Chambers Bay is unknown by most, unproven to many, and undeniably a strange concoction. Why is it positioned to set so many U.S. Open records? The players have yet to tee off, but the 2015 U.S. Open, the first in the Pacific Northwest, is already making history. A decade ago the course, as improbable and unconventional as they come, didn’t exist. Now it’s hosting the U.S. Open? Inconceivable.

If it hasn’t happened before in an Open, it’s probably happening June 18-21 at Chambers Bay.

Chambers Bay Golf Club – From a Jack to a King?


Chambers Bay lies in an old sand and gravel pit on the western edge of the Tacoma, Wash., suburb of University Place. It’s a tilted bowl, open on the west, with railroad tracks and gorgeous Puget Sound beyond. To the east is a high, long cliff. Atop its rim is Grandview Drive, where rubberneckers can stand with binoculars and scout for Rory, Phil & Co. some 80 feet below.

The pit was first mined in the 1890s, and over the next century it’s said to have provided 90 percent of the material used to create the skyline of Seattle, 40 miles north. Lucky for golfers, it was mostly gravel—not sand—that was removed. After the Pierce County wastewater district bought the 900-acre site in 1992, mining continued until 2001, after a pit-bull prosecutor named John Ladenburg was elected as the chief county executive and decided the waterfront property should be redeveloped for public recreation, including ball fields, hiking trails and a golf course.

In 2003, the county issued a bid to design and build the course, and the response of 55 firms was encouraging.

Those who made the dicision to walk the site were blown away, not by winds off the sound (which are common) but by the texture of the soil: pure sand, the ideal surface to grow tight turf, remove intense rainfall, and provide bounce to every golf ball and spring to each step.

This will not be the first U.S. Open played on sandy soil. Shinnecock Hills on Long Island has been an Open site as far back as 1896, as recently as 2004 and will host again in 2018. But Shinnecock consists of holes that were staked along tree-dotted sand hills, following lines of least resistance. Chambers Bay was full of mining spoils. A sandbox, in which 1.5 million cubic yards of soil had to be pushed around.


In January 2004, Ladenburg and an advisory committee interviewed five finalists. They were Robert Trent Jones II (a firm consisting of partners Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Bruce Charlton); Hurdzan/Fry Design, at the time creating Erin Hills, which will be the Open site in 2017; Bob Cupp, who designed the 36 holes at Pumpkin Ridge near Portland, long considered a front-runner for an Open; Phil Mickelson, at that point yet to win a major; and local favorite John Harbottle III.

Ladenburg notified each firm that a U.S. Open was his goal, and that he wanted a links-like course. So each of the five proposals envisioned a British Open-like layout. The recommendations of the advisory committee were not unanimous. Ladenburg, who had the final say, selected the Trent Jones firm.

What was the determining factor? It was not that the Jones team handing each committee member a metal bag tag, embossed with the Pierce County logo and the words “Chambers Creek” (the working title of the project at the time) and “U.S. Open 2030.”

“That was a cute gesture, but it wasn’t a factor,” Ladenburg says. “Besides, they got it wrong by 15 years.”

What made the difference for Ladenburg was the vast global experience of Trent Jones Jr. He’d done links designs before, in California and abroad. None of the others had.

From day one, the pressure was on to create a course good enough to attract the Open. Leaving nothing to chance, Charlton soon spoke to Ron Read, then a regional director of the USGA, who in turn contacted Mike Davis, now the executive director. When construction started in January 2006, Davis and Read walked the property with the designers. “This has potential,” Davis said. “Don’t screw it up.”

To read the rest of this US Open Preview, click here.

Source: Ron Whitten    Golf Digest

Pictures: Stephen Szurlej       Pierce County   Atomic Taco   Andrew Reddington/Getty Images.

Thanks for reading – Chambers Bay Golf Club – From a Jack to a King?

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