Resilient U.S. Open at Torrey Pines reverses money slide of 2008, provides profit to city
There are varied ways to gauge the impact and reach of this summer’s U.S. Open in San Diego.
Start with the 150 hours of total television and digital coverage that reached 177 countries and territories, including 25 million viewers in the U.S. alone — a postcard-perfect glamour shot for the region.
Consider the nearly $3.5 million the United States Golf Association paid the city to cover costs of the bonkers tournament won by Jon Rahm in June at Torrey Pines.
Or rewind to Sunday night, hours after the cheers for Rahm ebbed.
The city’s contract with the USGA required the course to remain closed the first two days of the following week, building in mulligans for weather delays or extended play. When tee sheets for Wednesday popped up online, it was like tossing a sirloin steak into a shark tank.
“One of our supervisors watched it,” said Scott Bentley, deputy director of the city’s golf division. “It took 45 seconds to fill the entire tee sheet for the day. We’re talking 6:15 in the morning until 6 at night.”
The USGA paid the city $3,469,256.87, according to a public-records request by the Union-Tribune.
That came in the form of six rent checks to cover, in part, the closure of the South Course in advance of the tournament and the North Course as it morphed into a driving range, media center, parking lot and more. The USGA also paid $450,000 to offset public safety work and permitting.
Revenue sharing was included in the final total — in the form of 20 percent of hospitality packages and 10 percent of hotel receipts — that amounted to $269,256.87.
Though the city covered its expenses and more, the hospitality portion fell well below projections. Natasha Collura, executive director of the city’s special events group, indicated in a June 22 email that an inquiry was sent to the USGA because the money was “not nearly the level anticipated.”
The city estimated, pre-pandemic, that a normal Open would generate the city between $1.3 and $1.7 million related to hospitality money. Then, COVID-19 limitations stunted attendance.
Players and USGA officials universally gushed about the playing conditions. The course became one of the Open’s stars.
“I know in ’08, one of the big concerns was the condition of the golf course,” Bentley said. “We hadn’t done an Open before, and being a muni(cipal course), they had lots of concerns about the condition of the course.
“We made a lot of changes in our agronomic practices, so the courses are in much better condition than 2008. This year, they had very few concerns.”
That represented a remarkable achievement, given that the golf division — as with other city groups — faced staffing reductions because of COVID.
“People were surprised we were able to pull it off, because we were short-staffed,” Bentley said. “We were down about 30 percent of our maintenance employees. The whole spring, getting ready, we were scrambling. It was amazing to see it all come together.”
The nearly $3.5 million-plus dwarfed the $500,000 San Diego received to host the event in 2008.
USGA payments 13 years ago did not come close to covering lost money from course closures. The 2021 tournament produced some plus-side revenue, in addition to regional tourism impacts.
Hosting an Open cannot be measured solely in dollars and cents, though. The incredible finish orchestrated by Tiger Woods in 2008, for example, delivered a marketing bonanza.
“Worldwide interest and demand in the course skyrocketed,” according to Tim Graham, of the city’s communications department. “(Hosting again) keeps Torrey Pines Golf Course top of mind in the golfing world.”
Some of the USGA money will be steered toward renovating city-run Mission Bay Golf Course.
Bentley said the $10-11 million project will replace the old clubhouse, while adding new buildings for concessions and the golf shop. Construction is scheduled to begin in the closing months of 2021 and last a year, he said.
In spite of the fancy closeup and sparkling report card, concern ripples about when or if the tournament will return.
A Golf Digest story headlined, “Why Torrey Pines is a possible goodbye to the U.S. Open’s era of true public courses” explained a shift in USGA thinking about whittling down the number of public courses to increase windows for historic, core courses.
Though USGA officials hinted Torrey Pines is likely to be included on a short list that has gotten shorter, questions swirl.
“I’m very optimistic we’ve got a good shot at it,” Bentley said. “They say they listen to the players and the players were happy. We produced another memorable event and great finish. San Diego’s a great town with great weather.
“I’m not sure why it wouldn’t come back.”
San Diego hopes he’s right.
Original article by Bryce Miller on San Diego Union Tribune.