Bookmonger: Golf comes to the fore in ‘America’s St. Andrews’

“America’s St. Andrews”

Blaine Newnham

Having played miniature golf twice in my life, I am in no way qualified to opine on the sport of golf, but even I could not escape the excitement in the air this past week. So I turned to the book titled “America’s St. Andrews” to learn a little more about the story of the Chambers Bay golf course in Pierce County, which hosted the 2015 U.S. Open championship.

This coffee table book was written by former Seattle Times sports columnist Blaine Newnham, who also is a member of the Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

The title refers to St. Andrews, one of the world’s oldest and most storied venues for golf, located on “common land” in Scotland. Emulating that model, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the designer of the Chambers Bay golf course right here on Puget Sound, also conceived of “brown and salty fescued links” and this course, too, is built alongside saltwater, on public land.

Previously, the Pierce County site had been used as a gravel pit — and after a century’s worth of mining, it was a desolate landscape hosting only scrub growth and sick drainage ponds. Aerial and panoramic photos early in the book show the scope of the devastation.

But the county bought the land – over 900 acres – in 1992 and the process of reclamation began. Newnham singles out the leadership of John Ladenburg, Pierce County executive from 2000 to 2008, for championing the golf course as the crown jewel of a multi-purpose parkland.

Today the site includes a regional wastewater treatment plant, the county’s environmental services building, a dog park, hiking trails and access to over two miles of beach.

But for now, what everybody has been talking about is the 300-acre course designed by Jones, which eschews the typical tree-lined fairways of most Northwest golf courses for an open layout with striking ground contours covered by grasses – one lone fir tree is so iconic that it has a hole named after it. The course is designed and maintained to precise environmental standards that ensure water quality and wildlife habitat. And it is a walking course – no golf carts allowed.

“Chambers Bay is alive with the spirit of St. Andrews – a true links course open to everyone that’s also good enough to attract and challenge the greatest players in the world,” Jones promises.

This book includes a history of the site’s development, a review of the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship that put Chambers Bay on the map, and an analysis of each hole. A couple of pages are dedicated to the Brown is Beautiful/Brown is Brutal debate – the links philosophy of working with less water and fewer chemicals makes for faster and more unpredictable fairways – an issue that came up during the Open here.

Newnham’s lucid writing and the stunning visual contributions of photographers Rob Perry and Jason Mercio make “America’s St. Andrews” an enjoyable and accessible book – even for the non-golfers among us.

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. For more entertainment, go to BellinghamHerald.com/entertainment.