Chambers Bay was originally nominated as a gem by Mal and added to the Top 100 website in June 2008. Mal’s comments are as follows:
"Chambers Bay might be Washington's newest golf course – opened in June 2007 – but I’m sure it is set to be a high flyer in the magazine rankings very soon. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr and is actually a pretty true model of the old-fashioned links courses of Britain and Ireland. Set on the Puget Sound, it’s certainly much closer to the pure form of coastal golf than many other courses in the US which claim to be links-like.
I’m going to watch this course with interest over the next few years as it will host the 2010 Amateur Championships and the 2015 US Open. What’s even more impressive is that you can pay and play this municipal track and if you happen to be a Pierce County resident you can play for half price and if you’re up for a second round in the same day it will cost a mere $50. I love it and write this nomination with reluctance as it’s still fairly quiet despite the local ballyhoo but I figure soon enough the world will know all about Chambers Bay and it will eventually become as popular as Bethpage Black."
Built within a disused gravel mine by the shores of Puget Sound in Washington, Chambers Bay was commissioned by Pierce County in a $20 million development designed to rival the best municipal facilities in the country.
The 18 holes at Chambers Bay lie between water and a steep hillside and a fair amount of earth was moved from the latter to fashion dune shapes and fairway corridors during construction. The resulting links-like layout is very free flowing with pleasant changes in elevation throughout the round.
Rather than describe particular holes of note, it’s maybe best to use the following link to access the club’s own hole-by-hole guide. This offers a wonderful description of every hole.
Chambers Bay played host to the 2010 US Amateur Championship, which Peter Uihlein won. In 2015, the U.S. Open came to Chambers Bay stopping in the Pacific Northwest for the first time in the tournament’s 115-year history.
The course was set up to play very firm and very fast by the USGA, but was berated for the inconsistent nature of the greens, some of which lacked grass. In an interview, Gary Player labelled Chambers Bay as “one of the worst golf courses I’ve seen in my 63 years as a pro.” Lee Westwood was much kinder, stating: "It's the kind of course I'd like to come and play with my mates, with a cart and some beers."
Ironically, despite the hullabaloo, Jordan Spieth (the world’s best putter statistically at the time) prevailed, adding a US Open title to his first Major won at the 2015 Masters earlier in the season.
Big, bold ,vertical - Chambers Bay. Golf course architect Ronald Fream shares his thoughts on the controversial US venue.
Set about the massive expanse of an exhausted quarry, Chambers Bay arguably offers the most unique public golfing experience in the continental US.
Designed by RTJ Jr. in the increasingly popular theme of a vast modern links, the course was designed with the primary goal of challenging the tournament-caliber player and attracting the United States Open. The bunkers are deep, the greens are undulating, and the fescue is long. Given the lack of trees, views of the Puget Sound are unobstructed and abundant. The scale of the property is astonishing — an 18 hole jaunt will run about 8 hilly miles, and no respite is offered in the form of carts.
Despite the lack of playability, Chambers has fostered a solid local playing scene, catered more towards the advanced player. Many top amateur and junior players flock from throughout the Seattle/Tacoma area to practice and play on weeknights and weekends. The course is also generous in accommodating junior programs and philanthropic events.
To non-PNW golfers, Chambers Bay is best known for hosting the 2015 US Open. The week represented the confluence of many storylines—FOX Sports’ first golf broadcast (remember the in-hole microphones!?), the third US Open at a fully publicly accessible golf course, the first major to return to the PNW since the PGA at Sahalee in ‘03, and more. Perhaps the most memorable of all, though, was the condition of Chambers’ patchy fescue greens. Many players sounded off, complaining that the bumpy and slow surfaces made holing putts difficult. The strong opinions generated much buzz, reporting, and spirited debate as to whether Chambers Bay fit the bill of a true US Open style course. Jordan Spieth seemed to have no problem handling the surfaces, dropping putt after putt en route to a dramatic one stroke victory over a self-imploding Dustin Johnson. Overall, the week was a success, but left the USGA timid to return anytime soon with their flagship event.
Fast forward seven years, and the current state of affairs at Chambers Bay is sublime. Community members seem to enjoy the adjacent park — it is always active on mild days, with walkers venturing out onto paths that weave throughout the course. A new clubhouse is being constructed to offer more in the hospitality domain. The course even invested in new poa annua greens to replace the struggling fescue ones. The new greens have been an integral part of Chambers’ continued attraction of top-notch competitive events. Since the 2015 US Open, the USGA has returned for a slew of amateur events and the Pacific Coast Golf Associated hosted their flagship amateur championship here in 2021.
As a Seattle resident, I’ve been lucky to play at the course quite a few times myself. The outward 9 is definitively among the most challenging sets of 9 holes I’ve played. Holes 4-9 are an absolute gauntlet. The inward 9 begins and ends with scoring opportunities, but is also very difficult in its middle stretch. Holes 15-17 play directly upon the sound and 12-14 represent my favorite trio on the course architecturally.
The only reasonable qualm with Chambers is the dreadfully slow pace of play. This is largely unavoidable, though, and can be chalked up to the fact that the course is supremely difficult, long, and walking-only. Besides, I can think of worse places to spend 5.5 hours.
I played this course a few weeks ago on a trip down the Pacific coast, ending up at Bandon Dunes where I played 4 of the 5 courses there.
Many reviewers below commented on how well they were looked after by the CB personnel and I can only add to that. It makes a huge difference playing a course where the staff are pleased that you have chosen to play their course and genuinely interested in what you thought of it.
I was teamed up with a father and his young son from Vancouver (Washington not BC). It was a hot and windy day and being a Saturday the course was very busy. The 18 year boy played off 2 and he and I (7.9 handicap index) decided to play from the Navy tees. The young lad was a big hitter but having been brought up playing traditional US inland courses really struggled with the links nature of Chambers Bay, overhitting many of the greens and running out of fairway with a driver when a fairway wood or iron would have been a better choice. I shot 12 over on the front nine with a 7's on the 1st and 4th and 8 on the beast of a 7th hole. Personally I don't agree with the criticism below of several of the holes. The front 9 finish (7-9) is exceptional. The 8th is a 557 par 5 but with the wind behind I was only just short of the green in 2 and the 9th is a phenomenal par 3 playing at least 2 clubs shorter than its yardage suggests.
On the back 9 I decided to play off the Sand tees and shot 6 over, but with a 7 on the very difficult 13th hole. My disaster's above were largely due to poor choices of shot (line and club selection) and my advice to those who haven't played the course before is to take a caddy. Whilst more than 400 yards shorter then the front 9, the back 9 is an exceptional test of golf. The 10th is a true links hole with the green tucked in between the sand dunes but there really isn't a bad hole on this loop. I particularly liked the short par 4 12th which is a great risk and reward hole and 16 which runs alongside the rail tracks and the Puget Sound. After a good drive I hit a rather poor approach into the left hand greenside trap. Playing out of that bunker to a narrow, hard green was particularly scary and had visions of putting my ball into one of the freight trucks of the train which was trundling past at the time. The round was slow - almost 5 hours and it is an exhausting walk but I would play this course again given the chance. Thankyou again to the CB staff who helped make my day so enjoyable, before during after the round.
Chambers Bay received bad press after the 2015 US Open due to its agronomy issues but don't let this put you off playing here because it truly is an excellent course. The grass is still sparse in areas despite the course being 14 years old now, although this does help to give it a links like feel.
The architecture is fantastic with no hole alike and the setting against the Puget Sound is majestic. The only downside to me was that it was a little too long and wide open, but this is why it hosted the US Open.
If you're in the Seattle area, I highly recommend playing here, especially if the weather is good. The day I played was windy which made it a bit of a slog.
Chambers Bay, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., is a course that I thought I would like more than I did. I want to emphasize that I did like it, but it fell slightly short of what I would consider to be a top 100 course in the USA.
The location and setting of the course is spectacular with stunning and breathtaking views across Puget Sound. The views are such that one wants to linger a bit longer on some tees to take in the views. However, this would only add to the painful experience of the glacial pace of the round. The scorecard indicates a target time of five hours for the round. We finished in 4:42 and I considered us to be lucky.
A few of the reasons for the target time of five hours is that the course is a somewhat difficult walk with two hikes up to the highest elevations of the property. Second is the number of heroic shots required over acres of sand that present both a defense and a visual distraction. If one finds the sand off the tee they likely will not be able to reach the green due to long forced carries out of the bunkers or due to the depth of the bunkers. Third is the undulating nature of several greens, some of them having heaving interior mounds and fall-offs that will cast one’s ball fall off the green. Some of the greens are borderline silly. Finally as the course is a municipal course that recently hosted a US Open, it attracts players of all abilities who sometimes play the wrong tee or do not have the required skill for the course.
The course begins with several attractive yet relatively benign holes followed by three of the worst holes I have played which are seven-nine. The course is very good on the back nine. The course has a number of holes with similar forced carries so there is a bit of redundancy.
The course features generous wide fairways so as the line to the green is both obvious and non-punitive if one misses it. A poor tee shot that lands in the fairway but not on one’s preferred line is often not fatal.
The course does require strategic decision making which is something I admire in a course whether it is off the tee, the placement of a second shot on a par five, where to land one’s ball on the green, or where to play one’s recovery shot. Other than the amazing views, this is the best feature of the golf course.
The bunkering is adequate, sometimes vast and seemingly a part of a desert, or sometimes small. In general, I thought the bunkering to be pretty good if overdone in few occasions.
The greens are usually large, although there can often be some smaller sections. In most cases one has the chance to run a ball onto the green. With the exception of a few holes, recovery is usually possible either with a wedge or putter.
The condition of the greens was poor on the front nine, but pretty good on the back nine. One wonders why this is. The front nine greens are a big negative to the course.
The course measures 7165 yards from the Navy tees, par 72 with a rating of 74.7/140. We played the Sand tees at 6499 yards rated 71.7/130. There are some combination tees and two sets of lesser tees dropping all the way down to 5197 yards. The ratings seemed a bit high to me.
1. Par 5 – 559/501. This hole plays downhill from the tee before playing slightly up to the green. The fairway is very generous so one hardly notices the large and deep bunkers down the left side as well as an early bunker on the right. Another bunker follows on the right about 75 yards from the green but it is not really in play. There are two small bunkers just off the front right and a small bunker on the back right. The only real danger to the hole is missing to the left side where the land falls away. The green is very long and wide. For me the only real difficulty to the hole is if one goes left of the green where the fall-off is difficult to judge a recovery shot. I would think most people would be thinking par or better on this hole.
2. Par 4 – 395/365. This is meant to be a risk-reward hole for the better players who will try to carry the bunker that comes in on the left side. If they do so they may make it all the way to the green. For average length players, they simply play to the right of the bunker and hit a wedge onto a big green. The green has a big tilt from back to front so the better miss is to be slightly short of the green. While the large bunker that comes into the fairway from the left continues down the left of the green, any pin placement that is not near the bunker is very accessible. I did not find this to be much of a golf hole.
3. Par 3 – 167/145. The green is angled to the left with a forced carry over a large waste area/bunker set below the green. However, unless the pin is on the left side of the green, this is a potential chance for birdie given the slope of the green where if one missed to the right they stand a good chance of coming back onto the green. This hole is visually more attractive than it is from a playing perspective.
4. Par 5 – 530/480. From an elevated tee one plays uphill to a very wide fairway that makes it easy to avoid all of the sand down the right side that continues to the green. This hole might have the most sand on the course. The green is well above you with the bunkers going all the way to the front of it. The hole is a dramatic dogleg right where there are mounds on the left and back that can provide a backstop. The far right pin position is on a peninsula that makes for a small target. Most people will hit a 8 iron or less into the green which again is wide. The green is well shaped with a lot of undulations. I thought this hole to be interesting.
5. Par 4 – 465/441. After you have climbed to higher ground to reach the green on four, you now play downhill relatively straight to a hole with a large sand/waste area on the left and more sand on the right. The green plays somewhat downhill for one’s second unless they have driven it to the bottom of the hill. The best feature of this green is a central bunker fronting the green. There is mounding to the right of the green that will push a ball onto the green unless one goes long right at which point the ball will not release onto the green. There is a swale behind the central bunker. I thought the hole was visually more exciting than from a playing perspective.
6. Par 4 – 418/369. I thought this to be the best hole of the opening six playing as a slight dogleg right. Once again there is a broad fairway. The green is sloped steeply back to front with a large bunker on the right fronting the green and one of the left side. The green appears to be thin but actually is adequately wide. There is higher ground on the right of the green as well as behind the hole.
7. Par 4 – 482/435. This “cape” hole is one that I disliked a lot. The tee shot plays over what appears to be a half acre of sand. Bigger hitters will fly the sand as much as they dare on this dogleg right. The second shot plays steeply uphill to a green that is mainly blind from the fairway. For whatever reason, Mr. Jones added two raised mounds with tall grass about 80 and 60 yards from the green that sit in the middle of the fairway. Shorter hitters are left with playing either left or right of them to a very thin fairway. The green is surrounded on each side by higher ground and is very large. I strongly disliked the mounds which made no sense for an already blind/difficult shot into the green. This hole detracts from the rest of the course.
8. Par 5 – 557/523. Playing along one of the highest points of the course, the fairway tilts to the right so one needs to favor the left side. If one goes too far left they will be in tall grass. If they go too far right they will tumble down a hill. I do not recall a bunker on the hole. For most people the second shot can find lower ground on the right side of the fairway. The travesty of this hole is one of the most poorly shaped greens I have ever played. The front third and back third of the green require a perfect shot just left of center in order to stay on the green. This requires one to come into the green from the middle/right side of the fairway. If one comes into the green from the left they have no chance to hold the green which is too steeply slanted left to right. Balls tumbling off the green will go off 30 yards leaving a semi-blind shot. Balls hit too far left will catch a slope and propel it off the green on the right. Ball hits to the right of center will go off the green on the right. It is terribly shaped. The middle third of the green is more appropriately shaped. A ball hit to that section will still go right, but will not go off the green. This hole is good until one gets to the green which ruins the hole.
9. Par 3 – 227/202. This is perhaps the most dramatic tee shot on the course falling to the green below perhaps over 200 feet. The views from this tee are spectacular even better than the view from the eighth tee. There is a huge bunker complex down the right side of which most of the bunkers are set well below the green leading to a blind recovery shot. There is a large mound to the left of the green that will propel balls onto the green although they might gather enough speed to go off the green. The back left of the green is on a higher plateau. This is another very poorly shaped green which ruins the gold hole. Eight and nine’s greens are simply terrible.
10. Par 4 – 398/360. This is likely one of the holes that people remember the most. It plays downhill before rising to a green that is placed between two manufactured hills. The green is steeply sloped back to front. There is much higher ground on the left that begins about 90 yards from the green. This higher ground is fronted by two bunkers. If one gets into this part of the course, a bogey is a good result. The green is long and thin wedged between the two hills. This hole is visually attractive and compelling to play.
11. Par 4 – 457/425. One of the more “traditional” holes on the course playing as a slight dogleg left with a central bunker to play around on the tee shot. The second shot needs to avoid the long 50 yard bunker on the right side. Once again, the green has higher mounding on the right and rear and is angled to the left. This green is thin for the length of the hole. If one misses to the left of the green they will face an uphill recovery shot which one can use the slope right of the green to bring a ball back onto the green.
12. Par 4 – 281/262. This hole is sharply uphill to a very large green. This hole is risk-reward to try to drive the green. The best player in our group did drive the green and made an eagle. For shorter hitters the fairway is thin but since there are hills on both sides it is likely a ball will come back into the fairway. The green is long and wide with hills off of both sides. There is central middle plateau that creates the most difficult pin position. I thought the hole to be fun and unique, but not great as shorter hitters simply hit a wedge onto the green and walk away with a par.
13. Par 4 – 485/453. Possibly the best hole on the back nine, this mirrors the fourth but as a par four. The hole is sharply uphill with a large sand area beginning about 130 yards from the green. There is a central bunker fronting the green as well. The green sits in a bit of a bowl on three sides and is long and raised to the back left. This is a good golf hole.
14. Par 4 – 496/407. After you have climbed to the other highest point of the course, you now tee off downhill to another cape hole going over an acre of sand on the left that continues all the way down the left side of the green. There is another central bunker to avoid. As the hole is steeply downhill if one finds the fairway they will get a very favorable roll-out. The green has a central spine and front swale. The hole is a good one from both vista from the tee box to playing it.
15. Par 3 – 139/116. This is one of the more famous trees on a golf course as it is the only tree on Chambers bay, albeit way behind the green. This hole plays downhill to a green that if one misses left and avoids a bunker, the ball will release well onto the green. The front and rear of the green are surrounded by sand set on lower ground. I felt this to be the second best par 3 on the golf course.
16. Par 4 – 396/359. One now plays on flat ground alongside the railroad track and Puget Sound to the right. It is breathtaking. I liked this hole quite a lot with sand running down all of the right side yet the fairway is generous. The hole is a dogleg right. The most fun aspect of this green is a back pin position which is very small as well as bringing a pot-like bunker on the right into play. I admired this hole a lot.
17. Par 3 – 172/142. The final par 3 plays downhill over side offering a front right and front left bunker. The right side of this green is relatively straightforward. The difficulty to the hole is any pin placement on the back right where the green is a bit wilder and one has to carry that front right bunker. This is the best par 3 on the course.
18. Par 5 – 541/514. The finale plays with a lot of sand down the right side as well as two large bunkers on the left each placed into the side of a rise. Further up ahead is a bunker that comes into the fairway on the right followed by a central bunker about 90 yards from the green that is 13 feet deep. The final bunkers on the course are front right beginning about 20 yards short of the green followed by one going down the right side. The green has a large swale at the front as well as on the left side of the green. The green is backstopped by higher ground. I felt this to be the best par 5 on the course and a very good finishing hole.
I do not think Chambers Bay is either the best course in Washington nor a top 100 course as there are too many flaws in the course on holes 7-9 as well as the benign opening holes. The setting is spectacular which I think influences many to rate it higher even if those views have no bearing on the golf course. For me that course is also a bit inconsistent as well as overly contrived. I think the land for holes 7-9 could have either been avoided or a different architect could have done a better job with the routing. Too many of the holes seem to look alike in their use of sand. I would also add that the greens could be in better condition as well and the pace of play is very poor which detracts from the experience.
Hi Mark, your rating here seems slightly generous relative to your critique in the text. Is this because it’s still a good course but just didn’t meet your expectations?
BB - The rating is due to the terrific back nine as well as the fourth and fifth holes. I also did not want to over-penalize a course as perhaps the architect was forced to use the land that occupies holes 7 -9.
It is not a course I would go back to play unless I had the first tee time given the slow pace of play that likely occurs after 9AM. Like many, I like to stop to admire the views/setting as I play. Playing a four hour round allows plenty of time to do that. But I am also mindful that the location set against the Puget Sound have almost no bearing on the course itself.
You miss the whole idea of hole design, I think. The mounds on number 7 are there to distract your view of the green and the height differential you face. Much like a high sand bunker short of the green will fool you into thinking it is greenside. Many players end up short of the green, not realizing the difference is usually two clubs. Making players go left or right around the mounds is no different than leaving trees to narrow an approach. Number 8 has a strategic green that is built the way it is because it will require to you find the flag before your second shot and be in position to attack that hole. The hole literally defends itself with a 3-layer green that requires the correct third shot into it. The mounds behind and left can be used to attack certain flags. This is a common feature of links courses. Number nine is also a links style hole with certain slopes off the green there to deflect shots into the green, it is hard to believe you don’t know this. Just last Tuesday (August 17, 2021), I hit a shot intentionally onto the left slope which rolled down onto the green about six feet from a back right flag. Attacking the flag directly, like many who don’t understand links layouts, will put you in a bunker. That is the beauty of links golf that you don’t seem to understand. Oh, and the long walk? The course sits on over double the acres of the average course in the NW. Why? Because we designed it for the US Open and you need to be able to have 30,000 people out there and space for them and tents. The USGA knows a little about golf. They have had the US Amateur, the US Open, the US Four Ball championships there and they are bringing the US Women’s Amateur there next year, showing their continuing respect for the course. No other public course in the nation has been honored with those four championships. I may be prejudiced as the course was my idea, but I think the USGA is correct about it.
Mark, thanks for the review. I was fortunate to play Chambers a number of times earlier this year while I was visiting my family. I've now played it around 8x if I'm not mistaken. It sounds like you generally like it, but dislike the slow rounds and some aspects of the routing. Fair enough. I'd share the comments about the slow rounds, however, show me a top public course in the US that has sub 4 hour rounds for 4 balls without going out first in the morning. Chambers is certainly in the discussion of best public venues in the US for me. Rounds at Pebble, Bethpage and pretty much any other top public course will be long. Good example not far away are the Bandon courses which I love as well but you can really get stuck out there for a long time. I recently did 5.5 hours on Sheep Ranch in 40 mph winds. Absurd and enough to ruin any round of golf. For us there may not seem to be any excuses for this as golf is meant to be played fast but the reality is a lot of people aren't used to this kind of golf and managing the flow without ruining the experience for everyone is really tough at best. I always wonder why it's not easier but it's not and that's consistent over all these courses. My visits to Chambers this year were similar to yours, we finished the last round in complete darkness with lights from our iPhones which was humorous but the round itself, took way too long yet we all had a blast, and in Chambers defense, staff came out to the 14th hole and met us and issued us large discounts to come back another time. I wasn't visiting as a panelist, just a regular greenfee player with a last minute twilight round where I was paired with a group of young guys on a perfect afternoon/evening. Even though we were nowhere near finishing and I won't talk about how long it took, it was one of the funnest rounds of the year for other reasons than speed of play (which as you know is important to me as well).
Your comments are understandable, in Mark's defense I'm sure he has an excellent understanding of links golf having most certainly played all the great courses in the UK and Ireland.
As mentioned above, I love Chambers and have been fortunate enough to see a lot of courses. I tend to agree for the most part about the stretch of holes from 7-9. I wouldn't say I strongly dislike them all by any means but I find them the most forced holes in terms of routing on the course. 7 is really extreme from any standpoint with the steep incline to the green. I've seen balls roll all the way back down to the waste area that just come up a bit short. Understandably the course was designed with US Open and challenging the world's best in mind (and I loved seeing the Open there and very much enjoyed it not to mention felt the wining about the greens was way over done). For amateurs, the 7th is extremely tough. For pros this is definitely not the case, but that means for probably 99% of the golfers that play there it is. Not a big deal as it's a chance for people to play what the pros play (kind of).
The 8th is my least favorite hole on the course and I've discussed this with a few members of your team that helped with the design and build. I'd bet if you stood there for a full day you would see that the shaping of this hole is indeed too extreme for the public coming to play here. My argument would be that too many shots are repelled right off the steep ledge. Now I know this was a connector hole placed on an extremely steep face and it was also extremely difficult to successful design. Generally, I give it a pass because of knowing this, however, it's still the worst hole on the course in my book and I would probably be as critical about the fairway as the green. The push towards the right side is far too extreme. I would hope this is fair criticism and believe it would easily be proven with stats and simply by watching people play the hole.
The 9th hole has little to do with links golf, though I generally enjoy it. It's a really extreme drop. I can't think of links course with anything like it, especially playing from 200+ yds. I do think it's a good hole for pros especially when the wind is up and I also think it's a fair test for amateurs if they are playing from the correct tee. You are of course right about being able to play it short and left for example, which is a fun shot.
Anyway, as mentioned I'm a big fan of your course, I try to play it every time I get back home to the PNW. It also gets better the more you see it which is true of many great courses. One last thing I will mention is that the new poa greens were wonderful when I was there. I'm a huge fescue fan but definitely think the change was a huge success so congrats on that upgrade and I hope it brings all the big events back and keeps them coming to the PNW. It would be deserved in my view.
I played Chambers Bay during winter conditions (on a mild enough day). My only real knowledge of the course prior to this were from reviews online and the TV coverage at the 2015 US Open.
Arriving at the course, I was captivated by the panoramic view from the cliff beside the clubhouse. The grounds are expansive and you can see it all and more from this vantage point. It certainly adds to the anticipation levels.
Firstly, let’s focus on improvements. There was of course criticism of the greens at the US Open in 2015, both in terms of surface and the severity of some of the slopes. The course now boasts newly planted poa annua greens replacing the previous fescue surfaces. There is no doubt these greens are now top level putting surfaces. The only question would be whether they are in keeping with the links feel the layout leans towards. I would need to play it in summer to truly decide that but I was impressed with the condition I found them in.
The most striking thing about this course is the elevation changes and the apparent severity of some of the contouring around the green sites. In parts, this contouring was also criticised after the US Open. Work has been done on a number of holes to lessen the severity of the green shapes and run offs, most notably at the 7th and shows a policy of continual improvement on behalf of the management committee.
Turning to my views on playing the course, I have to say I really loved it. It is boisterous, bold and in your face and asks lots of tough questions. I knew all the holes before I played them from T.V. footage but I was more impressed by some of the feature holes than I thought I might be and a number of the weaker holes had more character than I had expected.
The Redan hole at the 3rd is a well framed example, although I didn’t get the pleasure of playing the hole with a back left flag. Hole 7 is one of the toughest par 4’s you’ll play in the world, with the uphill elevation change adding at least two clubs on to the 482 yards. Hole 9 is an incredible par 3 with the elevation drop to the green even more spectacle than can be appreciated on TV.
The back nine is even more memorable as a collection of holes with the standout being the run 15-17 and the par 4 10th played down towards the Puget Sound. My least favoured hole resides on this nine however, the driveable par 4 12th. For me, the green is too severe and the uphill tee shot is quite frankly, the dullest on the course. It may be a little harsh but I imagine you would play that hole a lot of times with similar results to the same flags. I think it tries to be a memorable feature hole but for me, it is memorable for the wrong reasons.
Overall this is a wonderful golf course and a unique test in terms of courses I have played in the USA. I note it is just outside the USA top 100 courses right now. I think with the change to the green surfaces and subtle changes to a couple of the green sites, this may well make its way back in there in the coming years.
Chambers Bay is located in a former sand & gravel quarry abutting the picturesque Pugent Sound, and is owned by the local Pierce Council.
The course plays like a links course with firm fescue fairways & greens, and some gorgeous red fescues waving in the rough.
Some holes proceed through enormous dunes reminiscent of Ballybunion, or the back nine at Tralee - others run along Pugent Sound a la Whistling Straits. Others still head up and down the side of the quarry, and have significant elevation change.
RTJ Jnr states that he designed the course for the better player- but that anybody can play it. Maybe so, but it would be an extremely daunting course for the lesser player .
We were extremely fortunate with the weather when we played- it was warm and sunny with a light breeze- perfect for golf!
The starter advised me that the course played 400 yards longer than the card because of the elevation change so I moved forward one tee- but it really didn't work for me- I still could not reach some of the longer 4's and was was too close on a number of others to play the course as it should be played/or as I would have liked.
Chambers Bay is one of the most visually spectacular courses I have played- with eye candy everywhere, and rivalling Whistling Straits in regard to the number of waste bunkers used for cosmetic purposes- with no strategic value- even alongside teeing grounds.
But I like RTJ Jnr courses, and this is no exception. There is real variety in the holes, a nice routing, some super short 4's, excellent bunkering- and the course is very strong strategically.
I was constantly asked to make decisions about how much to take on- both on the tee shot and the approach- it is all laid out before you to decide... In this regard it reminded me a little of Kinloch in NZ- but much more scenic..
Before we played we knew the course had also garnered some criticism for being too hard on the average player, and that the greens were too severe . With my experience playing at the National GC in Australia (also RTJ), I thought the enormous greens were largely appropriate- not overdone- but testing and appropriate for a windy course.
However like the National, balls missing greens tended to "gather" in collection areas which end up being a mass of divots. This is a problem for Chambers Bay .
The elevation changes were at times significant and I found them difficult to club first up (a caddy would help!)- but obviously some experience of the course would remedy that.
My biggest issue with the course was the crazy pin positions on 12 and 13. Hole 12 is a short par 4 with a radical green as it's main defence. There is a large mound in the centre of the green and the pin was on top of that mound looking like a candle on top of a plate of icecream. You could chip or putt to 4 or 5 feet either side of the hole and roll off 20 feet.
Hole 13 is a short climbing par 5 with the green on a ledge. The back left pin was on the down slope of a steep ridge protruding into and dividing the green (with a drop off behind). I looked at these 2 holes from every which way, trying to see what the architect was asking, and concluded they were two of the silliest pins I had ever seen!
I can certainly see why the course could be considered controversial for a US Open- with slick greens and anything more than a gentle zephyr off Pugent Sound... But overall this is a gorgeous looking course that everyone should aspire to play. I certainly hope to play again one day. It was exciting, demanding, controversial, spectacular, and fun to play.
Notable holes include:
- the long par 4 opening hole (Pugent Sound),which heads off toward Pugent Sound, setting the scene for a spectacular day's golf
- the short par 3 third hole (Blown Out), which is impressively bunkered
- the uphill par 5 fourth hole (Hazard's Ascent), which plays to a green high in the dunescape protected by acres of sand
- the magnicent par 3 ninth hole (Olympus) is a drop shot par 3 with dramatic bunkering and knockout views
- the par 4 tenth hole (High Dunes), hemmed in by dunes either side of the fairway- and narrowing as you go
- hole 14 (Cape Fear), a dogleg par 4 where picking the line off the tee is paramount
- hole 15 (Lone Fir), an attractive short par 3 with acres of bunkering to carry and Pugent Sound as a backdrop
- hole 17 (Derailed), another attractive par 3 along the sound
Chambers Bay cannot be ignored. It could be a beast to play in any sort of conditions, and not everyone will love it. But it is spectacular, unique, and with the right mindset- outrageous fun! A must play.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
After watching the 2015 US Open, I put Chambers Bay on the bucket list of courses I wanted to play. For me, the 2015 US Open is one of the most memorable major championships from the last ten years. It was nice to put into context all the shots I remembered while playing the course.
I really enjoyed Chambers Bay, especially the finishing stretch from 14-18 and really the entire back nine. The course had wide fairways and offered different avenues of play. There were many holes where you could be aggressive off the tee with driver to cut off distance but taking on a bunker or a more narrow part of the fairway. You did not want to be in the fairway bunkers or in the long grass approaching elevated firm greens. I could see how a high handicapper could struggle here as there is a lot of elevation change and missing the fairways is quite punishing.
12 - Driveable Par 4 that was very memorable from the US Open. Green sits between the dunes and can be used as a punch bowl to funnel the ball onto the green. However, the green is very large with many contours so 2-putts are difficult.
15 - Beautiful par 3 with the bay in the background. One of the shorter par 3s however you are playing downhill and into the wind off the bay which makes distance control very difficult.
18 - Risk / Reward Par 5. If you want to get home in 2, you have to take on all the bunkers. Any layups must take the deep bunker in the center of the fairway out of play. The green has many contours that split it into 3 areas and the pin position could change your plan of attack.
I’m a bit late writing this review. I played Chambers Bay in September 2016 so things may have changed in the nearly four years since then. I hope so. It wasn’t the course, it was the experience.
Having hosted the US Open the year before we had the highest of expectations and because we were in Seattle on a trip I convinced my loving wife that the bus and taxi to get us to Chambers Bay would be worth the organisational difficulties. Even though my wife does not play! No, but she knows golf well and is perfectly happy sitting in the clubhouse having a cup of tea and reading her book. If you wonder why I’ve never managed to convince her to join me on the course it is because of her severe arthritis that can give her great pain in her feet and hips. Walking is difficult. Where golf carts are available she will often be my driver although I have to watch out she doesn’t run over me whilst looking for my ball. No golf carts at Chamber Bay.
In regards to the course, yes the greens were bad simply in terms of pace. A downhill putt on the last stuck on the downslope and didn’t run down that’s how slow they were. It was very frustrating to have to smash every putt.
I was playing with some higher handicappers who were struggling somewhat with their pace of play. I play relatively quickly but we got hassled by the staff who wanted us to speed up. I don’t mind that they are asking for play to be faster but having one of the staff asking my handicap, 7, and then being told, “Well that’s more like 16 around here!” It’s not. The slope adjusted number is 9 and in fact Chambers Bay has the same slope rating, i.e. degree of difficulty as my home course. I didn’t find it harder except for the greens being so hard to putt on. We were asked to change to more forward tees and even though I had paid a large sum to play I (reluctantly) agreed. But I wasn’t having any trouble from the tee I was playing from.
It did take us well over five hours to get around which at my home course is unacceptable. I don’t think I was a cause but it was a problem. However that was not the overriding nor unforgettable memory from Chambers Bay.
The clubhouse was a temporary and very small building. I would guess that four years on something more appropriate has been built. When I finally got back I found my wife in tears having been told to leave the venue because they had a wedding booked and there was nowhere for her to sit. She couldn’t find a seat indoors or outdoors and had to stand for three hours in great pain waiting for me to finish. She got no relief until we were leaving in the taxi.
It was such a bad experience that I cannot recommend that anyone ever go there.
Played here yesterday, on a perfect day no rain or wind. The course was in decent shape fairways and bunkers well maintained. But to the topic every want to hear the putting greens. They've improved from before but they're still bumpy. Not the best surface. Course is odd, kinda gimmicky. Seems like they want to drill into the players mind that there playing a links style course bringing too many odd highlight worthy nuances. A couple would have sufficed not multiple on ever hole. Seems like a hodge-podge of course put together. But would I play here again? Given the 89 dollar fall rate and course drainage yes. Would I be willing to commute from afar to play here NO. The course isn't bad but it just isn't great.
I was blown away by Chambers Bay. It was the one of the funnest course I have ever played with dramatic uphill and downhill holes. The similarity between fairway and putting services combined with the various side and backboards in the extreme green surrounds dictated an imaginative style of play unique in my experience to this point. Especially memorable are the long extremely downhill tee shots on the Par 4 5th and 14th holes and the uphill drivable 12th.