36 holes, ocean vu, no fixer

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A good golf walk is not spoiled if you take it in Torrey Pines as a spectator at the Farmers Insurance Open. As such, you must worry only about the strength of your sun protection factor and not how you will hit a ball that lies next to a Torrey pine cone hiding in the rough.

If you want to watch the best players in the world fully activating their golf glutes, you want to do it this weekend atop cliffs guarding the misty Pacific. Even if the golf is bad, which it never is, or the morning fog overwhelming, which it often is, say, "Hallelujah, it's February, and I'm in La Jolla."

At 10:15 a.m. on Friday, no customers were at the snack booth near North Course Hole No. 1. Ten people were in line at the Grey Goose concession.

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A few minutes later, about 15 spectators were standing behind the tee box at North No. 1. A couple of them raised their iPhones above their heads to snap photos of the golfers preparing to tee off -- Stewart Cink, Retief Goosen and Martin Laird. One couple, who surely walk more than they play, discussed their attire.

"They're all wearing the same TaylorMade shoes," she said. "And they're all using the same white TaylorMade driver," he said. "It must be good."

It is. And the golfers are being paid good money to use it.

At the start Friday, Nicholas (who?) Thompson was leading the tournament at 8 under with a Thursday score of 64. The wind was WNW at 6-12 mph. The par 5 North No. 1 played 519 yards directly toward the Pacific.

But if you want dish as well as facts, talk to the tournament marshals.

At 10:40, marshals Tom Haines (left) and John Bishop (right) awaited the arrival of their group of golfers, Charlie Beljan, Paul Casey and Pat Perez. Haines, whose business card reads "Ph.D., curriculum developer, Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control," has been a tournament volunteer for 42 years. His role changes year to year, and Friday he was a "walking marshal," a staffer assigned to follow a certain golf group with the potential to draw larger crowds.

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Haines was there because Perez is popular. He grew up in San Diego, and his father, Tony, has been a starter at Torrey Pines, Haines said, "for 40 or 45 years."

So Haines is kinda like a bodyguard for Perez?

"Well, if they start shooting," said Dr. Haines, "I'm the first one outta here."

Volunteers do everything from raising signs that read "Quiet" to ball spotting to keeping stats. And they pay for the privilege of serving and protecting, as much as $85. In addition to working in the world's best office, they get logo-ed clothing, lunch and an additional tournament ticket.

Each group's entourage includes a standard bearer (names of the golfers in the group) and a scorer, who tracks golf data via PalmPilot and uploads it to ShotLink, which, as described on its website, "is a revolutionary platform for collecting and disseminating scoring and statistical data on every shot by every player in real-time."

In other words, geek golf. The PGA, it seems to the casual observer, measures everything from length of drive to how much farther the ball rolled on the green when the bee buzzing along the fringe farted.

On Thursday, according to Beth Bishop, a starter Friday on North No. 1, the PalmPilots were intermittently grounded on the North course, so all the scorers Friday were equipped not only with electronics, but a backup -- the standard paper scorecards all of us duffers use with varying degrees of honesty.

Bishop has seen it all in her 47 volunteer years. She was a scorer long before the electronic era when everything, she said, was different. In the 1970s, she recalled, females had to wear skirts that measured 1 inch above the knees.

A tourney regular like Bishop has known a lot of golfers, and her favorites are the well-dressed, polite ones, like Davis Love, who always acknowledges her. Her mother brought her up too well for her to say anything bad about anyone, but she does find a professional with a 5 o'clock shadow less than attractive at 10 a.m.

As a San Diegan, she's a fan of Perez, who wears his hair long, a style for which he has been roundly teased. At Wednesday's ProAm, Perez pranked the chattering masses, Bishop said, by showing up on the tee in a long black wig.

A couple members of the Mobile Device Committee were hanging around South No. 2. Along with 10 colleagues, they patrolled both courses on a mission to silence intrusive cellphones. Reggie Frank is a five-year tourney vet, and Jim Thurman has been roaming for cellphones for three years. Frank spent a couple years as a hospitality volunteer, making sure the suits and suit-adjacents in the corporate tents were happy, but he prefers phone duty and its good walk unspoiled.

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At North No. 6, Aaron Baddely was pondering the greenside bunker when I snapped a discrete photo. I was approached immediately by a man who looked like the principal who had caught a kid smoking in the head. His badge identified him as Brian Duncan, Director of the Mobile Device Committee.

"You're not allowed to shoot photos," he admonished. "You know I can confiscate your camera, right?"

I had gotten my media credential for the tournament only at the last minute, and it didn't afford me the inside-the-ropes access you get with a photo pass. But none of the scores of iPhone photographers I saw in the galleries had been sent to the principal's office by the marshals, who clearly saw them capturing the moment.

"Blame the PGA," Duncan said. It doesn't like people taking pictures, he said, because it disturbs the players. But nobody I saw shooting had been a paparazzo jerk; everyone was polite. Maybe the PGA's concern is more about commerce than comportment?

Duncan demurred, and confirmed that so far through the tournament, no one had been caught being a jerk and no cameras had been confiscated. He said that if I promised not to take any more photos he'd let me keep my camera, softening a bit. "I'm just a volunteer, doing my job."

Just one of the 900-some folks who ensure that the Farmers was safe for golfers to out and play. But Duncan didn't look like the other marshals; he was dressed differently.

"I'm a committee director," he explained.

"So you're special?" I asked.

"Not that special, or they'd pay me."

By mid-afternoon the sun had honeyed up the oceanfront cliffs, softening the edges of the world's most breathtaking out of bounds. At $85, it's a bargain.

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Photos: Ellen Alperstein


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