For a course that has only been around for ten years, Chambers Bay has made a name for itself in more ways than one. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and opened in 2007, it has already hosted a US Amateur (2010) and a US Open (2015). Its history is well documented--the course is built on a site that used to be a rock quarry, and, at other times, was a paper mill, lumber yard, and railroad center. Some remnants of Chambers Bay's prior lives can still be seen on the course. At multiple points during your round you will see a train go by on the tracks that run along the 16th and 17th holes--though you can see the tracks from many points on the course, your timing will have to be lucky to have the train go by while you are on 16 or 17.
The most noteworthy aspect of the course is your ability to see the Pugent Sound from nearly every hole such that the beauty of the place is constantly overwhelming. To the extent you play golf courses simply for the vistas, this should be near the top of your list. Some courses provide more dramatic scenes for your eyes, but very few provide such constant scenery. There is something to be said for a course building up the anticipation a bit before unleashing its beauty--Pebble eases you into the round before the ocean holes leave your mouth ajar. At Chambers, once you pull into the parking lot you are overwhelmed by the landscape.
The other notable feature--brutality. I remember watching the 2015 US Open and seeing the players complain about the difficulty of walking the terrain. All I could think was, "Please stop saying this, we already have enough trouble convincing people golfers are athletes!" In retrospect, I take back everything I said in 2015. I was ready to die by the fifth hole (at which point you have not even started the massive ascent to the highest point on the property). It probably did not help that we played the course (which has no shade--I think it is an often spoken fact that the course has only one tree on it) on a 95 degree day. Not only is the walk brutal (and you cannot ride in a cart even if you want to), but it is also a penal course. I suppose you should call them bunkers, but they are more like massive waste areas. They are everywhere.
And, yes, the greens were in horrible shape, just like the 2015 US Open. I suppose if you are a scratch golfer who travels to test yourself on the best courses in the world where the pros have played, then you should take this into consideration. Otherwise, maybe the greens cost me 2-3 strokes when the ball wiggled sideways, but, ultimately, who cares? The entire course is otherwise amazing. If I shoot 82 or 85 on a given day, it does not really matter to me. That being said, of course I would prefer good greens and I love playing on perfect greens because I tend to putt better (I rolled them in at Somerset at a much higher rate than usual). So, hopefully the course can figure this out and make this course truly perfect.
Now, onto some individual holes.
1st--501 yard par five.
It is nice that this otherwise tough course starts you out on an easy foot--a short par five with not a ton of trouble. The drive and second are unlikely to find massive trouble. This hole is really about position for your approach. If you go left with your second, you will have an awkward third shot to a green perched atop a steep slope. Keep right and you can have a workable angle into the green. I remember pulling for JB Holmes in the 2015 US Open and he went left of the green and it was all downhill from there.
Approach to first. If you look closely on the left, you can see the valley next to the green.
2nd--365 yard par four.
Well designed hole right here. If you find the left side of the fairway, your approach will have to carry a vast bunker to a green that slopes severely from right to left. If you play the hole correctly, you will be coming in from the right side of the fairway and can run it up onto the green.
Approach to second.
3rd--145 yard par three.
Not too hard of a hole here, just hit your short/mid-iron on target and there is nothing to worry about. But, mishit it, and you are in some trouble.
4th--480 yard par five.
My nemesis of a hole. As long as you do not go right, this hole is no problem. It is fairly short (480 sounds really short, but it is uphill). There is tons of fairway left. Just go left with a 200 yard drive, stay left with a 150 yard second, and then have a nice wedge/nine iron into the green. No problem. My drive went right into the bunkers. That was probably the most intimidating fairway bunker shot I have ever hit. Miss it and you stay in that set of bunkers and have to do it all over again. And the bunkers are well below the fairway you are shooting for, so it is hard to gauge the distance and the visual is just intimidating given all you can see are the bunkers waiting to eat up a fat shot.
If you go on the right side of the fairway, this is what awaits you on your second shot on four.
Bunkers on four.
Even if you hit the fourth fairway, it is no bargain on your approach.
5th--441 yard par four.
What a fun hole. It sound long, but the hole is straight downhill (like I said, this course is up and down and up and down....and this is one of the downs). Bunkers line the left and right sides of the fairways and chokes the fairway right where you want your ball to land--so, hit a straight drive or hit a shorter club to get the wide portion of the fairway. Navigate that successfully, and you are left with an approach to a green that has a bunker built into the front of it. Awesome hole with epic views of the Pugent Sound.
Fifth tee. The tree on the left side of the photo is (I think) the only tree on the course. The ones on the right are not actually on the course.
Brother on fifth tee.
6th--369 yard par four.
Funky little hole here. There is a large dune on the right side of the fairway. Go in that direction and you will either be in the dunes or have a blind shot from the fairway. Regardless of where you are, your approach will be to a green severely sloped from back to front, surrounded by dunes, with bunkers protecting both sides.
Approach to six.
7th--449 yard par four.
This is a killer of a hole. Not only is it 449 yards, but it is uphill. If you try to shorten it by cutting the fairway bunkers on the right and miss, you are in big trouble. Given the hole plays about 480, I think the smart play is to play the hole to hit it in three and hope for a par, but accept a bogey.
My third coming into seven.
Looking back down the seventh fairway. This gives you an idea of how significantly uphill this hole plays.
8th--523 yard par five.
It is listed as the hardest on the course, but I completely disagreed with that. The entire hole is fairly narrow with steep dunes on the left and a sheer drop to the right. However, if you hit it decently straight, there is not a ton to the hole. You can certainly play it safe with a 200 yard shot, hybrid, and then wedge.
Approach to eight.
Brother found dunes on the left of eight.
9th--202 yard par three.
This is one of the coolest par threes I have played. The 100 feet of elevation drop is totally nuts and the Pugent Sound serving as a backdrop is stunning. As it was our first time around the course, the real difficulty was estimating the distance in light of the elevation change. Not to mention the visual intimidation. Go right or short and you are in big trouble. Go a bit left and it will funnel into the green. I went too far left into the dunes and it was impossible to stop my chip near the pin.
Not proud of my swing here on nine.
Looking back up to ninth tee.
10th--360 yard par four.
I have played a bunch of holes where you go through a chute of towering dunes leading up to a green--Pacific Dunes and Ballybunion come immediately to mind. This is another one. Not only is the drive fairly narrow, but the green is flanked on the right by a really intimidating bunker and and ten yards too far left or right, you are in the dunes.
Brother out of bunker on ten.
Approach to ten.
Greenside bunker on ten.
11th--425 yard par four.
Not a ton to this hole, just long.
Approach to eleven.
12th--262 yard par four.
Fun hole here. It is a drivable par four that you may actually be able to drive rather than just getting it to 40 yards form the green where you would just chunk a wedge. Though it is uphill, the course plays really fast, so the runout may nonetheless give long hitters a shot. The punchbowl green makes it even more entertaining because balls will funnel towards certain hole locations.
Approach to twelve.
Looking back down twelfth fairway.
13th--453 yard par four.
This is a beast of a hole. Though the fairway looks wide, going down the right significantly shortens the hole. This is helpful to carry the vast bunkers in front of the green. Even if you do that, the green is perched such that it rejects many approaches that are not right on the money.
Approach to thirteen.
14th--407 yard par four.
One of my favorite holes all summer. Downhill, dogleg left with Puget sound staring you in the face. There is nothing but waster bunkers up the left and a fairway that slopes severely from right to left. Try to cut off as much bunker as you like, but also be careful if you bail out right to avoid the cavernous pot bunker in the middle of the fairway.
Hit it perfectly straight on fourteen and wind up here.
Approach to fourteen.
Looking back up fourteen.
15th--116 yard par three.
Not many par threes out there more beautiful than this one. Got to love memorable holes that also provide scoring opportunities. And that tree overlooking the green is indeed the only one on the entire course. So much for shade on this scorching day.
Tee shot on fifteen.
16th--359 yard par four.
Not only is this a great golf hole, but it is embedded with memories from the 2015 US Open. This is where Branden Grace hit it OB over the train tracks down the right, thus ending his chances. More importantly, it is where Jordan Spieth drained a 26-foot birdie putt. The hole itself is a fantastic design. The fairway is super tight and there is bunker all up the right with out of bounds (the train tracks) to the right of the bunker. The green is tiny and narrows from front to back. Certainly not a hole I want to be playing under pressure.
Approach to sixteen.
17th-14th yard par three.
Another picturesque par three with remnants from the old mining operation in the background. Other than correct club selection, this hole is made difficult by its green that has bumps and mounds in various places that effectively divide the green into various sections. If you are on the wrong section, you will be hard pressed to two putt.
18th--514 yard par five.
This was the defining hole in the 2015 Us Open where DJ's notorious three putt went down. There is also a plaque in the fairway where Spieth hit his clutch three wood onto the green to secure his birdie. As you play the hole, what strikes you is how insane it is that the pros were easily scurrying fairway woods up to this green. The bumps in the fairway and the green enclosed by bunkers makes such a such exceptionally hard, especially on the last hole of a US Open. The hole itself begins in the shadows of concrete sorting bins used during the mining days. The fairway is dotted with bunkers where your drive wants to land, some of which you have no idea are even there. If you navigate those traps, then the approach is to a multilevel green
Only way I will ever get a plaque on a golf course is if I die there in some very tragic way.
Approach to eighteen.
One of those hidden fairway bunkers.
Eighteenth green set among the dunes.
Looking back on this round, I do not think I appreciated the course as much while I was playing it as I do now. It was simply so brutal out there the day we played I was mainly focused on not getting a heat stroke. In retrospect, the course is undeniably gorgeous. It also requires tons of strategic thinking and mentally wears you down because of all the trouble that your eye can see at all times (not only do you see the trouble on your own hole, but the entire course--and its vast waste areas--can be seen on nearly every shot). As the starter told us before the round, if you really put your mind to it, you should be able to shoot a good score here, you just can't let your attention wane. There are also tons of courses embedded with history, but this history is so recent it is fresh in my mind, which also made the experience more fun. Overall, I would highly recommend getting out here to check out Chambers Bay. Washington is starting to develop a little golf loop of its own--Chambers, Salish Cliffs, Gamble Sands (which I particularly want to see), and Wine Valley. Not a bad trip right there.