Chambers Bay a sweet track

Chambers5a_600x500With so much talk about the upcoming U.S. Open, I paid the host course a visit last week.

The host course for the 2015 Open, that is--Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Wash. It's worth the hype. After a ridiculously long wait for breakfast (two-stroke penalty on the Chambers kitchen), I saw why the USGA awarded the new track the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 Open. Some of the holes are pure Scotland, none more so than the 398-yard 10th, with its green in a notch between two sand dunes and guarded by a couple of tiny bunkers. Walk off the green and around the corner and suddenly you're at the 11th tee. That's the way golf is meant to be walked; carts are not allowed at Chambers. The course is stocked with two-wheeled, club-carrying rickshaws, with wheels so wide you're allowed to roll them right over the greens. It's a cool quirk that feels very subversive.

I shot a bit better than my 6.6 handicap, a 77 from the sand tees (6,500 yards), which is the first way in which this is not your typical U.S. Open course. Put me on Bethpage Black or Torrey Pines South and I'm not breaking 80 (and probably not even 90), but Chambers is extremely playable. There are no tight, tree-lined fairways. In fact, there is only one tree, a decorative, lone fir, recently vandalized but still standing behind the 15th green, overlooking the Puget Sound. (Ironically, the short par-3 15th, which is pictured with the tree on the scorecard, is one of the least impressive holes on the course.)

Chambers looks a bit like Whistling Straits, but I liked it better. It's built into the base of an old sand and gravel mine, in a bowl, really. The place looks like it was hit with a meteor, and course architect Robert Trent Jones II created water views on every hole. Train tracks border the course and the coastline, with freight cars and the occasional Amtrak rumbling by to add even more British Open flavor. As in the U.K., it's all about the wind here. If the breeze never materializes, Chambers can be had.

After my round, and a bowl of Guinness stew on the restaurant patio, I wanted to play the course again. But what I really want to do is play Chambers again in about seven years. Aside from the yellow clumps of scotch broom on the hillside, the place hasn't really grown in. Balls that trickle off the fairway are still in some cases playable. The severely undulating greens are so slow you can charge downhill putts. As Torrey Pines will be unrecognizable to Buick Invitational regulars next week, Chambers will be totally different in 2015. I don't know how the USGA will ramp up the degree of difficulty, but I've got a feeling the blue blazers from Far Hills, N.J., are up to the challenge. Photo: The 490-yard, par-4 fifth hole at Chambers Bay. By Dick Durrance Click for more photos

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by Kevin Cunningham