TORREY PINES — He brushes shoulders with the world’s best golfers, has even gotten to know some of them really well and his workplace is the iconic Torrey Pines Golf Course. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.And as of more than a year ago, Peter Ripa, the tournament director for the Farmer’s Insurance Open has had it.
He inherited the position from the retiring Tom Wilson. Ripa, who spent the previous years in the same position with the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Ft. Worth, Texas, said he wanted to become the Open’s tournament director not only because of its San Diego location (he now resides in Escondido with his wife and two children), but because of the potential he saw in the canvasses that are Torrey Pines’ fairways and greens.
“It’s hosted a U.S. Open, it’s a big golf course (7,600 yards),” Ripa said. “Today’s top players hit it a long way and the list of champions at Torrey Pines just made me, professionally, look at it and say… ‘This could be one of the tour’s premiere events and should be,’ and it presented a great opportunity.”
But now this year’s tournament is over. It’s been over for several weeks now. Tiger Woods, this year’s champion has gone home to Florida; San Diego favorite Phil Mickelson and the other golfers hosted at the event have resumed play at other tournaments around the country.
Though Ripa remains in place, reviewing the pages of notes on the tournament’s successes and going over its weaknesses. He’s beginning his preparations for next year’s contest
It takes a full year to plan and prepare for the tournament, Ripa explained. During those months of planning, he’s looking at every facet of the tournament, down to the minutiae of how many shuttles should be running, how long the shuttle ride lengths should be and even what videos are playing on the shuttles to help make the fans’ experience as high as it can possibly be.
But the hours are long, he said, and for Ripa it takes patience. “My personality is such — I work fast and I expect change right away and I expect excellence like five minutes from now, but it takes patience. It’s not going to happen right away.”
And you can never get too high or too low when it comes to the successes and challenges of overseeing fans’ experiences and the needs of the 156 players in the field (because of the two-course layout, the Open is the first full-field PGA tournament of the year), he explained.
“You’ve got plans in place but you have to react to those things that are out of your control, like fog,” he said.
And then there was the fog.
“On Thursday, Mother Nature started to take control,” Ripa said. “And Thursday through Saturday was certainly a challenge.”
The fog on Saturday, the third day of the tournament, never lifted and so postponed play for all of the players the entire day.
The lost day prompted a marathon’s day of play on Sunday and a conclusion on Monday. Ripa opened the final round’s play, the remaining 11-holes, to the public free of charge.
In the 17 to 18 months that he’s been living in San Diego, one of the things that he’s learned this summer was that you can’t underestimate the ability for San Diegans to get out of work, he explained. “And on Monday, they found a way,” Ripa said.
Tournament officials estimated anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 fans turning out to see Tiger Woods finish his round and win the tournament. “It was a really good Monday crowd,” Ripa added.
The fog, he added, did pose a unique situation. While he was monitoring for any weather changes alongside a meteorologist, he said it didn’t prove necessary to announce that play would still be delayed. “Your eyes told you you couldn’t play,” he said. “Whereas if we were talking about a rain storm, or some other natural event there’s some level of predictability when it would pass, but really for us…the conditions were ripe for fog and you just had to wait through it.”