an elite
country club--one owned by a Japanese businessman, no less? Using
the North course for spillover, Torrey Pines has ample room for
parking, corporate tents and a practice range, while Riviera is
crammed into a Pacific Palisades neighborhood, resulting in an
inadequate range and almost no on-site parking. Let's not forget
the 1995 PGA, the last of four majors at Riviera. It was a
disaster, with sparse crowds and bare greens. Who loves L.A.? Not
golf. "When Steve Elkington won in '95, nobody in L.A. cared. It
didn't even sell out," says Haas. "I love Riviera--it's one of my
five favorite courses--but for the Open I'd vote for Torrey
Pines."

After last week's Buick Invitational--with its big-time leader
board, telegenic Pacific views and attendance in excess of
150,000--Torrey Pines has to be considered the favorite for 2008,
but don't forget, anything can happen in match play.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK The new Torrey South (3rd green) is public and has the Pacific. The Riv (bunker at 7) has the history. COLOR PHOTO: TODD BIGELOW/AURORA [See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)