Chambers Bay course is both a beauty and a beast

Chambers Bay course is both a beauty and a beast
A view of the 14th tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on Wednesday. (Harry How / Getty Images)

There is a reason they felt safe holding the U.S. Open golf tournament here. There are many mountaineers who live in the state of Washington.

The 115th edition of this major golf event will begin Thursday, over a Chambers Bay course that rests along Puget Sound just west of Tacoma and is a reclaimed mining property. It is also unlike anything the sport has seen before.


There are more funky mounds than the surface of the moon. It is loosely tossed into the category of a links course, but there are few links courses where the elevation varies by 300 feet.

One caddie put the 18-hole mileage at 7 1/2 miles. Seven-time PGA Tour winner Brandt Snedeker measured his practice trek at 10 miles. The only flat lie will be in the scorer's tent. There are so many ups and downs that the only sure bet for tournament officials is to make sure their walking scorers and placard-holders have been to the base camp of Mt. Everest at least once.

The course lumps and bumps over about 7,500 yards of green, brown and yellow. If you throw in Tiger Woods' Sunday red and Rickie Fowler's bright orange, you have a full box of crayons.

Players used to shooting 10 under par in tournaments are keeping a stiff upper lip. Most know what is coming, and it isn't 10 under par. Woods joked that he had talked to fellow pro Patrick Reed, who played here in the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Part of the tournament was match play.

"He said he took a nine on the first hole," Woods said. "He also said he won the hole."

During a practice round Wednesday, with the pin way back on the 18th green, one player tried to make his putt from 20 feet below the hole by hitting it 20 feet above and hoping it would fall back down into the cup. He missed by a foot left.

The greens are mostly the size of a small yacht. Visualize those you play at home, then multiply by seven. This could be the week you see grown men dancing in celebration over three-putts. Caddies may feel safe waiting until the second putt to remove the pin.

The view from the 18th is spectacular. There are 6,000 bleacher seats there, rising several stories above the huge green, and fans who are smart will perch there all day and watch the little specks making their way up the distant fairway. When they get to the green, they are still medium specks from the bleachers above.

From that vantage point, fans can look left all the way down to Puget Sound, and, on the kind of clear days weathermen say the tournament will have, all the way to Mt. Olympus. From that same vantage point, golfers can watch their planes landing on final approach to Seattle to take them home after shooting 83.

This might end up being the first tournament ever where, instead of announcing golfers' names and hometowns on the first tee, they just hand them a blindfold and a cigarette.

There is great concern here for spectator safety. In truth, the only way to achieve complete safety would be to allow galleries of only bighorn sheep.

Bob Stoecker is in charge of first aid on the course, and when interviewed by the local paper, the Tacoma News Tribune, he predicted tough spectator conditions as the temperatures rise on a course situated "on a west-facing sand bowl."

The paper reported that, on Monday, when the players were strolling around in the most casual of practice conditions and the spectator crowds were nowhere near what they will be this weekend, there were 79 people who reported to the first-aid tents.

When that U.S. Amateur was held here in 2010, there were as many as a dozen broken ankles reported. The main headquarters for injuries here is titled, interestingly, the Joint Operations Center.


The greens look like the areas on other courses crunched down where spectators cross the fairways. But looks can be deceiving. The players say their putts roll true and the organizing U.S. Golf Assn. says the speed will be between 11 and 11 1/2 on the Stimpmeter. That's not Augusta National, but it is fast.

This golf course can best be described as the beauty and the beast. It will be the former to spectators and TV viewers and the latter to the players.

This will be the first time the U.S. Open has been held in this part of the U.S. and only the second major championship.

But it should be a worth it, and be a memorable spectator experience, especially for those area veterans who know enough to bring ropes and pitons.

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes