UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA – I have to weep for our society because we have lost it as a species when we can’t all instantly fall in love with Chambers Bay, the site of the 2015 U.S. Open, hard by Puget Sound’s rugged waters, where forest-fragrant air gently caresses verdant, dew-dripped tree-covered hills. “Idyllic” is the first word that comes to mind.
“Authentic,” happily, is the next word, because Chambers Bay is not just a pretty face. Although it’s a new course, it streaks out of the out of the gate as a real deal, a true major championship test with out need for tricked-up gimmickry like oceanic water hazards (Atlanta Athletic Club), moats surrounding greens (Valhalla), or machismo-like length (seemingly everywhere these days). A true links, built on sandy soil, a seaside dunescape that will mesmerize everyone, and a uniform grass surface – fescue – which will play as fast and firm as any Rota venue will provide a genuine British Open in June. And Wind! Wind! Wind! Will come whipping through the Sound and swirling among the hillocks.
“If the wind whips around in swirls at Puget Sound like it’s prone to do, it could be the windiest U.S. Open since my Dad’s work at Hazeltine National,” admitted golf course designer Bobby Jones, Jr., referring to the time Englishman Tony Jacklin won the 1970 U.S. Open by seven shots. In particular, while the fairways at Chambers Bay are as wide as they have been in many decades for a U.S. Open, there’s a reason for it – the predominant wind at Chambers Bay is a crosswind.
Moreover, a mix of winds that come up during just a few hours of play can confound golfers. “It can change direction at any time, and in places it even swirls,” added Jones. And the fairways wind in different directions, so you have to factor in the wind on every shot.”
“We’ve had two different winds – one has come out of the southwest and one out of the northwest,” surmised Tiger Woods, echoing Jones’s analysis. It’s dramatically different – it’s just amazing how much it plays differently. With the different winds, it’s like a links in that regard, that’s for sure.” Woods even compared it favorably to the Open Championship Rota venues, and he is correct in that score.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like my kind of golf!
How good is Chambers Bay? When it comes to architectural/design principles, Chambers Bay is smarter, more interesting, and more exciting than the following major venues: Turnberry, Carnoustie, Lytham, Hoylake, Birkdale, The Country Club, Torrey Pines, Olympia Fields, Bethpage Black, Pebble Beach, (yes, Pebble Beach!), Baltusrol, and Medinah.
I’ll pause a minute, so I can catch my breath and you can stop laughing at Medinah being in this conversation in the first place, (Snort! Medinah! Snigger snigger!),then I’ll add Hazeltine, Congressional, Atlanta Athletic Club, Medinah again, (just because), Kiawah, Whistling Straits, Oak Hill, Val-HELL-a, Baltusrol, Cherry Hills, and Southern Hills. Indeed, there are more half-par holes at Chambers Bay than any four or five of the previously-named courses, which means more rising and falling up an down the leaderboard.
Half-par holes – that’s the secret to exciting golf, and the secret to half-par holes is temptation. That’s why the Masters has the freehold, owns the patent on exciting golf. They want players to take a shot at the hitting the par-5s in two, sink or swim, feast or famine, victory and defeat poised upon the edge of a knife, and no one knows which way the Golf Gods will turn. At the Masters, they actually want someone to shoot 31 on the back nine in a come from behind win for the ages.
Well in that regard, you might get some action late at Chambers Bay too. With the flexibility offered by Jones’s “Ribbon tees” – “Long thin tee boxes that are all contiguous, ultimately connecting to the fairways after a long meandering journey,” as Jones, Jr. put it, they give Chambers Bay remarkable flexibility for the length – and even par – of any individual hole. During his tenure as Tournament director, the USGA’s Mike Davis has moved tee markers forward and back during the course of the event, sometimes turning gargantuan holes into drivable par-4s or reachable par-5s. In this case, Chambers Bay presents Davis with a unique opportunity – the chance to make par flexible from day-to-day as well. On two days, the mighty 18th will play a par-5, and will alternate with the par4/5 1st hole. Moreover, the drivable par-4 16th will give everyone a reasonable chance for an eagle.
Excitement down the stretch, rather than tiptoeing around trying to avoid double bogey: that’s what these fans are paying good money to see.
Now let’s talk about what major venues Chambers Bay is prettier than! Turnberry, Carnoustie, Lytham, Hoylake, The Country Club, Torrey Pines, Olympia Fields, Bethpage Black, Pebble Beach, (yes, Pebble Beach!), Congressional, Atlanta Athletic Club, Medinah…I could go on longer than the three paragraphs above, but I think you’re starting to get the idea. Beautiful, beguiling, and brilliantly designed, it richly deserves the U.S. Open.
Chambers Bay is a game changer – it upped the anti, it raised the bar for all new courses built this century…
…and that’s exactly what scares people.
People are actually grousing and griping about Chambers Bay. Can you believe that? All this talk from everyone about how “golf architecture is making a comeback,” and “sustainability is critical to the game’s survival,” and how the public needs to be able to play major championship venues too” – well here it all is at Chambers Bay, and people still aren’t happy.
Ian Poulter took to Twitter to lambaste the course based on comments his pals made – he wasn’t even there himself, he just repeated what his pals said. The word “farce” was used, and after a flame war with everyone from Internet trolls to ardent golf fans, Poulter clammed up, butt it was too little too late. Maybe if he spent less time designing indifferent clothing designs and hideous putter head covers he might close the deal at a major. Less branding, more golf. A little less Carolyn Bivens, a little more Tom Watson. He has the talent, and this course – a true links – would suit him if he’d grow a head and embrace it like 3-time major champion Padraig Harrington does.
“I like the hard courses,” he said many times in major championship interviews. “When I hear people complain, I know I don’t have to worry about them that week.”
Then some golf broadcasters went temporarily insane when they heard about the ribbon tees being placed on mildly uneven lies. I’m sorry, why will we test a 300-yard par3 but not an uneven lie? That’s backwards. Hitting shapedshots is a skill we need tp put back in the game, not dilute.
“People need to know how to read the golf course,” explained Jones. “There are lot of ways to play the holes – bump and run, aerial, and ways in between. And moreover, the course isn’t set up for broadcasters right now. It’s set up for an Open championship.”
Jones has that right. The rough is longer than I’ve ever seen it at Chambers Bay. But then Jones mellows a bit and lets the criticism slide. “The moaning doesn’t bother me. Most people don’t like something that’s new. It takes time for them to get used to it.”
Unquestionably. We are nearly two decades into the Second Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture, but still too many people are preconditioned, afraid of change, and only like things they’ve seen before.
But all great art confuses the critics. But then once all the hand-wringing is done, at the end of the day, golf fans and travel junkies will love Chambers Bay as much as Pebble Beach and another Open will be here within 14 years.
So who will win? We’re taking Rickie Fowler. He’s the hottest hand of the rising stars right now, and he tends to peak at the right time. He’s been on a tear at majors over the last 15 months, and can play any type of golf, from links to parkland and everything in between.
“He’s going to run the table soon,” gushed Tom Watson after last year’s British Open, and while Fowler fell just short at Valhalla and Augusta, he raced past everyone like a Maserati at Sawgrass – no mean feat.
You’ll also want to give a long look to Dustin Johnson, who plays well at links courses like Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits, (when he remembers not to ground his club in hazards), and who id fearless enough not to care about the wind or subtleties of the design. If there is someone who can bomb it over all the trouble a la John Daly it’s DJ. Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are also strong picks for the same reason.
With apologies to broadcasters and casual eyeball counters, scratch Toger Woods of your fantasy team this week. After getting dumped by Lindsey Vonn and having more sordid stories get published by the media, Woods’s head is creamed corn. Of course the golf ball knows exactly what you’re thinking…and bad juju travels right down the club. Jason Day just said what everybody was thinking…and too many people were afraid to write. Answering a question about Tiger he replied,” “You can have all the tools in the world, but if you really don’t want to be there or if there’s something that’s off course that’s playing on your mind…the game of golf is so mental, and if you don’t have everything in the right order, it’s very difficult to win golf tournaments.”
Woods did offer one excellent bit of analysis, however. He highlighted that the cunning green contours are the beating heart of the golf course, just like great venues such as Oakmont, Pebble Beach, and Winged Foot.
“There are places you can’t get up and down from. You just can’t, unless you make a 20- or 30-footer,” he surmised. “You’re obviously firing away from the flag 70, 80 feet sometimes to get the ball close and you can’t, which is unlike any other tournament. You hit it pin-high 70 feet away, and next thing you know it ends up right next to the hole. That’s the feel of this golf course and trying to understand that to each pin location.”
Billy Horschel had a similar sentiment.
“The greens are challenging – similar to Pinehurst,” he stated. “They roll off 40, 50, maybe 60 yards. The fairways are generous, but it runs out well….you can putt alt around these greens – it’s a strategic golf course.”
At the edn of the day, that’s what we want in a U.S. Open golf course. To be golf’s toughest test, it has to tax your brain first and foremost. Chambers Bay has enough length to be relentless, enough wind to be maddening, and enough elevation change to be exhausting, but the greens and angles are te reason why it was chosen to host an Open just a few scant months from opening, the first new course to host an Open since Bobby’s dad Trent turned the trick at Hazeltine.
They hated that too when it opened, for those of you scoring at home. Next year it hosts the Ryder Cup.
And so it’s U.S. Open week, complete with golfers crying like Nancy Kerrigan. What else is new? They’ll complain, they’ll get frustrated, they’ll shoot 80…and then someone’s going to say, “By the way, you guys play Oakmont next year.”
Wouldn’t I love to see the look on their face then.
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