Rater's notebook: Chambers Bay
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Chambers Bay is the most carefully crafted and well-designed municipal golf course to open since Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in 1936. The big difference is that Chambers Bay, perched on the windy shoreline of Washington’s lower Puget Sound, has a better natural setting and makes for a more exciting walk.
Like Whistling Straits, it’s a manufactured links, but like Bandon Dunes or Pacific Dunes, it looks entirely natural. Here’s how it stands on the criteria established by Golfweek’s Best national course rating system:
1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 8
Returning nines, with both looping from low point to high point of the 250-acre quarry/bowl. The back nine is routed on more dramatically elevated exterior land and culminates with three holes along the coastline. The only limitation is a tight squeeze where the nines cross over at the far end of the property, a spot where the course seems momentarily to come to a halt.
2. Quality of feature shaping: 7
Beautiful outflow of golf features into lateral dunes, as well as some steep features in the middle of lines of play. The uneven, irregular teeing grounds are a throwback element intended to create shotmaking options, but they are overdone and annoying.
3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 10
Perfectly suspended between a public trail on the high side that overlooks the entire grounds and Puget Sound to the west. A walking path winds through part of the course, evoking a public park aspect similar to St. Andrews. The active train line along the shore is wonderful, and remnant outbuildings of the old quarry site consolidate the historic sensibility.
4. Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 9
A wide variance in green sizes, from 3,800 to 12,700 square feet. There is a steady but manageable 3-D movement through the greens and surrounds, with fescue surfaces always playable in high winds.
5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 6
From the most commonly used tees, all four play downhill (average 45 feet) and are on the short side. (From the 6,541-yard tees, I hit 6-, 7-, 9-, 8-iron.) The dramatic ninth hole drops 100 feet, usually with a tough crosswind. The 17th can be set up as the lone long par 3.
6. Variety and memorability of par 4s: 10
Includes several – half-par holes – with the 304-yard 12th a temptation off the tee and the long, uphill seventh a distant dream (in two) for most golfers. Extra hole (5B) makes for an interesting optional routing sequence that works well.
7. Variety and memorability of par 5s: 7
All go uphill to varying degrees, with Nos. 4 and 13 offering short-cut options for nervy long hitters.
8. Basic conditioning: 8
Gravel pits don’t make for great golf courses – not without lots of topsoil and TLC by superintendents, in this case former USGA Green Section agronomist Dave Wienecke. Fescue turf cover (with some colonial bentgrass support in the fairways) is coming along fine.
9. Landscape and tree management: 10
The lone sentinel pine by the 16th tee is an iconic landmark that needs to be protected from lightning.
10. Walk in the park test: 10
A great stroll through amazing coastal scenery and a totally relaxed ambience. What a joy having a course without cart paths.
Overall rating: 8.5-9.0
A stunning technical achievement, one that appears entirely natural, Chambers Bay clearly rates among Golfweek’s Best top 50 Modern Courses (post 1960). It is a fitting culmination to Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s design career, as well as an impressive achievement for design associates Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi.
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University Place, Wash.
Par 72; 5,132-7,585 yards
Daily-fee course, municipally owned by Pierce County and operated by KemperSports.
Green fee: $65-$100 county residents; $115-$150 nonresidents.
Walking only, no cart paths (limited cart availability for documented medical reasons only). Caddies available for $35.