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Bell's Lab

By: Geoff Shackelford

When the U.S. Golf Association awarded Torrey Pines South this year’s U.S. Open, most saw the choice as an interruption in a long line of venues designed by Golden Age masters.

They may not be famous, but the course’s architects, the father-son team of William P. and William F. Bell, were highly regarded, with an impressive list of credits. The elder Bell (left), known as “Billy,” was George C. Thomas’ co-designer of several California Golden Age classics, including Bel-Air and Riviera. They also worked on a renovation of Los Angeles Country Club’s North course.

Billy also had several solo designs, including hidden gems San Diego Country Club and La Jolla Country Club. Bell also left behind his trademark lace-edged bunkering at A.W. Tillinghast’s San Francisco Golf Club.

But his lasting legacy will be the 36-hole Torrey Pines, which had been an artillery training center during World War II. When the base was decommissioned in 1945, there were 500 buildings on the site.

Construction of Torrey South required extensive removal of concrete pads, and even a pragmatic builder like Bell couldn’t keep the budget from swelling. By the time of his sudden passing in 1953 at age 67, the project was facing several financial hurdles.

Fortunately, Bell had been transitioning his design practice to his son, who oversaw final construction of both courses in 1957 after a multi-year delay. The junior Bell went on to design and redesign several courses in California, including Sandpiper in Santa Barbara and Bermuda Dunes in Palm Springs.

One touch not present in the South’s original design was the pond fronting the 18th green—that came at the request of the PGA Tour during a greens reconstruction in 1974. The USGA is embracing the pond’s potential for drama, deciding to reverse its original decision to play the hole as a par 4. Hopefully, the bold decision will lead to a heroic risk-reward shot in the final round. 

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