It’s not often one gets to play the same golf course that a US Open is hosted at. The USGA has been adding more “public” courses to the rotation of venues to host the most difficult challenge in the sport of golf. I put the word public in quotation marks for a reason. Although the tee sheet is open to anyone, it comes with a hefty price tag.
Chambers Bay, located in University Place, Washington, is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr design. It’s a par 72, stretching out over 7500 yards from the tips. What makes the course unique is its setting. Located within an old sand and gravel mine, it has dramatic elevation changes for a course located directly adjacent to a large body of water. The course style is links-ish with firm fairways and greens, bunkers everywhere, and fescue.
Two weeks ago I strolled into the clubhouse, paid the $275 green fee and embarked on the Chambers Bay experience. To access the golf course, you have to take a shuttle down into the quarry. Upon arriving, the starter verifies your time, and points you to the range. It’s a fine range, with targets a-plenty. The problem? We were asked to only hit off the mats. Never a good sign when you can’t grow grass on the range.
Stepping onto the putting green I chuckled at the undulations present. This was going to be interesting. After rolling a few putts I became aware of something odd while walking on the green: it was crunchy under my feet. The fescue grass was flowering, it was bone-dry, and far from ideal for a smooth roll.
Let me be clear about one fact: Chambers Bay is a stunningly beautiful venue. The views, landscape, and atmosphere are truly one of a kind.
That said: I don’t play golf for the views. The condition of the golf course was incredibly low considering the price tag associated with the venue. Having played other PGA TOUR venues, I can say with certainty that Chambers Bay was a disappointment in that category. In fact, two greens had just opened for the season two weeks prior, which were played as temporary greens for the opening of the season. Apparently, growing grass at Chambers Bay is a challenge.
Being a bit of a bunker lover, I was intrigued to try out the sand at Chambers Bay. It was wonderful. Firm enough to not end up with fried-eggs, and soft enough for both green-side and fairway bunker style shots. Rumored to be remnants of old materials from the original site, the grey color was certainly unique and added an interesting look.
Chambers Bay was clearly built for championship-level golf. The average duffer doesn’t have much of a chance with the forced carries, rock-hard greens, and perplexing green complexes. We had a group caddie accompany us on the round. Pointing out lines off the tee, general breaks, and suggestion on elevation compensation were invaluable. Local knowledge went a long way.
In posterity, several holes would have been played differently based on my experience. It’s a course that requires at least two plays to learn what lines are appropriate for your game, where to leave approach shots, and how different greens react.
Taken as a whole, Chambers Bay was a disappointing experience. I now have a better understanding of why the 2015 US Open participants weren’t happy with the venue. I also understand why spectators would have been incredibly disappointed. As we played, I noticed there was practically nowhere to route spectators within the confines of the course. Spectators would have been limited to the peripheries of the property or routed to areas which were 15 to 20 feet below the holes: practically unable to see anything but the tops of players heads.
After shaking hands, tipping our caddie, and taking the shuttle back up to the clubhouse it was time for the highlight of the round. At the bar, the price for your first beer is determined by your score for the day. Paying 79 cents for a cold hefeweizen was certainly the bargain of the day.
- Aperture: ƒ/1.7
- Camera: SM-G930V
- Flash fired: no
- Focal length: 4.2mm