I’ve said this once, and you’ll hear me say it again and again — I have the greatest job in the world. I cover sports for a living. I talk about them, I watch them and every now and then I get to play them — like yesterday. I was paid to play golf, and not just on a typical course. I was paid to play Chambers Bay Golf Course — home of the 2015 U.S. Open.
Chambers Bay Golf Course, which is located in University Place, Washington, is expensive (at least in my eyes). Greens fees cost anywhere from $119 (non-county resident sunset rate from June-September) to $219 (non-Washington resident rate from June-September). That means not everyone can afford play Chambers Bay. If you can’t make it out there, or even if you can (you’re planning a trip, etc.), I’m here to tell you what it’s like to play Chambers Bay Golf Course.
I had never even seen the Chambers Bay grounds before, so this was an entirely new experience for me. The clubhouse sits on top of a hill, so you have an opportunity to look out on the entire course when you first arrive. At first glance, I asked myself, “This is a golf course?!” Chambers Bay is designed (by Robert Trent Jones II) like a traditional Scottish links course. That means there are no trees (there’s actually one tree on the course, but it doesn’t come into play), it’s just a rolling mess of grass, dunes and sand. One of the guys I played with described it as “the surface of the moon.”
Chambers Bay Golf Course doesn’t just look different, it also plays different. Even though I’ve been to Scotland, I didn’t play golf there. That means Chambers Bay is unlike any course I’ve ever played before. There aren’t traditional golf hazards, like water and trees, but there is trouble everywhere at Chambers Bay. Precision is the name of the game there. A foot the wrong way and you’ll end up in the sand (or waste areas). A few inches too long and you’ll be in thick fescue. You need to be spot on with every shot or your round can quickly unravel.
There’s another thing you need to know about Chambers Bay Golf Course — it’s long (7,165 yards from the blue tees), firm and fast. I was talking to a caddy before the round, and he told me that I need to take 10 to 15 yards off every shot because the ball rolls, and rolls, and rolls once it hits the ground. When the 2015 U.S. Open comes to town, they’re actually going to have a 520-yard, par-4 (no joke). An employee of the USGA explained to me that yardage at Chambers Bay doesn’t mean the same thing as other courses. That’s because Chambers Bay is so firm and so fast. The distance can also be deceiving when you’re out there playing at Chambers Bay. There’s nothing to obstruct your view, so it looks like every hole is 500-yards away.
NOTE: There are no golf carts allowed (unless you need one for health reasons, etc), so you have to walk Chambers Bay Golf Course. That doesn’t matter to me, because I’m young enough and healthy enough to trek 18 holes. With that said, Chambers Bay still isn’t an easy walk. The hazards are the hills and dunes, so you feel like you’re constantly walking up and down hills. They give you a push cart as part of your greens fees, and that definitely helps. But, just keep that in mind if you’re planning a trip to Chambers Bay. Your body needs to be golf ready.
Since you can’t always tell the difference between the fairway and the greens (again, this is a traditional links course), that means putting is a challenge at Chambers Bay as well. That firm and fast description doesn’t end on the fairways. It goes for the greens, too. And, the hills don’t stop rolling on the greens either. I think I lined up three straight putts my entire round yesterday. The greens sometimes feel as wavy as the Puget Sound you’re playing next to. One of the guys I was playing with said it was like “putting on a frozen lake.”
NOTE: If you’re looking for a pristine, green golf course, Chambers Bay is not for you. The grass dries out and turns pretty darn brown. If I didn’t know Chambers Bay was a championship level course, I would think it was a poorly maintained public golf course. But, that’s far from the truth. The crew at Chambers Bay puts in tons of work — that’s just the way the course is supposed to be.
While the course might not be much to look at, the views are top-notch at Chambers Bay Golf Course. Like I mentioned, you play alongside the beautiful Puget Sound. When you’re up on the course, it feels like you can see for miles. We were out there on a perfect day (80 degrees and sunny), so the weather wasn’t a factor. But, the wind off the sound can make Chambers Bay play much different than it did for us. Rain is always a possibility in the Puget Sound area as well.
When I was on the course (probably on hole No. 13), I mentioned to one of the guys I was playing with that I liked the front nine better than the back nine at Chambers Bay. He had played out there before, and he quickly said, “Just wait. The back nine gets even better.” It was so true. I jotted notes when I was playing out there, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but all four of the holes I listed as my favorites (No. 10, No. 15, No. 16 and No. 18 – I could probably throw No. 17 in there as well) were on the back nine. In other words, I didn’t think there were any bad holes on the course.
Danny Sink, the director of the 2015 U.S. Open, explained to me that the USGA wants to make the open “golf’s toughest test.” That doesn’t mean they want to penalize golfers for good shots, but they want to test them mentally and physically, and they want to challenge their shot-making skills. They picked Chambers Bay to do that, and I think that says a lot about the golf course. It’s meant to test the best golfers in the world, so it definitely cause problems for an average weekend hacker. I know first-hand how difficult the course is.
I hope this did a good job of summing up what it’s like to play at Chambers Bay. I could have written ten more paragraphs, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you with information. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have, or feel free to leave a comment below. You can always connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t forget to also check out All Around Tim for more on the world of sports, music and food!