USGA adds more ‘talking points’ to Chambers Bay

The intensity of work is evident from the air and on the ground as the final touches are applied to the links-style golf course at Chambers Bay for the 2015 U.S. Open.
The intensity of work is evident from the air and on the ground as the final touches are applied to the links-style golf course at Chambers Bay for the 2015 U.S. Open. Staff photographer

To the many who are hating on Chambers Bay even before they step foot on the most unique course to host a U.S. Open, know this: The former gravel pit-turned links course will not be as it seems during golf’s national championship.

Literally, it won’t.

There’s the well-known given: This is an English-like, links-style course with but one tree and fairways as wide as freeways, firsts for a U.S. Open.

Then there’s the to-be-determined.

Hole No. 1 is normally a par 4. For Thursday’s first round it may be a par 5. Friday in the second round it may be back to a par 4, playing 100 yards shorter. Vice versa with the 18th hole.

No. 9? That could be a 160-yard par 3 pitching test on Saturday. On Sunday 9 might be a treacherous, 245 yards off a new tee higher up the hill.

It’s all part of the United States Golf Association’s attempt to capitalize on Chambers Bay’s versatility while making its 115th Open the utmost challenge it’s meant to be.

“This is so much more than a golf course — one of the great golf courses, I might add, in the United States or, for that matter, the world. This is much more,” said Mike Davis.

He’s the USGA’s executive director who will be the mad scientist this week that’s changing tee boxes and pars by the day.

“This is a bold site, this. A big site … I’ve heard people say it’s a ‘wow’ site,” Davis said. “It’s obviously expansive. And I say that because we don’t have anything that we play a U.S. Open on that’s remotely similar to this (in) the architecture.

“And probably the most intriguing is that it gives us great flexibility in terms of setting up the golf course.”

Davis said some U.S. Open days Chambers Bay will play 7,200 or so yards. Others, maybe closer to 7,600.

“Virtually every hole out there we will be playing from different teeing grounds on different days,” he said. “So we will give you daily yardages, literally tee markers to flagsticks each one of the days.”

Not everyone who will be competing for the country’s esteemed golfing title this week astride the shores of Puget Sound loves what Davis is doing.

“At the end of the day, it is a score — and I get what (USGA officials) are trying to achieve. But it messes with your mind,” Hudson Swafford told a News Tribune reporter at The Memorial tournament outside Columbus, Ohio.

Swafford lost in the second round of match play at the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay before joining the PGA Tour.

“I don’t know what it is, but you take the same hole and move it up one tee box and make it a par 4, it is the hardest hole in the world. Make it a par 5, it is the easiest par 5 you’ll play, and you’ll make 4 every time,” he said. “It is a mindset thing. It will mess with people’s minds, for sure.”

Brooks Koepka is the former Florida State All-American who is in this week’s field at Chambers Bay because he finished in the top 10 at last year’s U.S. Open. He’s OK with a few course changes.

“I don’t know why everybody is hating on it … I like it and actually think it is good,” Koepka said of University Place’s course. “I know some people might fake it and say it is a great golf course but I actually like it. It sets up for ball-striking.”

But that par-5/par-4 switching on 18?

“I don’t that, because the hole doesn’t really suit it. Something I was not a big fan of,” Koepka said.

“(But I) like the golf course. The fairways are wide and you’ve got to hit it long, so all I have to do is rip at it. If you have a negative attitude going into it, you kind of screw yourself going into it. It is one of those things: even though if it happens to be a bad situation, and you are going into it negative, it is hard when something bad happens to be like, ‘Ah, it is just a U.S. Open.’ If you are limiting yourself to a shot being negative, you don’t have a chance.”

The response of the USGA’s course guru to all this: Whatever. Deal with it.

“This flexibility allows us to set the golf course up that if it’s wet out there and the ball’s not running as much we can play it a certain way. If it’s really dry and firm, if it’s real windy, whether we get the southwest wind or maybe a north, northwest wind, it really is intriguing,” Davis said. “And it allows us to really showcase some of the great architectural features of the golf course.”

That led Davis to his quote this spring that got the attention of many top PGA veterans — enough that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been among those who have dropped in on Chambers Bay recent midweeks to play practice rounds.

“It’s fascinating … I would contend that there is no way, no way, a player would have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it,” Davis said while at the course in late April.

“The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that person’s done. Will not win the U.S. Open.”

Chambers has changed and added to the teeing grounds on 12 of its 18 holes since its opening in June 2007. Half of those changes came after Chambers Bay hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2010 and the USGA saw how it played through championship rounds.

All of them were for this U.S. Open.

The USGA now has options from day to day on how it sets each hole – with far more than the conventional tweaks of merely changing pin placements on the greens.

The new, back tee box on No. 16 is so far back an access road runs between it and the rest of that hole’s tees. The two tee boxes on No. 9 — an original, upper one and a new, lower starting point added in 2012 — make that a completely different par 3 depending on where the tee will be.

One of the first hole’s two tee boxes for the U.S. Open is in front of the caddy’s shack down the hill from the clubhouse. That’s for when it is a par 4. On days the USGA makes No. 1 a par 5, the tee box in use will be 100 yards back from that.

Davis is curious to see how all the tinkering will play out this week.

“Honestly, there are some things I am still not sure about,” he said. “We put in new tee at 14 after the U.S. Amateur because too many players compromised that corner going down the left, and did not have problem flying over left side. Bob Jones’ bunker in middle did not come in play.”

For more variety than merely changing tee boxes on 18, Chambers Bay designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. added a pot bunker astride the fairway. It’s specifically for days at the U.S. Open the hole will be a par 5. Finished at Davis’ direction in 2012, it is a 12-foot-deep sand abyss about 120 yards in front of No. 18’s green.

It’s so steep it has stairs to access the back of it, for those unlucky enough to find it with a shot — or three. Caddies have nicknamed it “Chambers’ Basement.”

“It will be a talking point,” Jones said.

As if flexible, one-of-a-kind Chambers Bay needed another.

News Tribune Staff Writer Todd Milles contributed to this report.