At 4:40 am there is an old carry bag and a wedge leaning up against the rail outside the starters window at Torrey Pines. They are markers for players sleeping in their cars. With no one in sight I set my bag against the rail, look out into the blackness and soak in the absolute quiet that is only broken by waves crashing in the distance. Today is the last day Torrey Pines is open to the public before the PGA Tour takes over for the Farmers.

A few minutes later another golfer appears, sets his bag against the rail and starts to make practice swings on the clubhouse deck. With sunrise over an hour and a half away I’m reminded (as I will be all morning) how passionate people are for the game of golf. He’s a regular at Torrey that does this “at least once a week”.

A steady stream of anxious golfers continues to arrive. Tired yet excited voices have broken the silence for good.

The starter opens the window at 6:15. The first two markers represented two groups that are regularly off the North course first every Monday and Wednesday. I tell the starter I’m a single wanting to play the South, he replies with a not joking “ready for a beating today, huh?”.

I’m in the first group off.

Walking on the first tee with the grandstand on the right and huge corporate hospitality stadium on 18 green to the left, you realize this isn’t a typical day at a muny course. I am paired with two  gentleman that are locals, Sumihiro and Sumi. Chris flew in from Washington DC the night before and rounded out the foursome. He’s in San Diego for a conference that starts in the afternoon. We are all walking, most of the players at Torrey walk, one more reason to love this place.

Sumihiro is 74 years old and carrying his clubs. When I asked how often he plays he said in a tone that was reminiscent of Mr. Miyagi telling Daniel-son he will get squished like grape “Every week. Sometimes twice… Never three times.” I wouldn’t call Torrey a hilly golf course, but it’s certainly not the easiest walk for a 74 year old carrying a set of clubs, very impressive.
There is a second starter at the tee that tells us the rough is very deep and to try and set a good pace for the day. He wasn’t kidding about the rough, it was deep and healthy. Note Sumihiro’s shoes (or lack of them) in the rough on 2. Though looking for balls in the rough was a regular occurrence, and never rushing, we walked a brutally difficult set up in less than 4 hours.

Above is a picture of a ball on the first cut up against the primary rough. I was told they will trim a second cut of about 3 inches to make it more playable for the tour.

Sumi was draining from everywhere on the lightning fast greens. He putted lefty on the left to right breakers and right handed on the right to left putts. Not totally unique but he did it with a putter he designed himself. He took some drawings to his friend, a non golfing retired auto mechanic, and they built it together.

You hope to experience tournament conditions and play something you’ve only seen on TV, like 16 below…But often it seems to be the people you play with that stick in your memory as well. Playing with your regular group should always be appreciated but you can usually find something special venturing out every once in awhile… Especially at a place like Torrey Pines right before the tour arrives.