It all has to do with Chambers Bay's rush to history, the changes it is undergoing — and challenges it is facing — for its hosting of next summer's United States Amateur championship en route to the 2015 U.S. Open.
You’ve seen the picture-postcard view of the treacherous 15th hole at Chambers Bay, a 170-yard par 3 with Puget Sound, the islands, the Olympics and that lone, resolute fir in the background.
Lovely, except the tee is being jacked back 70 yards, to a dune across the 12th fairway to begin what may become one of the great stretches of finishing holes in golf.
It all has to do with Chambers Bay’s rush to history, the changes it is undergoing — and challenges it is facing — for hosting next summer’s U.S. Amateur championship en route to the 2015 U.S. Open.
Eight new tees added length, with six fairways shrunk by the growing of tall, wispy rough. Other changes: a new green on No. 4, an expanded fairway bunker on the 18th hole, and Nos. 13 and 18 will be converted from par 5s to par 4s for the U.S. Amateur.
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There is no question that Chambers Bay, open less than two years, has passed the eyeball test. It has been all over golf publications, consistently ranking among the best modern courses built in America and, in fact, the only course built in the past 45 years to be chosen to host an Open.
But, as veteran tour player Tom Kite said as he visited the course last summer, “there is work to be done, and not a minute to waste.”
Chambers Bay got the prestigious U.S. Amateur so early because the USGA wanted to lock it up for future tournaments, and because Congressional in Washington, D.C., couldn’t do it.
Waiting a few years would have been easier on everyone, but when you get a chance to host two of the great tournaments in the world, you do so.
In fact, 2015 was available to Chambers Bay for the Open because members of Winged Foot in New York decided the Open was too disruptive.
So it’s Chambers Bay, ready or not.
“I’m confident we’ll be ready,” said Matt Allen, the general manager at Chambers Bay.
Getting ready for major championships is never easy, although it is particularly difficult for Chambers Bay because the course is so new and restricting play the way a country club might do it is fiscally reckless.
For the first time, the U.S. will hold a major championship on hard, firm, fescue greens, like the British Open does. Hard, firm fescue fairways as well.
While Chambers Bay has received architectural raves, the reaction to its greens by everyday players has been pretty much thumbs down, both because the greens are new and because most of our experience with fescue, if any, is limited to a trip to Bandon in Oregon or the British Isles.
These are not and will never be the smooth, quick summertime greens at Broadmoor or Seattle Golf Club.
The day before Ryan Moore held his skins game last September at Chambers, the greens were smooth and fast, at a speed of 10.5 on the Stimpmeter.
Compared with most U.S. Open greens, 10.5 can be glacial. But the USGA doesn’t want them much faster at Chambers Bay, even for the Open. The slopes are too severe and the fescue too fragile to do so.
Fescue doesn’t grow much in the cold of winter or heat of summer. It doesn’t like people walking on it. What it does like is sand, lots of sand.
“It is obviously a fabulous setting,” said Kite recently. “The course has dramatic features, and the greens are very undulating and severe.
“I know what it takes to get a course in tournament shape, and they’ve got a lot to do. I’m not concerned about the Open in 2015; I’m concerned about next year.”
Kite wasn’t sure he believed the greens rolled 10.5 in September.
“When I was there [in August] they were more like seven,” he said.
To get ready for the Amateur — the USGA’s oldest championship — new tees have been built on holes 1, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 15 and 17.
“We haven’t even figured out what the distance of the course could be using all the new tees,” said Allen, “because I can’t imagine we would ever use them all at the same time. They are there to give us options.”
Starting this spring, rough will be grown left of No. 1, both sides of No. 2, right of No. 5, right of No. 11 and right of No. 14, as well as left on No. 18, which shares a fairway with No. 1.
Mike Davis, in charge of major championships for the USGA, had a two-day visit to Chambers Bay in late April.
“I have no doubt, No. 1, that the greens will reach speeds of 11, and No. 2, that they will run smooth and true,” he said.
Davis drew raves for his creative setup of Torrey Pines for last year’s Open.
“I’ve never seen a course with as many possibilities as Chambers Bay,” he said. “We can play No. 1 as a par 5 one day, and a par 4 the next. The same with 18. When is the last time we had a choice of which green to use as we have on No. 5? For me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.”
According to officials, the course did 38,000 rounds in 2008 and with money kicked in by the USGA for tournament readiness, it had a surplus of $500,000 after paying off its construction bonds.
Fiscally, the good news was the number of rounds played. In terms of getting the greens in great shape, the bad news was the number of rounds played.
“It’s a fine balance,” said Allen.
As fine as fescue.