Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | The recognized driving force behind bringing the U.S. Open to San Diego and Torrey Pines Golf Course is Jay Rains, a golf aficionado by passion and corporate lawyer by trade.

Single out Rains for credit, though, and he’s quick to spread the praise to Rich Gillette, his co-chairman, and others who worked tirelessly on the volunteer task force.

They put together a winning bid that won approval from the United States Golf Association, making Torrey Pines only the second public course to host the Open in its 108-year history.

“This has been a unique public/private partnership,” Rains said. “On the public side, the city of San Diego has been a wonderful partner for us for this U.S. Open from day one. They’ve done many things, not the least of which was hiring Mark Woodward, bringing him and providing the resources to Mark and his team to bring the south course at Torrey Pines to U.S. Open standards, which is really what’s required.”

Woodruff, the Golf Course Operations manager at Torrey Pines, has been camped out on the South course longer than Lewis and Clark. No less a golf authority than San Diegan Billy Casper, the two time U.S. Open champion in 1959 at Winged Foot and 1966 at The Olympic Club (that’s the kind of company Torrey Pines’ name now enjoys), endorses Woodruff’s work. 

“It’s a credit to everyone in San Diego that has worked so hard to bring the U.S. Open here, especially this man right here,” said Casper, the Chula Vista High alumnus, nodding toward Woodward. 

So many people worked so hard with civic pride for San Diego. The San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, instead of griping about the U.S. Open treading on its turf, even agreed to push back its opening day from Friday to Saturday. 

It makes you wonder: Where are all the people in this town that usually work to throw up road blocks? The ones that prefer to block progress and sports events that bring tourist dollars to town? 

The U.S. Open will draw 250,000 spectators, with about half of them from out of town. USGA estimates its premier event is worth more than $100 million impact to a host’s local economy. 

ESPN, with Thursday and Friday telecasts, and NBC, with Saturday and Sunday’s climatic rounds, will televise sights of Torrey Pines with views fairways running parallel to the Pacific Ocean. You can’t put a price tag on those shots.

Phil Mickelson, winner of two Masters titles and one PGA Championship, is San Diego’s franchise on the PGA Tour. Thanks to civic pride by his fellow San Diegans, the University of San Diego High alumnus has a chance to win his first U.S. Open title on his hometown course. 

“It’s exciting that we have the chance to host the U.S. Open,” Mickelson said earlier this year when asked about the Open. “I think San Diego is going to be a great venue for the U.S. Open. I think the USGA is going to be very pleased with the way that the golf course and the way that the city of San Diego treats everyone.” 

Of course they will. San Diego is always a magnificent host for grand sports events. 

Think back to the 1984 World Series with the Padres against the Detroit Tigers and the 1998 World Series against the New York Yankees.

Think back to the Super Bowls of 1988, 1998 and 2003 played in San Diego. The late Gene Klein, then the Chargers owner, called in markers from his fellow owners for that first Super Bowl. Chargers owner Alex Spanos did the same for the second Super Bowl. 

By then, people throughout the National Football League saw San Diego as an ideal city to join the rotation of Super Bowl sites that Miami and New Orleans have enjoyed for so long. 

That’s one reason the Super Bowl came back to San Diego so quickly in 2003. The game was originally destined for San Francisco, but the winning bid was contingent upon a new stadium. When stadium plans fell apart (it still hasn’t been resolved up there, either) the bid was reopened.

San Diego won the rights for Super Bowl XXXVII, which turned out to be a sweet homecoming game for John Lynch, a Torrey Pines High alumnus, when his Tampa Bay Bucs beat the Oakland Raiders.

Since 2003, the NFL has stated the Super Bowl isn’t coming back until the city has a venue to replace Qualcomm Stadium, an outdated facility that is falling apart.

What could have been a $400-million stadium built on the existing Qualcomm Stadium site, if approved in 2004, has since ballooned to $1 billion project because of inflation in construction costs. 

The city of San Diego — ignoring how the Padres galvanized and revitalized downtown with Petco Park — even passed off the chance to build a stadium that would host future Super Bowls to the city of Chula Vista. 

But at least for this week, San Diego is once again a sports town that gets things done. It has brought one of the sports world’s grandest events to town.

That means an economic boon to San Diego. It means the public course San Diego golfer can say the U.S. Open came to his home course of Torrey Pines.

Thanks to Jay Rains — and all the people he would prefer you also praise.

And thanks to all the people who normally stand in the way of good ideas but stayed out of the way for this one.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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