After a rather soggy day at Sahalee Country Club I pointed my rental car south and headed for the Tacoma area where I was scheduled to play a round at Chambers Bay the next day. Chambers Bay is located in a town by the name of University Place, which, interestingly enough, is NOT the home of a university. The town was named in the 1800s after the University of Puget Sound purchased a tract of land with the intent of building a new campus there. Even though the new campus was never built and the university sold the land back to the city, the name University Place stuck and it has been used ever since.
Chambers Bay golf course was built on what was at one time a sand and gravel quarry that in recent years had been mostly used for recreational off road motor sports. The course received a lot of hype even before it opened in 2007 and the hype continued when less than a year after opening day the U.S.G.A. announced that the course would be hosting the 2015 U.S. Open Championship. At the time I remember thinking how surprising it was that a Scottish links style course only a few months old had been awarded the United States national championship. It seemed like a strange choice for a variety of reasons to me, but regardless it’s cool to see the U.S. Open being held in the Pacific Northwest.
I was up bright and early on Saturday morning to make the short drive to the course in time for my 8:30am tee time. Upon arrival I parked in the small parking lot and went into the pro shop to check in. The golf course is owned by Pierce County which technically makes Chambers Bay a municipal golf course and as most “munis” do they offer the local residents a discounted rate. Even for non-residents the pricing is quite attractive and in April the rate was only $125 which is quite a deal for an opportunity to play a U.S. Open course. After I finished in the pro shop I hopped the shuttle down to the practice area for a few swings and then got back onto the shuttle which took me over to the 1st tee.
At the 1st tee I met up with George, Brandon and Quinton who would be my playing partners for the day. We would all be playing the Sand tees which were 6,513 yards and played to a par of 72 (37 on the front and 35 on the back). George, being a member of the Chambers Bay Golf Club and having logged a considerable number of rounds on the course, teed off first and showed us the way which is something that was incredibly helpful throughout the day as we made our way around the course. I should note here that Chambers Bay is a walking only facility and does have caddies available for players who wish to use one. We were all either pushing or carrying our own bags, so having George in our group to guide us proved to be incredibly helpful.
Hole 1 – Puget Sound – 501 yards – Par 5
Plenty of room on the left side of the hole for the tee shot. The bunker on the right is definitely in play off the tee. Players who are laying up with their second shot will need to favor the right side of the fairway for the best angle into the green with their third shot.
Here we have a look a the approach into the green. Players who go too far left on their second shot will be hitting their third shot from way down in a valley on the left side of the hole which is so uphill that it is nearly a blind shot to the green.
A look from behind the green back down the hole.
Hole 2 – Foxy – 395 yards – Par 4
The further left a player aims off the tee the longer they will need to be to carry the bunker. There is plenty of room to the right for a conservative play. The direction of the wind dramatically affects the way to play this tee shot.
The approach shot into the 2nd green. Note the lack of hazards on the front of the green which allow for bump and run approaches.
Hole 3 – Blown Out – 145 yards – Par 3
Shots that come up even a little bit of short here will end up in the front bunker . . . I guarantee it.
Hole 4 – Hazard’s Ascent – 480 yards – Par 5
Players attempting to reach this green in two will probably wan to challenge the right side of the fairway in order to shorten the distance to the green. For those playing it as a three shot hole there is all the room in the world out to the left side of the hole.
A look at the shot into the green from the right side of the fairway. I was laying up to the top of the hill and my ball hit one of the wooden stakes and ended up here. Not the ideal place to approach the green from.
Hole 5 – Free Fall – 441 yards – Par 4
This hole plays long on the card, but with the elevated tee shot there is plenty of extra yardage to be gained. The bunkers on both sides of the fairway are in play.
Avoid at all costs the small and deep bunker in the middle of the green on this approach.
Hole 6 – Deception Point – 369 yards – Par 4
A shortish par 4 dogleg right. Plenty of room on the left side of the hole which leaves a little longer shot into the green but at a great angle.
Lots of bunkers around this green, but note that the front is open for a running shot.
Here is a view of the green that shows just how narrow it is.
Hole 7 – Humpback – 449 yards – Par 4
This is a long par 4 that plays even longer uphill. I assume that it often plays with the wind. On a relatively still day like the day I played it takes two really good shots to reach the green. The further right a player aims the longer their tee ball will need to be.
A look at the green from about 100 yards out.
Here is a view of the green from the 5th tee box.
Hole 8 – High Road Low Hole – 523 yards – Par 5
The drive on this hole really needs to be straight. Balls that are sliced will fall off the edge of the hole and probably not ever be found and balls that go left are going to be in the tall grass and a challenge to find and hit. A great time to break out the long and straight ball.
Here we have a view of the third shot into the green.
The view from behind the green back down the hole.
Hole 9 – Olympus – 202 yards – Par 3
Beware the left side of the green on this lengthy par 3 as players who think they are playing it safe run the risk of having their ball shoot off the hill and right into the bunker they were trying to avoid.
Players who do end up in the bunker are likely to have a handy backstop for their shots depending on the hole location.
Hole 10 – High Dunes – 360 yards – Par 4
This shortish par 4 has bunkers in play on both sides of the fairway for the tee shot. Drives will not run out quite as far as the fairway is uphill and will eat up some of the roll.
The green is tucked in among the dunes and has a deep bunker on the right front of the green that is a tough up and down.
Hole 11 – Shadows – 425 yards – Par 4
This hole is a lengthy par 4 with a scrub area that must be carried off the tee. Players taking a line down the left side will have to be longer than those who play for the right side of the hole.
The approach shot from the right side of the fairway.
A view of the undulating putting surface.
Hole 12 – The Narrows – 262 yards – Par 4
This short par 4 is going to be drivable for many amateurs and definitely will be for all the pros at the 2015 U.S. Open.
A view of the green from the top of the dune on the front right of the green.
Here is a look at the very undulating putting surface.
Hole 13 – Eagle Eye – 453 yards – Par 4
Here we have another long par 4 with a tee shot to a blind landing area. A good line is the furthest left pine tree in the group of three beyond the fairway.
After a good drive there is still going to be a lot of ground to be covered to reach the green.
Hole 14 – Cape Fear – 407 yards – Par 4
This hole features a wonderful risk/reward tee shot. The further left a player aims the the more length they will need on their drive. A safe line is just to the right of fairway bunker. Drives that cut it close to the right side of the bunker have a good chance of catching a hill and rolling an additional 20-30 yards down the fairway.
Here is a look at the approach into the green.
Hole 15 – Lone Fir – 116 yards – Par 3
Named for the only tree on the course, this short par 3 is not as easy as it looks. Depending on the hole location it can be very tough to hit the tee shot close. Balls hit to the left have a good chance of bouncing down onto the putting surface which works out well with this hole location.
Hole 16 – Beached – 359 yards – Par 4
This shortish par 4 runs along the Puget Sound which makes for a lovely setting for the hole. With the huge bunker along the right side a drive down the left side of the fairway is the prudent play.
A view of the green from the left side of the fairway from about 75 yards out.
Hole 17 – Derailed – 142 yards – Par 3
Here we have another fairly short par 3. All of the bunkers on this hole are fairly punishing so a shot to the middle of the green is a safe play here. Note the remains of an old warehouse in the background. These are a bit of an icon for Chambers Bay.
Hole 18 – Tachoma – 514 yards – Par 5
We close out the round with one last par 5 that is going to be fairly reachable for longer hitters and with the right wind will be reachable for many average length hitters. It’s a narrow landing strip out there so choose the line of play carefully.
Players laying up will have to take the deep bunker in the middle of the fairway into account. It will definitely take birdie out of play and could even take par out of play.
Here we have one last look at the undulating putting surfaces that are found on most of the holes at Chambers Bay.
During our four hour trek around Chambers Bay we traversed the dunes, gouged our balls out of the high grass and watched our shots take bounces and rolls that we never could have expected as we hit one thrilling golf shot after another and enjoyed spectacular views of the Puget Sound. While we did experience an unusually large number of crazy bounces I must say that there is one in particular that stands out in my mind from the day. On the 7th hole Brandon’s drive landed in a bunker and as we walked up the fairway we saw an enormous hawk pluck his ball right out of the sand and drop it on the grass in a much improved lie . . . now that is a “bounce” I’d never seen before!
Once we wrapped up our round and caught the shuttle back up to the parking lot I started making my way to Eugene where I would be spending the night before driving to Bandon Dunes the next day. With four and a half hours staring into the windshield ahead of me I had plenty of time to reflect on my thoughts about Chambers Bay. It wasn’t too hard to decide that I really enjoyed the course. Not only does Chambers Bay have the look of a true links course, but it was firm as can be which made it actually PLAY like a links course as well. On the 2nd hole I hit a low 6 iron that flew about 100 yards in the air and bounced/rolled another 80 yards to the middle of the green . . . if that is not links golf then I don’t know what is. Between the often rainy weather in the Pacific Northwest and the links golf course I think that in the year 2015 the U.S. Open is going to feel an awful lot like the British Open which should be interesting.
It’s also pretty hard to dislike a course that offers up the extraordinary views that Chambers Bay does. From nearly every vantage point on the course the Puget Sound is visible which just makes it a pleasant place to be. With its numerous elevated tee shots and holes that run along the waters edge its just a beautiful golf course and the fact that the holes are strategically interesting and fun from a golf stand point makes Chambers Bay a home run. I’m really glad I included it on my trip and would encourage others to do so as well. It’s just good fun.