by: Rick Baril
My first knowledge of Chambers Bay (CB) came from the RFP issued by Peirce County, soliciting interest from golf course Architects. Like 50 other firms, we visited the site and submitted a proposal. Trent Jones II was eventually awarding the design commission.
I hadn’t visited Chambers Bay since visiting 8+ years ago, even if I’ve seen plenty of photos.
My first impression, upon arrival:
The “scale” is huge – not only the site but the expansive views across Puget Sound. During my initial visit years ago, it was raining and “socked in”. We couldn’t grasp the splendor of the off site views – they are truly stunning. (I have visited this area since high school, visiting family. If you know this area, its densely forested, making this type of vista unique.) This time, when I arrived, the sun was coming up and the tapestry of an immense golf landscape lay in the foreground – then water and trees and layers of mountains, fading away in the West. I remember standing in awe of the scale – of everything.
The next thing which struck me was the preparations for the Open. They were busy erecting the hospitality “tents”. And, the scale of these preparations was also impressive.
One strange thing at CB is site logistics and circulation. Today, they use a temporary clubhouse at the top of the property. You park near this clubhouse. Then, you are shuttled to the practice, shuttled to the first tee and shuttled back to the clubhouse from the 18th green. It functioned perfectly. But it’s obviously not ideal. They talk about a permanent clubhouse “down” in the middle (near #1 tee) in the future. It will be interesting to see if they are eventually able to reconcile the arrival and logistics issues. The “bowl” where the golf course exists is another world. The transition from the “rim” – the arrival point, to being “in the site” may always be awkward. And, it appears they will always have a circulation issue. This is a curiosity for me. And, I wasn’t able to reconcile it, from the queries I made. I’m sure there is a game plan, it’s just not evident or easily comprehensible.
The golf course. It’s a blast. (full disclosure – I’m a huge fan of Fescue and “linksy” golf.) CB is bold and beautiful – loud and proud. It would take a long time for me to really understand how to play CB. As I mentioned the scale is disorienting, making it difficult to understand where your ball might land – or eventually end up; knowledge critical to exploiting the ground contours. Our caddy (Bo) was indispensable in this regard, providing vital course details, and doing his best to usher us away from disaster.
The greens are crazy and good – crazy good! There’s an abundance of movement and NO reason to be bored. They are wild roll coasters. If your game is sharp, you could get busy attempting to place your approach in exactly the right area of the green. You would need to do it with a lot of class, to consistently get close to the pin – and score well.
The design provides serendipity, humor, providence, luck, accident, calamity, misfortune – in spades… All the ingredients to make your emotions spike: ecstasy to deep despair. It’s a golf amusement park. All you need to do is embrace it. Plan your shot. Make your best swing. And, let the games begin!
Strange hole that #12 – “The Narrows” – For me, it’s the red headed stepchild. The story (utilizing old haul road) of the hole makes sense. The design intent is okay. But, the resulting golf hole is not nearly as inspiring as the other 17. One man’s opinion.
What’s all the Fescue fuss about?
There is a lot of media comment about the Fescue grass. Fescue is cool season grass. It’s a work horse. If conditions are right, it’s a fantastic golf grass, and has been for centuries. As it happens, it doesn’t work well in many areas of the US. And, even where it is appropriate, the US golf industry has deferred to Bent grass for years. Bent requires big resources- big inputs (read money). But, it also exhibits very green color, density of turf and, when resources permit, the most consistent putting surface. Fescue requires significant less resources – water, fertilizer, aerification, etc. Fescue offers more variable/inconsistent playing conditions.
In a nutshell – all the fuss we are hearing about Fescue at CB is: Hype – about the environmental benefits and consciousness of planting Fescue on this great course.
Excerpt from CB website: “When golf’s greatest players come to Chambers Bay, they’ll be playing on one of the most ecologically-friendly courses to ever host a U.S. Open. It uses less water and fertilizer than most courses, thanks to the all-fescue layout, and future plans call for using reclaimed water on the site.”
But, they are using significant resources preparing for the Open, literally millions of dollars modifying, preparing and maintaining CB to look, act and play like other US Open courses, because: 1) this is the golf we know, 2) this is what we’ve trained the golfing public to prefer 3) this fits the USGA playbook, 4) this is what the golf pro’s prefer. Take your pick, one or all of the above.
We have a long way to go, to educate golfers about truly sustainable golf courses of the future. The USGA is feigning attempts at this, with Pinehurst in 2014 and CB in 2015. But, the amount of resources spent to modify and prepare courses for the Open, all but erases the good intentions.
The future of CB will be interesting. I’ve seen mixed reviews about the maintenance and putting surface conditions. This is likely due to the Fescue which can be variable. It’s an issue with our golf culture, always expecting perfect conditions. Of course, if you charge big green fees, you should provide excellent playing conditions. Poa annua intrusion was also evident when I played. You could see giant swaths (green 14) of turf had been replaced – likely where the Poa annua was so prevalent it was impossible to manage. With Fescue, more traffic means more stress which equals more Poa annua.
The US Open will be interesting, mostly to see if the pro’s stay “on message” (great choice USGA, this place is greatest, golf is embracing sustainability, brown is lovely (yada, yada, yada) – or, if they go rogue and convey other thoughts (unfair, too strange, too rugged, imperfect maintenance…). I’m also interested to see how they handle spectator logistics. It’s no cake walk from getting in from I-5 (closest freeway)…
Going forward, it be interesting to see how CB balances expectations, pricing, traffic, sustainability, muni image, etc. etc., while repaying the 25+ million to the community coffers. Being a US Open host course is a game changer. And, with social media, CB will be public and under more scrutiny than ever.
It will be fun to follow CB’s progress. Let the games begin….