The best golfers in the world will find a daunting test this week at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, but the links-style course definitely doesn’t fit our green, wet Northwest profile.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — As the world’s best golfers converge on Chambers Bay, they are finding a mix of the sublime and the diabolical.
That’s quite different from “a farce,” which was Ian Poulter’s word-of-mouth assessment of a course that is unlike most anything seen on American shores. To these eyes, that’s a very good thing. And I’ll wager that by Sunday, most eyes will agree with me, except maybe the ones attached to hidebound PGA golfers.
“It’s a fun challenge,’’ said Jordan Spieth, the 21-year-old savant. “It’s a beautiful challenge as well.”
The visuals on Monday, while players went through their practice rounds and the fans soaked it all up (at least the ones who weren’t jamming the merchandise pavilion), were suitably spectacular.
At times, when I was on the higher elevations, looking back toward the sparkling Sound, with the Olympic Mountains in the background, it was downright breathtaking.
And yet the course, aesthetically pleasing as it is, will be filled with unique challenges. That includes holes that will be magically transformed overnight by virtue of the tee box, pin placement, or a combination thereof — “four new golf courses every day” is the way Tiger Woods recently put it after a practice round.
Challenged to describe the course in one word, Spieth came up, finally, with “inventive.” And don’t think the United States Golf Association (USGA), which will determine the setup each morning, isn’t milking the intrigue (and angst) amongst the golfers over the daily layout particulars.
“To be honest, I think it’s more just to get in our heads ahead of time,’’ Spieth said when asked about the “elasticity” of Chambers Bay.
Many other features will test the creativity of golfers. The elevation changes on the course can be daunting. As with most links-style courses, the ball will roll and roll, potentially negating the advantage of long hitters. The slopes and swales on the greens will turn seemingly spot-on approach shots into catastrophes if the ball rolls askew. Or, conversely, it can make a resourceful golfer look like a genius if he correctly reads the angles.
Most people have seen video of the practice-round putt that Bubba Watson put up on social media, in which he turned his back to the hole, sent it up and back down a steep slope and right into the cup, like some cutup at the local putt-putt course.
The only thing missing was the clown’s mouth, which helps explain Henrik Stenson’s recent description of Chambers Bay as a “a tricked-up links course.’’
Maybe, but it’s OUR tricked-up links course. There’s definitely some Northwest pride at stake here. You can’t help but want the rest of the world to see our region with its finest foot forward; the glorious weather Monday was a great start.
Yet the strangest fact of all is that while Chambers Bay is surrounded by characteristic Northwest beauty, and quirky regional charm (like the train that periodically rumbles past, and the military planes that fly overhead), the course itself can be antithetical to Puget Sound stereotypes.
This may be the Evergreen state, but the fescue grass of Chambers Bay is not of a particularly vivid green color. To be perfectly honest, it has more of a brownish hue, particularly on the, uh, green.
Ryan Moore, whose University Place roots are strong, was asked if the fescue meant that golfers were going to miss a lot of putts
“Yeah, just like every tournament, we miss a lot of putts,’’ he said wryly. “We make a lot, too. But honestly, they’re definitely not the prettiest greens in the world, but no fescue greens are that pretty. But it actually rolls a lot better than it looks.”
There is water everywhere — but none on the course. And while we’re renowned in these parts for our copious quantity of trees, this course has just one, a Douglas fir behind the 15th green that won’t be a factor.
That last fact amused Lee Janzen, who won a U.S. Open title in 1998 in part because a ball presumed to be stuck in a tree fell down right before he was going to re-hit.
“Where is it?” Janzen asked of the lone tree at Chambers Bay, then joked: “Actually, I sent some guys out here a few months ago to try to chop it down, but they didn’t get it done.”
Added Janzen, “I usually like to play courses with trees because they frame the hole. But on links courses, with the dunes and the hillsides and the background, can also shape the hole really well, too.”
So the first U.S. Open in the great Northwest features no water and one tree, framed in beige. Go figure.
“I think the golf course isn’t really going to portray the Pacific Northwest,’’ Janzen said. “It’s so unique to itself that I don’t know if anybody has played any course like this, from what I’ve read and what I’ve seen in print.”
I guess you could say, to paraphrase the commercial, it’s a lot like us – a little different.