—— Most people in San Diego are very familiar with your work at the “Buick Invitational”
but not too familiar with “The Century Club of San Diego”, could you tell us about your organization?
Basically, we’re a nonprofit volunteer organization, with our members themselves best described as civic minded, charity minded, golf enthusiasts. We were founded in 1961 for 3 basic purposes; to perpetuate a PGA Tour event in San Diego (The Buick Invitational); to improve the quality of the event year in and year out; and generate funds for charity, which in our charter was the SD County Jr. Golf Association. Since 1968, the Century Club and its title sponsors have raised over $6.5 million for San Diego charities and last year we gave more than $877,000 to over 120 different charities throughout San Diego County. 2003 is the 51st year a PGA Tour event has been held in San Diego, beginning with the San Diego Open in 1952 and we are very proud to be a part of it. Since 1992 Buick has been our title sponsor and we’re happy to say that last year they extended their sponsorship through the year 2006.
—— People love coming out to Torrey Pines, has the tournament always been held there?
No, it wasn’t moved there until 1968. As a matter of fact, the course at Torrey Pines didn’t even exist when this event first started. Back then it was a naval training area called Camp Callan. Initially, when the military decided they were going to close it down they didn’t know what to do with it. Eventually, however, they gave it to the city on the condition that it be developed as a public golf course. The course was designed by William Bell Sr. in 1957 and the tournament moved there in 1968. Since then it has really become one of the jewels of San Diego. It’s a great facility and the idea that it is a public course, that is affordable for most anybody to play on, has been one of its charms over the years.
—— Have things changed much here and on the tour in general over the years?
Well, a lot has changed since the days of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. To start with back then players basically drove everywhere. They couldn’t afford to fly, but as air transportation evolved and became more reasonable all that changed. Now most pros fly, some will hire private jets, and some of them even have their own planes. The size of the purses has changed too. When the tournament first came to Torrey Pines I think the total purse was $150,000, with the winner’s share being $30,000. Ten years ago, when I got involved, our purse had grown to $1 million dollars, with the winner receiving $180,000 and this year we have a record purse of $4.5 million dollars, with the winner taking home $810,000. So the money aspect has grown tremendously. As in every sport, technology has had its impact too. Modern equipment; newer, stronger lighter, materials and designs for club heads, shafts, different angles, lofts and golf balls, all result in being able to hit farther and straighter. When you couple that with this level of player, you get a lot of guys that can hit with distance and accuracy.
—— Speaking of changes, I hear that due to the changes at Torrey Pines, San Diego has officially been awarded the 2008 U.S. Open. Congratulations! How did all this come about?
Thank you. It really took a consorted effort among many of the people in our community The Century Club members, “Friends of Torrey Pines” and countless others. We always wanted this to happen, but for the longest time it was just one of those pie-in-the-sky ideas. Until a few years ago when Jay Rains, our president at the time, and I were on a sponsor relations trip; we made a point to visit a few other courses... three of which had previously hosted U.S. Opens. So on our flight back Jay asked me, “Tom what would we need to do to get a US Open?”
I knew we needed to update our golf course and second we needed to create a relationship with the USGA. We already had a great layout at Torrey Pines to start with, but the greens were flat and not very interesting and the course was not very penal for professionals. The greens needed deeper bunkers and the fairway bunkers were not in play. Twenty years ago it was great, but now these guys were hitting right past them. So Jay took this as challenge and set the wheels in motion. Things really started to fall into place when we hired renowned golf architect Rees Jones, aka the “Open Doctor”, to renovate the course and develop it to where it would merit a major championship. As we were doing this and because of the USGA’s familiarity with Rees, they actually contacted us and expressed an interest in possibly coming to the west coast with one of their events, and everything just grew from that.
—— Over the years there have been a lot of great players here, how do you attract
them to Torrey Pines and who is going to be in the field this year?
You’re right, we’ve hosted many of the legends of golf and our past winners read like a who’s who of golf including Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Tom Weiskopf, Jack Nicklaus, J.C. Snead, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Steve Pate and more recently names like Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Mark O’Meara, Caig Stadler, and Tiger Woods, just to name a few.
We’re lucky here because players like coming to Torrey Pines and we do our best to make sure they feel welcome here. Players tend to gravitate towards courses and tournaments that suit their games. Often players have ties to an area like a Phil Mickleson, a Chris Riley, a Pat Perez, a Scott Simpson or a Craig Stadler do with San Diego. Tiger Woods, for example, grew up in Southern California and played here during the Jr. World Championships, he’s had success here (winning once and four other top five finishes) and he has a lot of friends here. All of those things are fortunate for us and the fans of San Diego. This year we’ve got another outstanding field of players including our defending champion, Jose Maria Olazabal, and past champions, Phil Mickleson, Scott Simpson, Peter Jacobsen, Tiger Woods and Craig Stadler.
—— Without getting you into too much trouble, what kind of personalities do some of the players have?
There’s a huge variety out there (laughing). There are some guys that are very outgoing and gregarious while others just want to be left alone, and everything in between. You see the characters on the golf course, guys like Craig Stadler, John Dailey, who don’t hide their emotions too much. They’re as entertaining as can be... and every now and then you’ll see a lighter side to even the most serious of players. All the guys have a tremendous respect for the game and for each other, but they still love to pull pranks and tease each other. They’re like a big family.
—— How have some of the Japanese players fared here?
They’ve been doing quite well. Last year, Hidemichi Tanaka played very well and the year before that Shigeki Maruyama was impressive finishing 3rd, I believe. Each year they’re getting more competitive. You look at players like Maruyama, Tanaka, Imano, Kuboya and Taniguchi and they’ve improved so much and I think they’ll continue improving the more they compete at this level.
—— Over the past 51 years are there any particular moments that stand out in your mind?
One of the more notable moments, or turn of events, involved Craig Stadler. It all started when one of his shots ended up under a tree on the 14th hole and he had to kneel down to hit it. Of course he didn’t want to soil his pants... so he put a towel down. It happened on Saturday and on Sunday when they were replaying the shot on TV someone called in and said, “That’s a violation of the rules!” and sure enough he was right, so essentially Craig’s scorecard for Saturday was incorrect and he had to be disqualified. Of course Craig didn’t like it, but he understood it and accepted it like a gentleman, but the story didn’t end there. The repercussions were devastating. Had he not been disqualified he would have finished 2nd that day, so he lost a sizable purse, it also contributed to keeping him out of the Tour Championship at the end of the year, and finally it kept him off the Ryder Cup Team.
Eventually though, this had a somewhat amusing and appropriate ending. Approximately 12 years later, we came to realize that the very tree that had caused him so much grief was sick and needed to be removed, so we called Craig and asked, “ How would you like to come down and cut this tree down?” Well, he didn’t hesitate and with a crowd of media gathered around, Craig picked up a chainsaw and had the last word (smiling). It even made ESPN’s “Shot of the Day”!
—— When do you start planning for 2004?
Right after the awards ceremony! It never ends; putting on a major sporting event takes a year round commitment. Its like juggling a hundred balls in the air... you can’t let any one drop.
(02-16-2003 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)