The bunker and the lone tree on the course — the Douglas fir behind the 15th green — are the two main conversation pieces on the layout that will be the site of the U.S. Open from Thursday to June 21.

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UNIVERSITY PLACE —

The bunker that is about to become the most famous in the Northwest has a special name that was bestowed a few years ago by caddies — “Chambers Basement.”

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It is the 10-foot-deep pot bunker in the middle of the 18th fairway at Chambers Bay, 120 yards from the center of the green.

The bunker and the lone tree on the course — the Douglas fir behind the 15th green — are the two main conversation pieces on the layout that will be the site of the U.S. Open from Thursday to June 21.

Golfers must descend nine steps to get to the bottom of the bunker. The joke is that recreational players should pack a lunch because they might not get out for a while.

Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, ordered the bunker built after a review of the U.S. Amateur held at Chambers Bay in 2010. The hole was a par 5 in the Amateur, and he wanted it toughened for the Open.

His concern was that the fairway was so wide — about 80 yards — that players choosing to lay up to wedge distance had it too easy.

“You could almost blindfold tour players, and they couldn’t miss the fairway laying up,” Davis said. “We put the bunker in there to make them think. It adds to strategy.”

The 10-foot-deep pot bunker in the middle of the 18th fairway at Chambers Bay comes complete with nine steps. It was added to the original design of Chambers Bay to make the hole more challenging for the U.S. Open.  (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
The 10-foot-deep pot bunker in the middle of the 18th fairway at Chambers Bay comes complete with nine steps. It was added to the original design of Chambers Bay to make the hole more challenging for the U.S. Open. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Davis also ordered the waste area extended down the right side of the hole to require more accuracy off the tee.

The bunker was finished in early 2012 and soon had its nickname.

“Pot bunkers” generally are circular with steep walls and a deep bottom. They are common in British Isles golf, and Chambers Bay is a links-style course with a British feel. “Chambers Basement” qualifies as an exceptionally wicked bunker on either side of the Atlantic.

Davis doesn’t expect the bunker to get any business during the Open.

“I’ll be surprised if a ball gets in there,” he said, noting that there is still a lot of room on either side of the bunker to serve as a landing area for second shots. Also, the longer hitters will be bombing for the tricky three-layer green with their second shots instead of laying up.

John Bodenhamer, a key Davis lieutenant on course setup and who was executive director of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and Washington State Golf Association, said the bunker might not get a lot of business but “will certainly be something the players pay attention to.”

The 18th hole will play as both a par 4 and a par 5 during the Open. On days when it is a par 5, Hole No. 1 will be a par 4, and vice-versa.

As a par-5, No. 18 is listed as 605 yards for the championship.

The bunker isn’t expected to come into play at all on days when the hole plays as a 525-yard par 4 because all golfers will be going for the green with their second shots.

Tournament director Danny Sink stands at the bottom of the “Chambers Basement,” the 10-foot-deep pot bunker in the middle of the 18th fairway at Chambers Bay, which is hosting the U.S. Open. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
Tournament director Danny Sink stands at the bottom of the “Chambers Basement,” the 10-foot-deep pot bunker in the middle of the 18th fairway at Chambers Bay, which is hosting the U.S. Open. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. isn’t a big fan of the bunker. After all, if he had liked the idea he would have included it in the original design, but he has accepted it. The Chambers Bay book “America’s St. Andrews” tells of Davis and Jones touring the course and descending into the new bunker. Davis came out with thumbs up and Jones with thumbs down. Both were smiling.

Recreational golfers wind up in the bunker a lot. And a lot of them who are playing the course for the first time don’t realize it is there until they come upon it.

“When you’re standing in the fairway, you can’t see that bunker,” Chambers Bay head pro Brent Zepp said.

He said recreational players and especially their playing companions enjoy the novelty of the bunker.

“Mainly, we get a lot of laughs,” Zepp said. “Everybody seems to get a kick out of it.”

U.S. Open fans, whether watching in person or on TV, can hardly be blamed if they want to see some balls wind up in the bunker just to see what happens.

Zepp said he has seen one shot out of the bunker reach the green, but it was done by a nationally recognized teacher, Brian Mogg, a Florida-based instructor who grew up a few miles from Chambers Bay. Mogg was giving a playing lesson at Chambers Bay when he accomplished the seemingly near-impossible shot.

“I was impressed,” Zepp said.