Six Observations About Chambers Bay and the U.S. Open

train

1. “Old” School Is Cool – When I walked onto Chambers Bay for the first time, I immediately felt transported back to my couch in past Augusts at 5 a.m. when the TV greeting of “We’re coming to you live from Royal Birkdale/Troon/Portrush, etc.” would send a giddy chill down my golf spine.

I’ve never been to a British, but it has to feel a lot like this, or at least that’s the impression you get as you start to walk and discover this tree-free (OK, one) and bunkered beautiful behemoth.

It’s an 8-year-old course with the feeling of something much older and ancient because of the aged look of the course and its link to links golf, the birth of the game. Chambers feels like it’s always been here, yet its history is being made in real time. How rare and incredibly cool for golf.

For sports comparison, let’s just say, the first football to fly at Jerry World was probably cool … but not this cool.

tree

2. Background … Check – Chambers is really two experiences in one. There’s the course and then there’s the setting, which is breathtaking. The Puget Sound background would be awesome all but itself, but the touches of the tree and the train are not only stunning scenery but also incredibly smart visual branding of the course (more on this in a second).

On TV, Chambers is doing for the Pacific Northwest what the Farmers does for San Diego: It’s the best TV commercial it could ask for. Someone on local sports radio said as much yesterday … and that was by noon.

Experiencing Seattle for the first time, I can tell you the representation is spot on. The awesome just kind of keeps on going here. The only way it could be better at Chambers is if they could reposition Mt. Rainier behind a par 3 or put it on a floating barge for the week.

A scenic aside: I saw a sunset here on Wed. that blew me away. The mountains not only reflected pink, but a pink shaft of light seemed to connect the mountains to the clouds. As a sunset connoisseur … wow. My only regret is that I was massively out of position for a camera phone photo.

train

3. Three Words: Trains Are Awesome – I’d been on the course for five minutes when the first train came by. I just happened to be on No. 16 and captured the photo at top. How incredibly cool, and what an awesome way to incorporate the culture of the area into the course design.

The use of the train in the framing of the holes is an absolute masterstroke of course design. It evokes the same appreciation I have for California course designers in the way they use the ocean and mountains. There’s a serious art to this, and it’s my favorite thing about the game from a creative perspective.

Moreover, what the train does is give added identity to holes in a way you don’t see on the British courses. Aside from a few holes on St. Andrews (The Road Hole & No. 18), I can’t conjure exact visual reference of many specific holes in the British Open rotation. No disrespect, but I just see a bunch of heavily bunkered and flat generic holes, which is purely my TV perspective.

By the time Sunday is over, I think golfers will have a lot of visual reference of Chambers, partly due to the train. I realized this as soon as I sent the above photo to a golf friend, who texted back, “What hole is this? I can’t wait to watch it on TV.”

The use of the train as added backdrop for greens and tees is equally brilliant. And my guess is if/when the Open comes back here, someone will have bought a branded locomotive. In the old days, that would’ve been a total TaylorMade move.

1318 Chambers

4. Nos. 13-18, What A Finish – Watching the holes in progression for the first time yesterday, I was struck by how visually strong this course becomes from 13 (the tough par 4) on. During the practice round near this stretch, I was highly curious how it would translate on TV. The answer: It could scarcely be better.

What I really like is that the visual intimidation factor of the course comes across akin to how it does at TPC Sawgrass. This is made-for-TV golf that totally works and will only become more dramatic and effective as the tournament pressure and circumstances ramp up.

Dear Golf Gods: Can you please send us a Sunday horserace?

barge

5. TV, Take Two – Aside from greens that aren’t well, green, (I had people asking me what was wrong with them), there’s another problem: The ball and hole aren’t always easy to track here, partly due to the lack of white-green contrast you normally get in golf. “Where’s the ball?” was a common refrain in our viewing session. Golf shouldn’t be like trying to track the puck in hockey, but that’s a bit of what we’ve got here. (Switch to orange balls, anyone?)

As for the hole issue, Fox actually highlighted one with a lime green circle late in the round. That didn’t seem to be the answer, but it was good to know someone had at least identified the problem and was trying.

Otherwise, the reverse angles of the course from Fox Island (and a barge perhaps; can I sign up to run Barge Cam?) are added awesome to an overall visual production full of it.

sculpture

6. The Spectator Experience, The Other Shoe – Following this tournament on the ground is a combination of brutal and impossible, more so than just your usual difficulty at a PGA Tour event. This course is walkable in the same way the Himalayas are … it really isn’t. By comparison, Torrey Pines, for example, is a literal and figurative walk in the park.

On the ground, Chambers Bay is a steep, dirty sand box to negotiate with very few places for foot soldiers to get a great glimpse of the action. (That said, I didn’t get to 15, 16, 17, where it undoubtedly has to better than in the higher elevations.)

In what few view areas they are, fans are herded there like wildebeests meaning hardly anyone sees anything. I “heard” Phil and Bubba hit tee shots yesterday but in reality saw nothing. It’s just not very possible here.

I’m not going to drag this section out as to not detract from an overall fantastic experience. From the hospitality suite (the Trophy Room) overlooking the course on Wed., I had a blast, and that’s the way to play Chambers Bay from a fan’s perspective. You pay a little more, but you enjoy it more, are a lot less frustrated and have a perspective on golf unlike anyone other. It’s a lot like what you see on TV, which is what this place is really all about it. That’s not a criticism, just reality.

I’ve seen it before and am happy to enjoy it that way until the day I actually come here and play, which I suspect millions will want to do after seeing the broadcast this week.