Blow up hole

06/11/2015

Leading up to next week’s U.S. Open, Chambers Bay, which will host golf’s second major, has been receiving a mixed bag of reviews. This was always going to be the case for a course that is making its major championship debut.

Part of it is the lack of reputation—Pinehurst, Merion and the like get passes for their history. Part of it is the attempt to make a splash in what is the toughest tournament in the sport.

Spokesman for the reluctantly silent Ian Poulter caused a stir, as he often does, with a tweet in late April: “Well several players have played Chambers Bay in prep for US Open. The reports back are its a complete farce. I guess someone has to win.”

Peter Uhlein, who won the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in 2010, came to the course’s defense albeit with two crying/laughing emojis.

Was it a serious retort or one that defines most tracks? If you play well there, you’ll like it.

2010 U.S. Amateur Highlights

Screenshot 2015-06-11 14.41.17

Regardless, Chambers Bay faces scrutiny. It’s a course firmly entrenched in childhood, still two years away from its 10th birthday. Chambers Bay, designed by prolific architect Robert Trent Jones II, opened in 2007 to much fanfare.

It was a links course in a geographic region perfectly fitted for traditional play. Puget Sound offered Jones the chance to replicate the Old Course in a modern setting. It was a throwback jersey version of a course, a retro track made for the millennial. The conceit worked in theory.

The landscape is stunning. The dunes, the long grass, the undulating fairways all make for a unique golfing experience.

Unique, however, doesn’t always mean good. Nor does challenging.

At more than 7,800 yards, Chambers Bay is long for long’s sake, which fits hand-in-hand with what the USGA wants. Consider that from 1979, when Hale Irwin won at Inverness, to 2005, Michael Campbell at Pinehurst, every U.S. Open champion finished at even par or lower. Since 2005, four winners have finished above par.

That’s by design.

In the era of Tiger Woods, golf became cognizant of television ratings. The USGA wanted to distinguish the U.S. Open from the other three majors by making it the most difficult. You’ve all heard the refrain by now—thick roughs and narrow fairways on sunbaked courses. Watching golfers struggle is part of the appeal.

Here, Poulter’s “someone has to win” criticism rings true. Geoff Ogilvy was the last man standing at Winged Foot nine years ago. Angel Cabrera earned that distinction the next. Both won with +5 scores.

Will Chambers Bay play that tough?

In all likelihood, it will be set up to. The openness of links courses invites long drives. If the USGA gets its way, those drives would slide through the fairway aided by the wind off the Puget Sound.

Chambers Bay will succeed in scenery. The tournament will attract thousands of fans—how many players will be among them? That’s the question to keep in mind. The U.S. Open has never been to Washington, nor the Pacific Northwest for that matter. When will it go back?

We’ll find out next week.

Blow up hole