Chambers Bay is going to get a lot of attention, acclaim and criticism in the next 12 months. Of course, that's par for the course for a track that's about to host the world's best players for one week. However, once the 2015 US Open is finished, what will be left is a world class municipal golf course to be enjoyed by the residents of the Pacific Northwest and all others who are wise enough to visit.
I visited Washington for the first time in my life in 2014 and played six golf courses in the area over the course of four days. While Chambers Bay is the crown jewel of the area, it's not the only good golf course in the Seattle/Tacoma area. I also played Gold Mountain, The Home Course, The Members Course at Aldarra, and Fircrest, and I'd recommend them all. However, this page will focus exclusively on my review of Chambers Bay. Before I review the course, I have to touch on how it got here. Rather than plagiarize or attempt to re-word the history, I'll just copy and link to the history of the course as described on the Chambers Bay website. They tell the story better than I could!
Just as the game of golf itself has a rich history, so does the land on which Chambers Bay was created. The Chambers Creek Properties is comprised of more than 950 acres located along the shores of the Puget Sound in University Place, Washington. While Pierce County's ownership of the property has been fairly recent, the making of the surrounding land began to take shape more than 200 years ago.
The area first found use as a rock quarry stemming as far back as the Steilacoom Indian Tribe and the first European settlers in 1832. Over the years the Chambers Creek Properties area has been used as a location for a paper mill, a major industrial center, multiple lumber companies, a railroad center, a sand and gravel mine, a bus barn, a regional wastewater treatment plant, a preservation and recreational area, and today, as a world class 18-hole championship golf course.
You can find a complete and detailed history of the Chambers Creek Properties, including information about the Steilacoom Indian Tribe, the paper mills, gravel mine, lumber companies, railroads and more by visiting the Pierce County Website.
If I were to rank the courses I've played on how photogenic they are, Chambers Bay would be near the top. After reviewing my pictures, I've realized that it's tough to take a bad picture on this piece of ground. The blend of colors is something else. Those colors come from an all-fescue grass site (tall grass and short) with lots of ups and downs and the Puget Sound in view from nearly ever shot you'll face. Upon arrival at Chambers Bay, you're faced with a massive property below. The parking lot is on the top of a hill with the entire golf course visible down a slope of probably upwards of 100 feet. Surrounding, and in some cases going through the property, is a paved walking path for the public. It's open at all times for dog-walkers, runners, walkers, and the like, and is a five-mile loop. Between the golf course and Puget Sound is a Burlington Northern Sante Fe rail line with frequent freight traffic. Allegedly, they're planning to use this line to shuttle spectators to and from the US Open in 2015.
Upon arrival at the course, there is a small clubhouse with a pro shop and food/beverage. To get to the golf course and practice area, there is a shuttle bus that will drive you down the hill. Once you're at the bottom, there is another small snack bar type of facility that offers food and drink before you tee off or at the turn. Beware, it's VERY expensive!
#64, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2013)
#14, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2012)
#1, Best Public Golf Courses in Washington (2012)
#25, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)
#2, Best in the State of Washington (2013-2014)
My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#15, "Long Fir," Par 3, 116 Yards
"This short par 3 plays from an elevated tee and is fully exposed to the prevailing wind, making club selection critical. The well-defended green slopes from left to right. Standing watch in the distance, the Lone Fir is the only tree on the course."
There is one tree at Chambers Bay, and it sits on its own behind the 15th green. It's not in play by any stretch of the imagination, but presents a wonderful vista with the train and Puget Sound in the scene as well. The hole is only 139 yards from all the way back on the scorecard, but the USGA has built a tee box that sits on the opposite side of the 12th fairway and stretches the hole to upwards of 240 yards. With a fairway shallow green that played like a freshly paved driveway during the US Amateur, this can be one of the hardest greens to hold. Anything on the green is a success.
#14, "Cape Fear," Par 4, 407 Yards
"The first task on this dramatic downhill par 4 is to decide how aggressive you wish to be off the tee. A large, deep waste area must be carried onto a fairway sloping from right to left. Mounding short and right of the putting surface will funnel shots onto a large green that tilts toward the fairway in front, but then slopes away toward a collection area beyond."
A downhill cape hole and with an incredible bunker complex all the way down the left side of the hole. A single pot bunker sits in the middle of the fairway, but can be carried with anything other than a lousy drive. A wide fairway awaits over that bunker, which leaves a relatively short approach into a hole with sand on the left and a collection area in back.
#13, "Eagle Eye," Par 4, 453 Yards
"The placement of the tee shot is critical on this strong, dogleg right par-4. Though the fairway is the widest on the course, a tee shot down the right significantly reduces the length of the approach. A central bunker requires players to carefully choose their line of attack on the approach. Shots struck off line will be rejected by the knob on the left of the green, or a slope falling away on the right."
The last hole that we had to play to a temporary green both days. This one bends pretty hard to the right. The landing area for most will be short of the bunker aimed at the left pole, though a carry of about 260 from the sand tees can carry it. For me, it was a safe line left of the bunker, which left a shot of around 200 yards into the hole.
#12, "The Narrows," Par 4, 262 Yards
"An uphill, drivable par 4, the 12th is the narrowest hole on the course. Lay up short or challenge the blowout bunker fronting the green. A very large and undulating green set in a punchbowl requires an accurate approach or lag putt. Strong contours all around this green invite creativity and imagination into your short game."
281 Yards from all the way back, this is one of those short par 4's that have become so popular recently. I love a good short par 4, and this is clearly one of them. The green is definitely reachable off the tee for the big hitter, but just reaching the green is by no means a simple birdie, for the green itself is extremely difficult in it's slopes. Laying up is possible, but the target area is small with ample trouble on either side in the form of steep side-slopes and a bunker on the left.
#11, "Shadows," Par 4, 425 Yards
"This long par 4 plays straightaway, while the fairway curls in and around the dunes and waste areas. A tee shot over the central fairway dune leaves a middle-to-long iron approach. The green is set into a slope from right to left and features a ridge bisecting the surface lengthwise."
Hitting the tee ball over the hummock in the middle of the fairway is the play. No bunkers around the green, but plenty of contour to make an up-and-down challenging if your approach isn't near the hole.
#10, "High Dunes," Par 4, 360 Yards
"This medium-length par 4 split the two largest dunes on the golf course. The fairway narrows steadily the closer one comes to the green, making club selection off the tee crucial. A relatively flat green is nestled between the dunes and is flanked by deep bunkers front right and back left."
After finishing the par-37 first nine, it's time to do battle with the shorter inward nine. It plays to a par of 35 and is about 400 yards shorter than the front. The tenth hole splits two large dunes that present an intimidating chute to the hole. It has the look of something on the Irish coast. Bunkers are on either side from the landing area to the green, which is long and narrow with tall grass and dunes on either side. The hole isn't long, so it's an opportunity to score, but you'll need to be straight and precise with your swings to do so. We played the first day to a temporary green, which was disappointing, but were fortunate enough to play to the regular green the next day. A really good hole.
Looking back to the tee.
#8, "High Road / Low Road," Par 5, 523 Yards
"This fairway on this straight-away par 5 is much wider than it appears from the tee, but does slope from left to right. A drive struck down the left side of the fairway will be redirected to the middle, offering an open view of a long and narrow green. Contours to the left and in the back of the green will move approach shots back toward the center of the green."
I was told that this is the most often criticized hole at Chambers Bay, as some people think it's nothing more than a connector hole to get you from the great 7th green site to the drop shot on the par 3 9th. but I thought it was fine. A two-tiered fairway lends interest to the approach shot into the hole. No bunkers on the hole makes it unique and different at this golf course. Almost like the no-bunkered holes that Ross liked to sprinkle into his courses. The wall of grass behind the 7th green extends the left of the 8th hole as well, making a miss to the left dangerous. A miss to the right isn't much better though as it will potentially fall down a slope on that side as well. Long and straight is the way to go.
#9, "Olympus," Par 3, 202 Yards
"The teeing ground on this long par 3 is perched nearly 100 feet above the green. The oversized green slopes from left to right, providing assistance to players hoping to avoid the menacing bunker short and right of the putting surface. The contours on and around the green provide ample opportunity to get close to the hole. An alternate, lower tee has been installed to provide variety in setup for the U.S. Open."
Club selection is key to this one. As it says above, the ball will feed left to right off the slope of the green, so depending on the pin position, you don't necessarily have to take on the front bunker. We played from up top both days as the alternate tee wasn't in play. It's quite a haul to the back tees, so hopefully the pros and caddies will be in good shape for this one, lest they have to hit their shots into this tricky hole with burning legs.
#7, "Humpback," Par 4, 449 Yards
"This long uphill par 4 turns hard from left to right. Taking an aggressive line over the large bunker on the right invites a shorter approach to the green, but also brings trouble into play. Tee shots played safely to the left will face a blind approach over the hummocks fronting the green. The severely uphill approach plays much longer than the actual yardage. A player who is unable to reach the green can play left of the hummocks to a narrow landing area short of the green."
I really liked this hole, and especially the approach shot. The two hummocks are well placed to inject strategy into the tee shot. Also, the wall of grass behind the hole was really cool and reminded you that you're in a former quarry. A strong hole.
#6, "Deception Point," Par 4, 369 Yards
"Depending on the placement of the tee markers, the sixth hole is either a long, dogleg right or a short straightaway par 4. Regardless, favor the left side for an unobstructed view of the green perched between two bunkers. The slope from back to front encourages a low running approach."
The most trouble off the tee comes from driving it too far and to the left. A large dune with tall and thick gr
#5, "Free Fall," Par 4, 441 Yards
"The elevated fifth tee offers players a panoramic view of Puget Sound and Chambers Bay. This long straightaway hole rewards a drive down the center. While the fairway is generous, massive bunker complexes protect either side. Tee shots that land left of center will chase toward the bunker and be faced with a semi blind approach. The green on this long par 4 is guarded by a deep fronting bunker."
Long, but steeply downhill from the tee, and thus it plays shorter than the yardage on the card. Bunkers flanked the fairway on almost reminded me of the look on the 18th at Bethpage Black. The green has only one bunker, but it sits in front and right in the center, and acts as a lion's mouth bunker.
#4, "Hazard's Ascent," Par 5, 480 Yards
"The fairway on this medium length uphill par 5 slopes significantly from left to right. The green is reachable in two shots for long hitters, though tee shots must avoid the immense bunker on the right. The green complex, which can be accessed from a strong fairway slope left of the green, is framed by a large bunker front and right with three blowout bunkers behind. The large and heavily contoured green features a right hand hole location, bordered on three sides by sand."
This was the second hole we played that played to a temporary green both days. It was located about 60 yards short and to the left of the regular green and made the hole shorter and less dangerous. With the normal green, there is a risk-reward decision to be made on the second shot. You can potentially reach the green in two, but would need to carry nasty sand the entire way. Plenty of room to lay-up safely left and short (where our temp green was essentially).
#3, "Blown Out," Par 3, 145 Yards
"The first of the short holes at Chambers Bay is a mid-iron shot for most players. The kidney-shaped green is guarded on the left by a deep bunker and a swale off the putting surface collects shots struck too long. A large kick-slope on the right redirects shots toward the center of the green."
For me, avoiding the bunker to the left of the green was the trick. I hit it both days. With that said, I was able to get it up and down for a nice sand-save both days.
#2, "Foxy," Par 4, 365 Yards
"The tee shot on this medium length par 4 plays through the dunes to a narrowed fairway. The shortest approach is from the left side of the fairway, but that route brings a large bunker into play. Play down the right side to take advantage of an open entrance to the green, which slopes from right to left, and is bisected by a large ridge."
The yardage book says it well here. Left is the aggressive play, but brings the bunkers into play. From the Sand Tees, it's about 245 yards to reach the bunkers on the left. Bunkers are all along the left side from there into the green. Holes 1, 2, and 3 are chance to get off to a good start and write down some good scores before the meat of the course begins.
#1, "Puget Sound," Par 5, 501 Yards
"While designed to be played as both par 4 and par 5 during the U.S. Open, the opening hole at Chambers Bay is a welcoming par 5 that provides a very manageable start to the round. Most tee shots will finish short of the crest of the hill in the fairway, leaving a partially blind second shot. Approach shots must favor the right side and can utilize the contours along that side of the fairway to find the putting surface."
Both days we played the course, there was a temporary green to the left of the normal green. The drive must avoid a fairway bunker and dunes on the right side to leave a manageable shot into the hole in two. The green sits up a bit of a plateau with a steep fall-off to the left of the green. Definitely an opportunity to get off to a good start.
As I said above, Robert Trent Jones II, and the developers of Chambers Bay decided to build a linksy golf course in the Pacific Northwest with all fescue grass. What that means in this case is a course where there is essentially no difference between the grass throughout the fairways and the grass on the greens. Literally, around the green complexes, there is no difference between the putting surface and what surrounds it. So, the "Texas Wedge" can come into play on nearly every hole from every angle. There is another reason that this one cut of grass is interesting, and that is the fact that they've had trouble maintaining fescue in this part of the country, which has resulted in temporary greens on a consistent basis. Where this would be a miserable experience on most courses, it's actually not that bad at Chambers Bay. The course has enough contours where you could put a putting surface nearly anywhere, and it would still be fairly interesting. Plus, since the greens and fairways are cut at the same height, you can put a hole anywhere and not have to worry about maintenance issues.
Another comment I'll make about Chambers Bay is that it is a massive golf course that can play extraordinarily long. It's supposed to play firm and fast which could reduce the effective length. However, I played the back tees on my second round, which would usually make me feel awfully manly. However, at Chambers Bay, the back tees were set up at just over 7,100 yards and there was at least one set of tees behind us on nearly every hole. This course could stretch to nearly 8,000 yards or more if they wanted it to. What's more, it's a tough walk. Lots of ups and downs, and Chambers Bay is walking only. Caddies are available, but most people just carry their own bag. It's plenty doable for 18 holes, but the pros and their caddies might not be thrilled at the rugged walk they'll face.
So, to the course itself. The back tees are called the Navy Tees, and are listed at 7,165 yards, with a rating/slope of 75.6/139. From the next set back, the Sand Tees, the course plays to 6,513 yards and 72.4/135. White and Blue Tees exist in front of the Navy and Sand. In all cases, the course plays to a par of 72. I played the Sand Tees the first time out and then the Navy Tees on my second round the following day. I'll quote the Sand Tees in my review below. In italics, I'll quote the hole descriptions from the yardage book. Then I'll offer some of my own commentary.
#18, "Tahoma," Par 5, 514 Yards
"The home hole is a slightly uphill par 5, surrounded by dunes. The remnants of vast concrete sorting bins loom over the teeing grounds. After navigating a fairway dotted by bunkers and swales, built to accommodate play as a par 4 or a par 5 during the U.S. Open, a large green featuring multiple levels and strong contours awaits. Imagination and a deft putting touch are required to pass the final exam in this championship test."
A strong and challenging finishing hole. As a par 5 you can finish strong. As a par 4, as it may be during the U.S. Open, it's hold on for dear life. A shot must be aimed or shaped away from the bunkers off the tee. Then, there's an extremely punishing pot bunker added by Mike Davis of the USGA that sits about 100 yards from the green and defends the lay-up area. I was able to make a four and a five on this hole in two rounds, and I have a feeling I could sell those two scores to many pros in 2015's U.S. Open.
#17, "Derailed," Par 3, 142 Yards
"With two distinct teeing grounds, this picturesque par 3 plays into the prevailing breeze. The lower tee offers a level shot and requires a long carry over the waste bunker, while the upper tee provides a drop shot with full view of the green and its surrounds. The putting surface is split into obvious halves, allowing only accurately struck shots near the hole."
A crazy green awaits on this last one-shotter at Chambers Bay. Knowing the pin position and the contours around it are key to get the ball close. Trouble is to the right of the green and short left, with short grass long and left.
#16, "Beached," Par 4, 359 Yards
"This medium-length par 4 curves gently around a long bunker that flanks the entire right side of the hole. Tee shots should favor the left side to account for the slope toward the bunker. The tabletop green is the smallest on the course and also slopes dramatically from left to right."
What I love about this hole is the proximity of the train tracks to the right of the hole and the back pin position at this green. On the second day, we had a train passing during our play of the hole, which was extremely unique. In the first day the pin was in the back sliver of the green. Word to the wise, if the pin is back there, don't go anywhere near it. Play to the middle and take your par. If you play to the back and miss the green, you probably have to aim away from the hole on your next shot and face bogey at best.
The really really back tees. Hitting across the 12th fairway.
Another set of tees sits behind the scorecard distance of the back tees (139 yards). This box plays from about 180 yards.
The Golf Bucket List
I really enjoyed my two days at Chambers Bay. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place for golf, but Chambers Bay is not your usual Pacific Northwest course with tall, mature pines. It's a linksy test, and an a phenomenal track for a municipal course. For those who live in the Seattle/Tacoma area, you have an incredible municipal course. For those who don't, it's well worth a flight to Seatac to check it out. Chambers Bay is a treat that all should see.