June 13, 2008–Torrey Pines–9:15 PM PST–Walking through the U.S. Open media room at Torrey Pines on the way to get some ice cream with legendary golf course designer Rees Jones is like walking with a king through his kingdom on his way to a daily feast. Everybody knows Jones, and if they don't, they want to know him. Every few steps someone walks up and shares a story about one of his golf courses, or says hello to him like he's a long lost best friend. Jones, who is the designer of Las Vegas golf courses Rio Secco Golf Club and Cascata, is labeled the "Open Doctor" because he renovates golf courses to make the layouts worthy of hosting the nation's golf championship. And Torrey Pines in San Diego is the seventh such project he has undertaken, but this one could be the most special. And Jones is here enjoying a U.S. Open 'Sundae' in more ways than one. "More than any of the other seven re-dos, this one was more of a dream," said Jones between bites of ice cream. "Jay Rains called me and said that he thought we could bring the U.S. Open to Torrey Pines if we could get it renovated. But there was no gaurantee of that before we started the process. It was a very big risk."
Rains, a San Diego attorney and former president of the Century Club, a group that operates the PGA Tour's event in San Diego, convinced Jones to draw up the plans for the renovation and then enlisted Jones to help sway local business people to come up with the $3.5 million that would be needed to complete the work.
Jones and Rains rallied about 30 local leaders to invest $100,000 each, and they were off and running. Even Jones got into the act, donating some of his fees for the project.
"If you think of what that group did, it's pretty amazing," Mike Davis, USGA Director of Rules and Competitions, told San Diego Magazine. "I can't think of anything comparable in any other city. It definitely was a gamble. When we first heard what they were planning on doing, the message from our end was 'That sounds great, but we can't give you any definite response until we're in a position to evaluate the finished course and all other aspects of Torrey Pines as a potential venue.'"
Jones got the job done successfully, as usual, and the Friends of Torrey Pines, as the group of 30 are called, had realized the dream of their crown golf jewel, the ocean-side Torrey Pines, hosting the U.S. Open. And the USGA has kept in close contact with Jones since the renovation and asked his opinion on everything from tee boxes to use, hole locations to pick, and other opinions of the "King". A few weeks before the Open, Jones spent two days scouring the golf course with Davis and fellow USGA executive Jim Hyler, and Jones was pleased with how intently they listened to his ideas, even if all of them weren't put to use.
And Jones is also pleased with Davis' philosophy for the 2008 U.S. Open.
"In the past, they would set up the course to penalize players who were just slightly off line with their tee shots," said Jones. "But this year, they are penalizing players to the degree that they miss the fairways. And that's how I design my golf courses."
Davis and his team implemented a graduating rough system that gets deeper the farther offline a player hits it. The only question is, why did it take them so long to implement this practice. But don't blame Davis, he's only been in the position of course setup for a couple years.
Jones has great memories from when he created Rio Secco Golf Club and Cascata, and welcomes the opportunity to talk about them. Stick close to GolfLasVegasNow.com and we will go in depth with Jones about the essence of these two Las Vegas golf courses. But the following is one thing he did say about Rio Secco: "If you really speed up the greens at Rio Secco Golf Club, a U.S. Open could be held on it."
Maybe we can get Jim Rains on the job of bringing an Open to Vegas …