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Chambers Bay a US Open venue unlike any other

The 16th green is just one spot where players will have to wait for the occasional train to go rumbling by — one of the unusual features at Chambers Bay.Harry How/Getty Images/Getty

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Two holes might play as a par-4 one day and a par-5 the next. One par-3 with an elevated tee box drops 100 feet to the green, and another tee box on the same hole from a different angle leaves an uphill shot. Trains will regularly rumble past four holes — and the only tree on the golf course — coming within 25 yards of play and creating a long (100-plus cars), loud distraction.

Welcome to Chambers Bay, a venue unlike any of the 114 previous US Opens.

Never mind that the US Golf Association is making history this week by bringing the US Open to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in the tournament’s rich history. They’re bringing it to Chambers Bay, a walking-only, public golf course owned by Pierce County, with Puget Sound as a beautiful backdrop.


It looks and feels like a links plucked from the British Isles (aside from the drastic elevation changes, most notably at the aforementioned ninth hole), and visually resembles a course you’d see in the rotation for the Open Championship, not the US Open.

Built on the site of a former gravel and sand mine, Chambers Bay opened in 2007, making it the first course in more than 40 years to hold a US Open so soon after its construction. Because of that, not many of the players have much experience on it, and more than a few took issue when Mike Davis, the USGA executive director who pushed to bring this championship here, predicted that the winner wouldn’t be someone who simply strolls into town the week of the tournament and plays a few practice rounds.

Factor in some mixed course reviews — Ryan Palmer said recently about the greens, “Put a quarter in the machine and go for a ride” — and the uncertainty of how the USGA will set up the site, and the potential for a controversial US Open exists. It certainly will be unique.


Davis, stating the organization’s mantra for each and every US Open, said, “It’s going to be a very stern, comprehensive test. It’s going to show shot-making skills and abilities. It’s going to require the players to really think their way around.”

Then he said something specific to Chambers Bay: “And it’s going to present a different challenge every day, not only on how we set the golf course up, but the weather we’ll get.”

Asked to describe the course in one word, Jordan Spieth chose “inventive,” while Jason Day went with “different.”

Chambers Bay is definitely that. Davis has a number of options on a number of holes, and figuring out what he might do will be part of the fun (for spectators) and frustration (for players). The par-3 15th, for instance, can play as short as 123 yards or as long as 246. The 10th and 16th holes, par-4s that measure 468 and 423 yards, respectively, might be shortened for one round to tempt players to reach the green with a well-struck drive.

Par will be 70 all four days, but Nos. 1 and 18 will have interchangeable pars, and played as both during the tournament.

If the first hole is played as a par-4 (scorecard says it’s in the 496-yard range), then the 18th hole, which runs parallel and in the opposite direction, will be a 600-yard par-5. If No. 1 is a par-5 (nearly 600 yards), then the 18th will be a 525-yard par-4.


The course, which can be stretched beyond 7,900 yards, is expected to play between 7,200 and 7,600. It has four par-4 holes on the back nine (counting the 18th) that measure at least 500 yards.

All that possibility — hole by hole, day by day — puts the onus on the player to prepare for anything Davis might present. It’s made for some longer practice rounds (three hours for nine holes has been the norm), with players attempting shots from multiple tee boxes. That’s another aspect about Chambers Bay that is unusual: Some of the tee boxes might not necessarily be flat, bringing uneven drive stances into play.

“It’s one of those courses, the more you play it, the more you get to enjoy it, the more you get to know it,” said Ryan Moore, who was born down the road in Tacoma and has been getting questions since the start of the year about a course he’s played often and knows well.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Chambers Bay from tee to green is 100 percent fescue, a grass not seen much in the US. There are different kinds used, but with fescue, wide fairways, well-placed bunkers, a lack of trees (the lone Douglas fir is behind the 15th green), and the ability to bump balls onto greens along the ground, it plays like a links. And links golf demands creativity.


“It’s certainly different for a US Open, that’s for sure,” said Tiger Woods. “You’re going to have to be patient. This one in particular, because there are so many different variables.

“The ball is going to roll and catch slopes. You’re going to see guys hit terrible golf shots and end up kick-in range from the hole. You’re going to see guys fire at the flag, get a hard bounce, and end up in a hard spot.

“You’re going to see some different things this week than probably any other major championship that we play.”

That’s exactly what Davis and the USGA have in mind. The US Open doesn’t always have to be played on a traditional US Open-style course, with narrow fairways, hack-it-back-out rough, and firm, fast greens. There’s a reason why it was announced, just eight months after its 2007 opening, that Chambers Bay would host the 2010 US Amateur and 2015 US Open. It was a surprise then. It’s a reality now.

“If you are going to talk negative about a place, you’re almost throwing yourself out to begin with, because golf is a mental game,” said Spieth, winner of the Masters two months ago. “Plus, the US Open is about as challenging mentally as any tournament in the world. So you have to go in positively.”

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.