Chambers Bay is a beautiful course, but it proved a tough place to follow a U.S. Open.
Chambers Bay was built to host a U.S. Open. That was the intent. And eight years after it opened it did just that, bringing the U.S. Open to the Pacific Northwest for the for time in the 115-year history of the championship.
I had the privilege of spending some time on the property during the week. I have no hesitation in stating that this course is, indeed, a championship venue. It’s not only breathtakingly beautiful, but it is a true test of the greatest players in the game. Robert Trent Jones II should be proud of the layout.
The goal to produce a British Open-style course and tournament in this country was ambitious and should be applauded. And despite a very large bag of mixed reviews over the week, I think the USGA pulled it off. If they pulled it off enough for a return visit in the future remains to be seen, but we can’t fault USGA Executive Director Mike Davis for not taking a chance. That, he certainly did. The only thing missing from this being a British Open was the Claret Jug presentation on Sunday.
But let me speak for a moment … not on the course’s playability, or the fescue we’ve heard way too much about over the week, or the strangely odd Fox television coverage of the tournament. I want to address one particular aspect of this golf tournament — that being how the Chambers Bay’ experience was for the thousands of fans who paid for tickets and walked the course over the week to watch the greatest golfers in the game.
Let me say again that I love the golf course. It is the very definition of links golf. But, having said that, I have to add this: It is one difficult course to view a championship from.
I walked the course alone on Tuesday during a practice round and again on Thursday during the first day of the tournament. Being alone, I not only watched golf, but I listened to other people about their impressions of the golf course and their experiences moving around it.
In general, everyone loved the look and the challenge the golf course provided the players. But many of them seemed to share another opinion about Chambers Bay: It’s not very user friendly.
What do I mean by that? For the walking fan, it was virtually impossible to follow a single player or group around the golf course. Not only did the layout prevent this, but the placement of ropes, seemingly to protect mounds and grass, often kept fans from getting from point A to B easily, if at all. One reason I heard for roping off the mounds was safety. This makes sense. Every time the fescue got trampled down to nothing, it turned into a slippery surface.
But over and over I heard frustrated fans talking to each other: “Can we get closer?” “How do we get over there?” “What group is this? Can you see the sign?”
The sign refers to the score signs held by the standard bearers who walk with each group of golfers. The signs seemed tiny this week, as though they weren’t regulation. They were regulation — they were just so far away. You could see that there were letters and numbers on the signs, but actually seeing the names and numbers was often too challenging.
Huge chunks of rough that seemed like they would be great viewing areas were roped off. Instead of allowing the thousands of fans the ability to get up close to the golfers, these areas were wide open, except for a blue-shirted volunteer or two. Hope they didn’t slip.
Several holes on the course had no viewing, except from behind ropes around the tee and a grandstand at the green (like the first hole, for instance).
One spectator I talked to showed me on his cell that he had walked 11 miles on his way around the course during the practice round. Not sure if this is unusual compared to past U.S. Open courses, but we both thought it seemed pretty high for 18 holes. This gets back to the limited viewing areas simply creating more walking.
My point is this: In addition to the USGA being concerned about things like making a golf course impossibly tough or recreating Scottish golf on the Puget Sound or growing rough (in other years) as thick and tall as possible, they should have the same level of regard for the thousands of loyal fans who flock out excitedly and with pride to the U.S. Open being played in their area.
These folks are important. Let’s make sure we don’t spoil their good walk.