Better viewing access for spectators and better greens for golfers should be easy to accomplish within next 10 years
One week ago, on the browned-out swath of earth known as Chambers Bay, Dustin Johnson three-putted Jordan Spieth farther down the road to immortality.
Friday, on the very same site of the most gloriously controversial U.S. Open in memory, the course reopened to the public. Everyday duffers can try to replicate some of the zaniest (and/or heartbreaking) shots in the annals of golf majors.
Now that the cacophony of complaints has died down, it’s appropriate to look back at the U.S. Open with an open mind (though I’d guess Billy Horschel might need a little more time than that).
Yes, there were flaws. Yes, some of the greens were bumpier than a Denver landing. Yes, the fan experience was not as good as it could, or should, have been.
But here’s the bottom line: It was a sensational golf tournament on a dynamic course. And Chambers Bay deserves another U.S. Open.
That opinion might surprise the two prominent East Coast reporters with whom I shared a shuttle bus ride Saturday evening, who did nothing but grouse about the course. By the time we reached our destination, they had convinced themselves that Chambers Bay was going to be one-and-done when it came to majors.
But that’s not the case. All indications are that the USGA — which guided the creation and formation of Chambers Bay through every step of the process — is fully inclined to have a return engagement.
That might rankle all those golfers who used social media and post-round interview sessions to unload their frustration with Chambers Bay. Chris Kirk went so far as to tweet, “The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history. The USGA should be ashamed of what they did to it.”
I’d say Kirk should have been more alarmed by the big, fat 10 he racked up on the first hole Sunday, which included five consecutive shots that rolled up and back down the same hill. Even Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy might have tried a different approach after the second one.
That’s not to say the complainers didn’t have some valid points, even though tinged with hyperbole. The greens might not have been “simply the worst, most disgraceful surfaces I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played,” as Ian Poulter said.
But many of them were, indeed, atrocious, and Horschel had a valid point when he said that for those golfers whose game is built around putting, it was a major handicap. (But he also had enough sense to point out that Spieth was able to overcome that impediment.)
“I understand Jordan is up by the leaderboard and he’s making plenty of putts,’’ Horschel said. “But I’m a really good putter as well, and I have not had a great week on the greens. And it’s not due to the fact that my stroke is off or my speed is off. I’ve hit a lot of really good putts that have bounced all over the world.”
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But the greens are fixable. Some of them — like the seventh and 13, which were reseeded after the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay and didn’t get overrun by poa annua — were excellent.
Seems to me that they can either figure out a way by 2025 — the likeliest open date on the U.S. Open calendar — to ensure that the fine fescue on the greens stays pure (and there’s supposedly a new product coming on the market soon that promises to do just that), or turn the greens over to some strain of perennial poa.
It was the mixing of the two grasses that caused problems. I’m no agronomist, but I have faith that a quarter of the way through the 21st century, they’ll be able to fashion a smooth, consistent green.
It also seems to me that, with a little ingenuity, the matter of better fan mobility and viewing points could be greatly improved in a decade.
Solve the issue of the greens, and the fans, and the whole narrative changes. Even Poulter acknowledged, “It wasn’t a bad golf course. In fact, it played well, and was playable.”
In fact, even the most disgruntled golfer marveled about the aesthetics. What I especially appreciated were not just the magnificent vistas (though I certainly will admit to some provincial pride), but rather the character and uniqueness of Chambers Bay.
It wasn’t your typical cookie-cutter U.S. Open course — a private club with narrow, tree-lined fairways, heavy rough, and small, pure greens. There’s nothing wrong with a course that has a little character. And the fact that it produced such a gripping ending, with a fitting champion and stout challengers, are just bonus points.
Robert Trent Jones Jr., the course architect, used the term “paradigm shift” to describe the uniqueness of Chambers Bay. Many golfers hope that it turns out to be paradigm lost. But check back in about 10 years.
If the course is able to make a few common-sense improvements, I’ll bet the golf world ultimately regards Chambers Bay, in its reprise, as a paradise found.