After playing Chambers Bay Sunday, Greg Norman said it best: “There’s nothing like it in the world.” Golfers who prefer predictability have no chance at the U.S. Open in June.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — The slickest, lumpiest, bumpiest, uppiest and downiest course to host a U.S. Open will debut to the greater golf world in 48 days. Those us who have taken in Chambers Bay know its glories and perils. Buy what will the crusty veterans of the PGA and world tours think of the unique track in their first visits?
“There’s going to be some players who just love this ground game, who love the imagination, who embrace it,” Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association executive director, said Monday. “Then there’s other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them. They don’t want to have to guess what’s going to happen when their ball lands.
“So it would not be a U.S. Open if we didn’t get some chirping. It’s a part of it. We accept that. In fact, we joke internally sometimes that if nobody’s complaining, we have done something wrong.”
Much chirping, then, shall ensue, because predictability is nowhere to be found in the sandpit-to-showcase place, according to Greg Norman, who knows s little something about golf around the globe.
“Nothing like it in the world,” he said after playing a round Sunday. “They’re not going to figure it out in two rounds.”
Davis and Norman, the Aussie “Shark” who won two British Opens and was a seven-time world No. 1 in the annual rankings, were in town as part of a delegation hosting media day Monday, a chance to begin spreading the word in earnest.
The eight-year-old course on Tacoma’s western shoreline that features views of mountains, islands and an inland sea, which on this day was as benign as the course was wicked, is nearing its worldwide closeup.
After the week of the June 15 tourney that concludes with a championship June 21, the winner likely will not be heralded as a conqueror but as a survivor, the guy whose legs and mind were strongest against a course that will be the champion.
By tradition and design, the U.S. Open is the world’s toughest test of golf. Chambers Bay is up for it. Although it is billed in architectural style (not in history) as “America’s St. Andrews,” the home of golf in Scotland is the standard links (“links land to sea”) layout – a flat seaside.
Along the northern reaches of the English coast, there is little “up.” Not so along western North America.
In the great scouring of the most recent Ice Age, glaciers dug a deep trench down the middle of what we now call Puget Sound, and left shoulders of land on either side often covered with moraines of sand and gravel. The site of the course near the mouth of Chambers Creek was, from 1859 to 2003, a sand and gravel mine.
In geologic time, this place was 10,000 years in the making. It just took civilization the last 10 years or so to clear away what wasn’t golf course/meadows/hiking trails. Which included removing every tree but one.
In Western Washington, a course without a tree is like is like a castle without turrets. What’s the point, right? Yet it is that contradiction that makes Chambers Bay, to the discerning eyes of local golfers, so compelling.
Instead of narrow fairways of fir sentinels, Chambers Bay has the widest fairways in Open history, some as wide as a football field is long. Yet the course is thick with scrubby brown mounds of carpeted sand and capped with giant, many-humped greens that crest and fall like small waves.
As with most shorelines around Puget Sound, “up” happens abruptly, such as a 300-foot climb up to a simple clubhouse that is achingly suburban muny. When the summit is reached, an odd thing happens: The entire course is visible from a stationary position. That stunt for every other course requires a helicopter.
“I heard people say it’s a ‘wow’ site,” said the obviously enthusiastic Davis, who grew up in Pennsylvania, went to college in Georgia, lives with his family in New Jersey and doesn’t get vistas like this. “This is a bold site. It’s a big site — obviously expansive.
“I say that because we don’t have anything that we play a U.S. Open on that’s remotely similar to this.”
To the maniacally shaped topography, the USGA adds its own bit of the diabolical. They will change not only the pin placements on each of the four day, some but a good chunk of the hole. On a par-70 course of anywhere from 7,200 to 7,600 yards, the plan on certain days is to flip the pars on No. 1 and No. 18, which lay side by side, from five to four and from four to five.
“Why did we do that?” Davis said. “We weren’t trying to be innovative; we weren’t trying to be cute.
“It all got down to the architecture of the course. It gives so much wonderful flexibility that the drive zones as a par‑4 and par‑5 are, for both those holes, completely different. And they play different. There’s a risk-reward element to both holes.“
Basically, the USGA made a hard course harder. Which is the point of a U.S. Open.
“There are so many slopes and undulations to this property way – that’s the way it was designed,” Davis said. “If it’s firm and fast, then you add slopes and undulations, from a player’s standpoint, you really have to think your way around this golf course.
“There is no way — no way — a player would have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it. “
Golf has always been a game of the head. The survivor in June will have accomplished a splendid deed by not beating himself, even if the course beats him.
“Jack Nicklaus used to love when he would walk in (to an Open clubhouse) and hear certain players chirping,” Davis said. “He would say, ‘OK, that player’s gone, I don’t have to worry about him.’
“I really do think that there’s something to that.”
Perhaps Chambers Bay will be for the world’s best golfers an acquired taste, such as oysters. The rest of us will enjoy their grimaces as the first one goes down.