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

Chambers Bay Golf Course will host the 2015 U.S. Open
The view from the 9th tee at Chambers Bay is as spectacular as it is intimidating.
John Kim, Coordinating Producer

Series: News Feature

Published: Thursday, October 21, 2010 | 12:23 p.m.

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." 



If you are used to your local club course with soft receptive greens then yes you will have to change your game to play here. There is a lot more allure to this course than just being a US Open Venue. This is a true test of how versatile your game is, if you normally hit high spinning shots or low stingers then you need to adjust. This is true links golf (having played Carnoustie and The Old Course at St. Andrews i believe I have enough experience to say so), if you haven't played true links golf or don't like that style of play then there are limitless options for you to go and play the same type of golf you have always played. If you want to challenge yourself and really see how many shots you have in your bag then make sure you add this course to your bucket list. SK


Eric Ward is smoking crack. Don't believe the hype! Other than being able to say "I played a US Open venue", there is very little else appealing.


Brent Zepp and the entire team at Chambers Bay do a terrific job -- both from a customer service standpoint and in ensuring that the golfers get an outstanding experience on the course as well. They have strategically placed staff on the course -- they're just there to help (and help they did when my rangefinder dropped out of my bag in the rough). I reported it to the "roving" forecaddie on 4 and had it back (and secured) by the 12th hole. As a test of golf -- spectacular. Sure -- there are approach shots that are played as "bump and run" -- that's part of links golf. I've played Chambers Bay a handful of times -- summer with great weather -- winter in "British Open" wind/rain conditions. I've shot well below my handicap (12) and well above my handicap. Regardless of how I played, I enjoyed every moment. Chambers Bay is a treasure. Thanks Brent, and Chambers Bay staff.


Played Chambers Bay in September 2011, the course was beyond amazing. The views were fantastic, and so many of the holes were those you would see on the cover of books and magazines. What a great, course, in my opinion the finest in Washington State. A must play if in Seattle.


If you are out playing Chambers Bay, make sure you ask them about the benefits of joining the Chambers Bay Golf Club. We are a group of 118 members that have formed a Golf Club for the benefit of all golfers. There are many benefits to joining and playing as a member.... The course is in great shape and getting better every day. I have played the course since its inception and it is a great challenge and a great test of your ability against the course layout. If you play often, you will benefit by joining the Golf Club. Ask anyone onsite or you can check it out online at the Chambers Bay website or WSGA site.


For two years 2005 - 07 i did the aerial photography each month of Chambers Bay construction progress then completion pictures at the finish. During that time i suggested to USGA and LPGA that this wonderful development in golf be considered for major tournaments. It was a pleasure to work with management on the project, a consistant Pierce County group from start to finish, top shelf. I remember thinking, government is not suppose to work this well. The Chambers Bay course has it all together; waterfront, view of Puget Sound, nice climate, a unique Scotland design rarely available but to a few locations, a surrounding area with moderate pricing and a wonderful geography with alternate things to do. GS


I played Chambers 15 times this year and have 35 rounds logged since it opened. I play almost a 100 rounds a year. Chambers Bay is absolutely one of the best golf experiences you can have, from the staff, practice facilities, caddies, and ultimately the course. It has a challenging layout that requires shot creativity and imagination, not to mention some of your golf skills. The first 20 or so times I played this course I had a caddy, I highly recommend them for any golfer at any playing level. I am a 10 handicapp and they easily shave 5 strokes off my score, I still get one at least half the time I play here. The greens are links style greens that make it difficult to figure out where the fairway ends and they begin, they are very different from anything you will see here in the U.S. none the less they are challenging and fun to play. fairways are generous, approach shots and chipping are difficult, bring your bump and run game. THIS COURSE IS A MUST PLAY if you are visiting the area, it will be well worth it!!


Having played Chambers Bay 2 times, I am at a loss as to what all of the hoopla is about. The greens are inconsistent, at best. They usually are very unreceptive to
anything but a high spinning shot. You have to play a lot of bump and run shots.
Both times I played, the rain was blowing sideways. Very miserable conditions.
Give me Bandon Dunes or Sandpines any day of the week. I will never play this course again.