As one of golf’s four major championships, the U.S. Open is a big deal. And as such, the United States Golf Association (USGA) has made it a priority to visit America’s best courses for the country’s national open. Iconic venues like Pebble Beach, Shinnecock Hills, Merion, and Oakmont, among many others, have played host to the event since its inception in 1895, with several of the courses hosting multiple times, allowing players and fans to become familiar with the layouts.
That won’t be the case this year.
Seven years ago, the USGA surprised everyone by pegging Chambers Bay, a newly-opened British links-style course just outside of Tacoma, Wash., as the host for the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open. The Robert Trent Jones, Jr., design had only been open for eight months when it was selected; an impressive feat considering the USGA doesn't usually look at courses for its events unless they've been open for at least a half-century. What’s even more impressive is that hosting a U.S. Open was Chambers Bay's goal from the very beginning.
Robert Trent Jones, Jr., was one of five finalists for the job of course designer just over a decade ago. Initial plans from Pierce County called for 27 holes on the layout, and while Jones was interested in the idea, he pitched focusing on 18 holes, in an attempt to create the best course possible and hopefully attract the attention of the USGA. In addition to Chambers Bay being a new course, a Jones design had never hosted a U.S. Open. A course in the Pacific Northwest hosting would be a first, as well, so getting the USGA to buy in wasn't going to be easy.
Jones got to work with a slightly different concept. Instead of a course you would traditionally see in the United States, he designed it as a British links-style track, complete with large mounds and thick fescue grass. There’s no water holes, unless you count the scenic views of Puget Sound, and at 7,585 yards, it’s one of the longest courses the players will see all year.
A few weeks ago, the European Tour’s stop in Ireland was held at Royal County Down, widely considered the best course in Europe, and a supreme test - even for the most accomplished professional golfers. Soren Kjeldsen won that tournament with a final score of 2-under par, with only four other players finishing under par. Contrast that with the AT&T Byron Nelson on the PGA Tour that week, where the winning score was 18-under par with 65 players finishing under par, and you get an idea of what the players could be dealing with at Chambers Bay.
When Phil Mickelson made the trip to Chambers Bay recently for a practice round, he said it was just like a British Open, and from the image above, you can see exactly what he means. The uneven lies are obvious, the bounces are going to be unpredictable, and with no trees to speak of, the players are going to be up against the elements at all times.
FOX Sports will be broadcasting the U.S. Open for the first time in 2015, and two members of their broadcast team, Holly Sonders and Gil Hanse, were at the course recently, talking about each hole on the layout.
Of course, the big question prior to the U.S. Open every year is how the USGA will set up the venue. The tournament is often considered to be the toughest test in golf, with many believing the USGA goes overboard in its course management in an attempt to protect par. This has been refuted by the USGA in the past, but the players aren't convinced, and every year the U.S. Open has incredibly thick and high rough with lightning-fast greens and difficult pins.
USGA executive director Mike Davis turned some heads a few weeks ago when he announced some plans for the Chambers setup, including having the 1st and 18th alternate between being played as a par 4 and as a par 5. The overall par of the course will always stay at 70, but this is the first time in U.S. Open history that holes will play at different pars throughout the event. In addition, Davis has suggested that slight side hills, and elevated or downhill grounds, could be used for the tee boxes - another factor that's virtually unheard of in tournament golf.
The U.S. Open is always an interesting test of golf. At Chambers Bay, we’re going to be looking at something completely new, which only adds to the intrigue.