Date Played August 15th, 2013
How the hell do I do a Chambers Bay review? I’m not really sure to write that hasn’t been written already, but I guess I’ll give it a shot. The 2015 US Open host has so many accolades and endorsements that whatever I’m about to say will be about as impactful as gnat on a cow’s ass. What I can say, with 100% certainty, is that all of the praise is absolutely justified. The course is awe striking, marvelous, breathtaking, imaginative, memorable…and it’s right in our backyard.
As a guy who works in the green building industry, preservation and efficiency are pretty important to me. So, when I first read about the project about 7 or 8 years ago, I was intrigued by the prospect of re-purposing a spent gravel mine into a world-class golf destination. It was a huge undertaking, rife with logistical and political challenges. Despite all the odds stacked against it, a scant year after opening to a slew of accolades, Chambers Bay was awarded the 2010 US Amateur and the 2015 US Open; the first Pacific Northwest Open in the nearly 120 year history of the event.
The complex, located in University place is perched up on the bluff overlooking the South Puget Sound. Views of Hat, Fox and McNeil Islands surround you at almost any point on the course. Once you plop down your green fee, you’re shuttled down to the fantastic and large practice area at the bottom of the hill. A great all grass range and huge practice green are the best in Western Washington. As your tee time approaches, you’re once again whisked away to the starter shack, which by itself rivals some of the more modest clubhouses in the area. You’re greeted by the starter, who offers up some friendly tips on how to play the course. My group shuffled off to the tee to start this dreary, gray and drizzly morning, kicking off what I describe as one of my few “religious” golf experiences.
Chambers Bay is about as genuine an American links course as you can find outside of Bandon. The 1st hole, dubbed “Puget Sound”, is a 559 yard par 5 monster that features a giant burm, teeming with thick fescue that runs nearly the entire length of the right side. Finding the fairway is imperative on this hole as about 200 yards out, the left side of the fairway drops abruptly, about 40 feet to an area where you’ll be pitching blind at a very tough green. My guess is that this hole will be shorted up about 50 yards and played as a sadistic opening par 4 during The Open.
While walking this piece of land (sorry weekenders, no carts here), you have time to really take in the thought and imagination that Architect Robert Trent Jones II put in while creating it. What separates it from the great British links and from courses like the aforementioned Bandon Dunes, is that you can tell just how much earth was moved to give the appearance of a natural setting. To be honest, I was rather turned off by this at first. I love my courses either natural or plain, so the routing can be the star; and really, this course is neither of those things. Bulldozed dunes and super harsh greens had me expecting the forced links experience that you get with places like Sumner Meadows and Sandpines in Florence, OR. But my fears were quelled early and abruptly by the 400 yard par 4 2nd.
Another well thought out hole, this dogleg left offers you two entirely different experiences. Do you play up the right side for the better angle, with the risk of insidious grasses swallowing your shot; or do you go for it all left and leave yourself a shorter approach over a gigantic bunker into a tough green? Choices like this, are in my opinion what makes a great design. They allow you to decide your own fate while still placing a premium on execution. With the beauty of the surroundings and the magnificent job RTJ2 did to make you think your way around this course, I quickly got over the man-made aspect of the course.
The standout holes for me were the par 3 9th (Olympus) and the Par 4 16th (Beached). The 9th, a seemingly innocuous 225 yarder starts from one of the highest points on the course. The stellar views will play second fiddle to gong show that will be playing in your head as you tee up your ball. A large, back to front sloped peninsula green sits about 100 feet below you and is sandwiched by a large dune behind and a steep faced, enormous bunker in the front. You can sense the undulation from the tee, but you can’t fully prepare yourself for the absurd path your ball will take upon touchdown. It’s truly a great hole, and one that I can’t wait to see with a Sunday pin in June, 2015. The 16th is a relatively straightforward, 400 yard par 4. The fairway is fairly generous and is left to right diagonally. You decide how much of the waste area left you want to carry, but make sure it’s the right decision, as the bunker is deep and unforgiving. The green is one of the smaller ones on the course, but with so much undulation, pin placement can be the difference between a par and a triple.
Chambers Bay is absolutely the pinnacle of golf in Washington. The staff was outstanding, the practice area is top-notch, the conditions were great on all but a couple of greens and although $200 is a hefty price, the twilight rates drop below $100 in the fall and there are steep discounts for Pierce Country residents, so it still manages to be a great deal. Do yourself a favor and add this to your bucket list, and if you can play it before the US Open. I’m infinitely more excited to watch it now having been through the ringer. Final Score: 89/100
Design – 24/25 (Masterful design. How a course should play, tons of options. Tough walk is the only negative.)
Test of Golf – 24/25 (This is the hardest course in WA. It can be stretched to over 7800 yards and will humble the worlds best in 2 years.)
Value – 16/20 ($200 for out of staters is a lot, but twilight and pierce county resident rates are just a damn good deal.)
Condition – 7/10 (Fescue is a picky grass, so it’s never going to look like Newcastle. But for the money it could be better.)
Amenities – 8/10 (Best practice area in Western WA. No beverage carts, but clubhouse is stocked and there is a great restaurant.)
Experience – 10/10 (Golf is my religion, and this is my temple. I can’t wait to see the accolades roll in after the Open.)