Arriving Early, Real Early, at Torrey Pines

Day 96 without playing golf

Golf Nomad, who grew up in San Diego, wrote me and asked if Torrey Pines still has the custom of lining up golf bags by the starter’s window to determine the order of securing an early morning tee time.

I don’t know. I’ve been away for a long time.

But they used a system very similar to that back in the mid 1980s when I played Torrey. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, it was tough to get a tee time on the weekend. You could start calling on a certain day — Monday, for instance — to get a tee time for Saturday.

The phone line was constantly busy. In fact, it was virtually impossible to get through, especially if you didn’t have automatic redial, not a widespread phone feature at the time. (I told you it was a long time ago.)

My golf buddies and I gave up on that approach. But there was another way …

The reserved tee times didn’t start until 7:30 or 8, which left anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half of daylight for people to tee off both the North and South courses.

The starter would arrive around 5:15 a.m. and take down the names of the groups that were already there. Then he would start sending them off at the crack of dawn. You would be surprised how many groups would already be out on both courses before the reserved tee time groups started going off.

But back to the early a.m. system.

It was an honor system. When you showed up, you would find the last person to arrive near the starter’s window. He would tell you what number he was –- 15th, for example –- and then he would be free to wander back to his car or the coffee shop (if it was open). Then you would wait for the next person to come along. And so on.

It worked surprisingly well. When the starter arrived, everyone (one representative of each group) lined up in perfect order and got their name down on the sheet.

Each person in our regular foursome would take a turn getting to Torrey early to claim our spot.

How early?

When it was my turn, I would leave the house at around 3:30 a.m. (usually after going to bed around midnight — hey, it was Friday night) and arrive at Torrey at 4:15 a.m. I don’t think I ever cracked the top ten in the order. We’re talking some serious early morning golfers here.

One guy used to always pull his camper into the parking lot the night before. Not surprisingly, his group always went off first, probably on the South.

The coffee shop opened early –- I think around 4:30 –- and it would be jam-packed with guys stumbling around in search of some bad coffee and a stale donut. If you got there early enough, you grabbed a booth for you and your group where you could hang until it was light enough to go out and hit some putts.

The truth is, it was a lot of fun. The camaraderie and setting were great even when the golf suffered. I miss those days.

The Armchair Golfer

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

1 thought on “Arriving Early, Real Early, at Torrey Pines”

  1. I remember when I use to do the same morning ritual there was always this bag at the very front of the railing right in front of the starters windows. It was padlocked there. It was a beater bag..just there as a token to hold his place in line. The next guy would then put his bag next (also a beater bag)..and so on..crazy fond memories.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.