The Chambers Bay Experience: How it became so good, so fast

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer
Published on

It's the story that wouldn't be believable -- except that it's true. This is not the way the golf world works - except here it has.

When Chambers Bay Golf Course, in University Place, WA just outside of Tacoma, opened to great fanfare in 2007, it was easy to see that it would be a premier golf destination for true golf aficionados. Robert Trent Jones Jr. moved over 1.4 million cubic yards to create what may be the closest recreation of Scottish-links style golf on this side of the Atlantic.

This masterpiece has been lauded by numerous golf media publications such as GOLF Magazine ("top new course you can play"), T+L Golf ("course of the year"), Golfweek ("best new course of 2007") and Golf Inc. ("development of the year"). Even more impressive perhaps, one of golf's premier governing bodies, the USGA, awarded the layout the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open - unheard respect for a course that was not even a year old when named as host.

So the natural question is, does Chambers Bay live up to the hype?

"I think we do," said PGA Professional Brent Zepp of Chambers Bay Golf Course. "The totality of what we offer is so dramatic, so enjoyable and so unique. We try to account for every detail, we want you to remember every moment of your time and to enjoy each moment, we do everything we can to make sure of it. "One, we are a true links course. There are many courses that either claim to be a links type course or at least look the part, but really, very few in North America really play that way. This course does. So many people come off the course and tell us that they just played a round unlike any they've ever played. The better news is, they're almost always smiling when they say it. Two, we can set up the course in a wide variety of ways. We don't have tee boxes in a traditional sense, we have teeing areas. And with the mounding of the course, the slopes in the greens, this course can set up extremely difficult or very score friendly. This makes us ideal for a major championship test and also a great challenge for the recreational golfer. At the 2010 U.S. Amateur, we had 312 of the best amateurs in the world. For the first two rounds, only three of them shot under par. Then they made a few adjustments to the tees and pins and then we had several scores in the 60s. And finally, the setting. When you pull up to the clubhouse and walk to the edge overlooking the course, with Puget Sound in the background and seeing virtually the entire layout from here and several spots on the course, it's not uncommon for people to say this is the most scenic course they've ever seen."

Other unique touches include a shuttle service from the pro shop to the first tee and range area, it being a walking-only course that has some of the most knowledgeable and vital caddies in the business for those who choose to get one and several trains that will pass on the tracks alongside the shore's edge several times throughout your round.

On a perfect day, with sailboats in the sound and the Olympic Mountain range in the distance, the course is almost surreal in its beauty. On a gray day with a misty rain and a breeze coming in, the course may be even better - as you would have a hard time discerning between University Place, WA and the legendary layouts of Scotland.

"It's a different style and setting for golf," added Brent Zepp. "People really like us the first time they play here. And then, they learn the contours, the way to play, a different form of the game - and then they come back and love us."

"It's a great place, a great golf course," stated Dennis Reed of Cleveland Ohio after a recent round. "If you don't hit the right shot, you get punished. But with that said, you don't lose your ball. It's tough, but fair. And look at it, it's spectacular." High praise indeed.

But there have to be weaknesses, right? Of course, like any facility - particularly a municipal one, there are areas that golfers could point to. The distance between the pro shop, the practice range and the first tee are not really walkable. You are reliant on the shuttle transports to get your practice in or make your tee time, so it's best to leave yourself a fairly large cushion of time when playing here. The course is walking only, and despite the comfortable year-round climate, it is a tough walk - particularly if you are carrying your own bag. And whether you work up sweat during your walk or have to endure the occasional passing shower (rain in Seattle?), there are no shower facilities at the course as of yet.

But these are really minor nicks in what is otherwise a shield of excellence that Chambers Bay exudes to the golf world. In truth, there is one measure of a course that really determines whether it is a great golf course or not: Do golfers want to play there? And for that, I'll allow Jim Brown, of nearby Vancouver, Washington, to have the last word.

"I've been golfing for almost 45 years," said Brown as he arrived back to the clubhouse after his round, "This might be the best golf experience I've ever had."