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FOCUS ON GOLF | U.S. OPEN SITES LOOKING AHEAD TO 2008

Torrey, Torrey, Torrey

South Course was brought up to speed and will play host to the first Open in Southern California since 1948

June 12, 2003|Michael Arkush | Special to The Times

The call came last October. On the line was Fred Ridley, chairman of the U.S. Golf Assn.'s championship committee. He had some good news.

The committee had convened, Ridley told Jay Rains, and was going to recommend that the 2008 U.S. Open be held on the South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. The official announcement would come the next morning.

Rains, who had helped raise the interest -- and, more important, the money -- to bring the Open to Southern California for the first time since 1948, when it was played at Riviera, stayed calm. Until he hung up.

"I sat in my chair and cried," he recalled.

For Rains, the journey had begun in June 1999. As president of the Century Club, a volunteer group that helps run the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, he visited the Buick Classic in Rye, N.Y., then took an extra couple of days to tee it up at a few classic layouts: Winged Foot, Merion and Baltusrol, all sites of previous Opens.

At Baltusrol, in Springfield, N.J., Rains played with Bob Trebus, a longtime member who showed him some of the club's precious archival material. One thing led to another.

"I really like the history here," Rains told Trebus. "I wish we had it."

From that moment on, Rains was determined to get it. During the plane ride back to California, he shared his "epiphany" with Tom Wilson, the Century Club's executive director.

"He thought I was nuts," said Rains, 46, a senior partner at the Gray Cary law firm in San Diego.

The biggest problem, Wilson said, was that Torrey Pines was not a U.S. Open-caliber course.

"We had bunkers that weren't even in play for these players," Wilson said. "They'd blow it right by them."

Rains also discussed the matter with Steve Horrell, a former member of the USGA's executive committee and ex-president of the Century Club. Horrell, the son of former UCLA football coach Babe Horrell, offered some valuable advice.

"My comments to Jay were, 'Don't try to demand anything and don't take it public until you got all your ducks in a row,' " Horrell said.

The most important duck was the noted designer, Rees Jones, dubbed "the Open doctor" for his work on renovating U.S. Open layouts. Jones checked out Torrey Pines in the summer of 2000, shortly after Rains' initial conversations with Mike Butz, the USGA's deputy executive director. From the start, Jones was a believer.

"I had been there before and knew it was one of the world's most spectacular pieces of golfing property," said Jones, who restored another public facility, Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., site of last year's Open. "All we had to do was utilize it to its utmost, and we'd have a world championship golf course."

To get Jones to work, of course, required money, lots of it. In May 2001, Rains got started. By the time he met with the USGA only a month later, the Friends of Torrey Pines, a group he had put together, had raised more than $2 million in private donations to renovate the South Course; the final figure would be about $3.5 million.

"I don't want to say it was easy," Rains said, "but we certainly got tremendous support."

The renovation started in August 2001. Though interrupted by delays related to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Jones took about three months to rebuild tees and greens, add more than 400 yards and add or move fairway bunkers to put them in play.

The new Torrey Pines went through its first important audition during the 2002 Buick Invitational. From the response of the premier players in the world, the course passed easily.

It was then up to the USGA, which was looking to stage another Open in Southern California and was greatly encouraged by the tremendous success of Bethpage Black. A possible sticking point was the kind of role the two hotels on the property would play, but that was ironed out over the summer.

Nonetheless, despite the rumors that Torrey was going to get the nod for 2008, beating out Riviera, Rains didn't take anything for granted until he received the call from Ridley.

"It was a great dream for a lot of us in the community," he said. "People said it was such a longshot."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

*--* Future U.S. Open Sites YEAR COURSE LOCATION DATES 2004 Shinnecock Southampton, N.Y June 17-20 Hills Golf Club 2005 Pinehurst Pinehurst, N.C June 16-19 Resort And Country Club 2006 Winged Foot Mamaroneck, N.Y June 15-18 Golf Club 2007 Oakmont Country Oakmont, Pa June 14-17 Club 2008 Torrey Pines La Jolla June 12-15 Golf Course (South Course)

*--*

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