In a week punctuated by dismissive barbs over the design and condition of Chambers Bay, none were as cutting as Gary Player’s. The 79-year-old South African legend was in town being honored by the USGA for his U.S. Open win 50 years ago, but Player’s place at the podium turned into a bully pulpit, with Chambers Bay the target.
On Friday, during a Yahoo Sports “Grandstanding” podcast, Player labeled Chambers Bay as “one of the worst golf courses I’ve seen in my 63 years as a pro.” Among other disparaging remarks about the course, he called it “basically unplayable,” adding, “the man who designed this golf course had to have one leg shorter than the other.”
The man who designed this golf course is Robert Trent Jones Jr. together with associate Bruce Charlton and former associate Jay Blasi. Speaking exclusively to GOLF.com, Jones offered a rebuttal to Player’s comments.
“First of all, you have to understand that Gary is a competitor in the design business,” says Jones. “He was a ruthless competitor in his playing days and at times he can be that way in the design business. We compete for jobs all over the world. I can tell you that I’m open to constructive criticism, but to make it personal is something I can’t understand. What purpose does it serve to find fault with the USGA, with the men who set it up and with the design itself? All I can tell you is that I don’t comment on my competitors. I don’t need to enter a public debate with Gary Player.”
When asked what he would say to Player’s face, Jones responded, “We were step by step with the USGA in the entire process. They asked for a golf course with enormous flexibility and multiple options and the USGA participated all along. We turned the course over to them months ago so that they could prepare it for this championship. They did what they did, and we stand arm in arm with what they accomplished.”
Jones describes the course as “not revolutionary, but evolutionary.” Specifically, Jones stated that the USGA wanted a course to showcase a number of items, including sufficient length to test today’s pros, plenty of width, drier, firmer conditions to return an emphasis to the ground game, a course that was less expensive to maintain than a traditional layout and they wanted it to be open to the public.
Player took Chambers Bay to task on each of these fronts, saying, “It’s 7,900 yards long. The world is in dire straits with water. Can you imagine the costs to maintain this?”
Shaking his head, Jones counters, “This was constructed in the American west, where water is indeed at a premium. We used fine fescue grasses, which require less water. They’re more drought tolerant. The cost of maintaining this course is one-third the cost of maintaining Augusta National.”
Jones acknowledges that there are issues with many of the putting surfaces. “Some of the greens are not well-laid. The original superintendent used sod when he rebuilt them and there were other grasses that got into the fescue. Number 1 green, the middle of 4 and number 12 in particular are problematic. However, you don’t hear any complaints about the new pure fine fescue greens at 7 and at 13, except that they’re fast. The USGA has learned a lot recently from Castle Stuart in Scotland, which has beautiful fine fescue greens on a similar site. In time, we’d like to see these greens resemble those at Castle Stuart.”
The architect also concedes that these greens were designed to run slower for regular play due to the amount of contour they built in. He says that the poa problems wouldn’t affect so many putts if the grass cut was slightly higher and the greens were slower. Nevertheless, he concludes that a lot of the players’ issues are simply with familiarity. “This is a new golf course,” says Jones. “The greens contouring follows suit from Augusta National, and Augusta National’s follow suit from St. Andrews. The players all know those courses very well. You don’t hear complaints about anxiety and uncertainty at those courses because they know those greens.”
Your move, Mr. Player.