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Wet weather causes problems at Torrey Pines

Though not a regular fan of The Weather Channel, Buick Invitational media director Rick Schloss checked the channel's Web site yesterday and typed in the 92037 zip code for La Jolla.

"It looks really good . . . a lot of yellow for 10 days," Schloss said.

Who could blame Schloss or anyone associated with this week's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines for experiencing weather angst after those biblical rains that drenched California in recent weeks?

Now the question is will the forecasted yellow sunshine translate to some fine red numbers on the leaderboard?

Probably not, if one puts an ear to the soggy turf and listens closely to PGA, tournament and course officials.

The 8-plus inches of rain that soaked the Torrey Pines bluffs between late December and early January has caused some deep rough to sprout on the North and South courses. It's likely to be the toughest Torrey's rough has been in nine years, according to course superintendent Jerry Dearie.

"That's going to create some challenges for the boys who hit it in the rough," said Tom Wilson, in his 15th year as tournament director.

"We're talking Amazon jungle, man," said Todd Gore, a Carlsbad golfer who played practice rounds on the South and North over the weekend in preparation for his pro-am today.

PGA Tour agronomist Tom Brown, here for the 10th straight year, said the rough will be cut at 4 inches this week. He used one word to describe conditions: "Wet."

But Brown said the rains left the grass in better condition than in recent drought-plagued years. And there's another reason the grass is better.

Last fall Brown teamed with Dearie to take extra measures to green up the courses for the tournament, moved up three weeks in this year's PGA schedule.

Dearie pumped up overseeding last fall by adding 100 pounds of seed per acre and an extra application of fertilizer. The 4 inches of rain in October "jump-started" the entire process, Dearie said.

"We haven't had rough like this since 1997, when we had storms come through two weeks before the tournament," Dearie said.

As for the greens, Dearie said the South greens, which were planted with Penncross bent grass when Rees Jones, "the Open Doctor," renovated the course before the 2002 Buick Invitational to draw the 2008 U.S. Open, now are about "30 to 40 percent poa annua." They'll be 60 percent or more poa annua and a lot like the North's greens next year.

Dearie did more aerating and used more top dressing on the South greens over the winter and accelerated the poa annua invasion there, which should make for more consistent greens.

"This being a coastal course, that's been the plan," Dearie said. "They'll be a little bumpy, and some patches may be visible on TV. But right now, I don't think we can do much better on the greens, agronomy-wise."

Dearie had a lot of help in recent weeks, and he needed every bit of it. The courses lost 10 trees during the storms, including some huge eucalyptus trees on Nos. 7 and 13 on the South Course. He said Ellen Oppenheim, director of the San Diego City Park and Recreation Department, dispatched two chainsaw operators and six groundsmen. And a local tree-cutting contractor was hired for two days to help assistant superintendent Gene Bianchi and his tree crew.

"We couldn't get a truck to five, six trees because of the wet conditions, so a lot of it was hand work," Dearie said. "Gene Bianchi and his crew did a fantastic job, not only cutting up the trees, but removing all of them."

Dearie said final touches were applied Tuesday on bunkers that had eroded badly during the storms. Superintendents from La Jolla Country Club, La Costa Resort and The Bridges sent workers to help.

"It was a great example of teamwork," said Brown, the PGA Tour agronomist.


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