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UNIVERSITY PLACE – I thought I knew Chambers Bay.

But I had never seen it like this.

The seal and the passing trains. The woods and the beaches. Even the playground that made me wish I was a kid again.

No wonder University Place Mayor Denise McCluskey comes here for a Sunday morning stroll each week.

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I had perhaps my best day at Chambers Bay on a glorious Monday afternoon, and I didn’t even have my golf clubs. My mission was to learn about the public-use paved trails that go around and through Chambers Bay golf course, something else that makes the site of the 2015 U.S. Open unique.

McCluskey has said she thinks the world will be blown away by what it sees at Chambers Bay in June.

I can see why.

A good walk not spoiled

There are several places to access the trail system. Starting on the Grandview Trail above the course offers the advantage of a sweeping, panoramic view of the golf course and Puget Sound beyond. It was hard to know what to look at, with the islands, the ferries, the remnants of the gravel and sand mine and a passing freight train in the distance.

“The best view is really above the course,” said Matt Allen, general manager of Chambers Bay golf course.

My wife and I headed north to start the trail, where delirious laughter came from the North Meadow’s community-built playground with a nautical and wildlife theme. If only I were 5 years old, and not 51.

At the north end of the course, the path cuts toward the water, with a great view of the course looking to the south, giving it a whole new perspective. The trail then begins a forested descent, and we wondered if we were on the right trail, and if it was leading to the golf course.

Then, rather abruptly, the trees end and there is Puget Sound, less than 100 yards away. My eye caught a seal bobbing, but I was interrupted by a nearby Amtrak train heading north, followed about a minute later by an Amtrak heading south.

Just yards away, the Soundview Trail begins its route through the course. We certainly had a lot of company. Every demographic seemed to be represented: senior citizens with canes, joggers, people walking their dogs, kids on bikes with training wheels and even mothers jogging up the hill pushing kids in strollers (which made my little stroll seem a lot less virtuous).

On Monday, the trail users had the place to themselves as the course is closed for two days for aerification. But golfers and trail users coexist just fine, with signs clearly marking where trail users cannot go.

“I know of no issues ever with the interaction between trail users and golfers, which is pretty incredible and a testament to the design,” Allen said. “It’s great being part of a setting that is used so universally beyond golf, whether it’s people using the trails for fitness, walking their dog, flying a kite or hosting a cross-country meet.”

Walking through the course, I found myself appreciating the scenery much more than I had when I golfed here, unencumbered this time by anger over a previous shot or anxiety about holes to come.

Heading south near the water, we were drawn to a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks. It starts next to the Central Meadow, just south of the course and a great place to fly a kite.

The pedestrian bridge leads to two beaches but is worth crossing even if you don’t want to go to the water’s edge. That’s because the bridge is adorned by hundreds of “love locks,” the popular tradition in which couples symbolize their love by affixing a padlock, then tossing the key in the water.

Of course, what goes down must come back up, and it is a bit of a haul. Parking near the Central Meadow could eliminate the elevation changes but also make it tougher to justify indulging in a burger and beer at the top.

As we huffed and puffed about a third of a mile up the steep hill, the Chambers Bay Grill seemed to taunt us, so close yet still so far.

After a lunch on the patio — great views — we closed the loop, taking the Grandview Trail back to the car.

Final tally: 3.77 miles in just more than an hour of brisk walking, and a newfound appreciation for Chambers Bay.

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or shanson@seattletimes.com