Every golf course is unique, but some more so than others. Set on the outskirts of Tacoma, Wash., Robert Trent Jones II's 2007 masterpiece, Chambers Bay, would be singular even had it not been chosen to host the 2015 U.S. Open — the first Open to be held in the Pacific Northwest.
Where to begin the accounting? The waterfront course is a reclaimed sand-and-gravel mine. It's a walking-only links, with no cart paths and one tree, stationed behind the 15th green and known as "the Lone Fir." It's part of a municipally owned 930-acre park with walking and biking trails. The views of Puget Sound, the snowcapped Olympic Mountains and Mt. Ranier are among the most extraordinary you'll find with club in hand…or anywhere else.
Golf Magazine recently spoke to Jones about Chambers Bay, the crowning achievement in the architect's storied 40-year career.
How was the building of Chambers Bay unconventional?
A normal links course would be designed with minimal disturbance to the dunes land, but here we moved 1.5 million cubic yards of earth and screened about 500,000 yards of sand to re-craft the links land out of the abandoned mine.
As a Stateside major-championship course, Chambers Bay is about as common as a double-eagle, isn't it?
The orthodox championship course usually plays long from multiple formal tees to perfectly manicured lush green turf. The fairways are narrow, bracketed by thick rough and trees and bunkers, with water strategically incorporated on some holes. The greens are clearly defined targets framed by highly crafted sand bunkers requiring aerial approach shots to gently contoured, fast and true putting surfaces. Every U.S. Open course since World War II has included these features. Chambers Bay has none of them.
So what will first-timers find?
The long teeing grounds resemble rippled ribbons leading through sculptured links land to very wide, hard-running, uneven fairways. The course overlooks the great Puget Sound dotted with forested islands – but there are no water hazards or trees in play anywhere. The holes weave among towering dunes and vast sandy wastelands crafted from the quarry's remains. The tight turf grasses and wild grasses are fescues, indigenous to the maritime climates of Washington State and the British Isles. The often strongly contoured greens are extensions of the surrounding fairways.
What does it add up to from a playing standpoint?
All the playing surfaces are filled with options and hidden hazards requiring forethought. Fescue grass in droughty summer sun goes dormant and turns tawny and dry. These conditions require the player to employ the ground game.
The long approaches must be carefully thought out. Often the best move is playing away from the flagstick to have the ball rebound off a feature and run out toward the player's objective. Likewise, there are features near the greens that appear benign but in fact are the primary hazards defending the green. If the ball lands on one of these slopes or mounds, it will ricochet across or away from the green to the secondary hazard of a sandy waste. The surrounds of greens 3, 9, 13, 16 and 18 were specifically designed with these "invisible hazards."
That complexity extends to the short game, correct?
When chipping or putting, there may be many choices of a line better than the obvious one. The slower-but-firm fescue greens require careful study, such as a pool player thinks through using the cushion on bank shots. Chambers Bay is new and unorthodox yet traces its lineage to the very origins of golf.
Lastly, what was your response to learning that Chambers Bay would host the 2015 U.S. Open?
Elation is too pale a word. Chambers Bay is the first completely new course to be so honored since my father's course, Hazeltine, was selected for the 1970 U.S. Open. For this honor to pass from father to son is especially meaningful.