When the U.S. Open kicks off Thursday at Chambers Bay, just outside of Seattle, a score of even par might lead the field. It’s that demonically tough.
There’s never been a U.S. Open played on a course like this, something you’d see in Scotland or Ireland, a by-the-side-of-the-sea landscape with yellow fescue grass, sandy waste areas and fairways that seemingly have flagsticks stuck in the ground. The greens have rolling surfaces with uneven sight lines, humps, bumps, roll-a-way dips to the side and undefined edges that simply fall away to drainage areas.
Combine all that with the USGA’s two to three years of preparation time to “trick” things up and create additional challenges, and this might just be one of the more entertaining Opens ever.
“Everything about this U.S. Open at Chambers Bay is atypical,” according to Orem’s Randy Dodson, president of Fairways Media and publisher of Fairways Magazine, the official publication of the Utah Golf Association. Dodson has been at Chambers Bay all week during practice rounds.
“There's nothing lush, or thick, or green here. It's hard, fast and brown from tee to green. Get used to hearing the words "fescue," "links-style" and "dunes."
“It’s tough, very tough,” said Spencer Ellis, a Utah amateur who has played some of the country’s most famous courses.
Said Dodson, “They will be playing this U.S. Open on the ground, aiming away from holes and hoping to get true rolls. Players will have to be creative with approach shots. Swales, ridges and undulations flow from fairways to the hole locations. Take Thanksgiving Point, turn it hard and fast, shave the collars away and double the green sizes; that's what players are facing at Chambers Bay.
“Take all of that, add 7,800 yards spread over 230 acres (just over seven miles from No. 1 to 18th green) and add a few hundred feet of elevation from the Puget Sound to the tee at No. 5 & No. 9, and now fitness becomes an issue. This course is a hike and then some.
“It's hard to imagine a course like this being called beautiful, but late June evenings here will cast their golden hue, the long shadows will emerge and the U.S. Open will crown a special champion at Chambers Bay.
“My prediction? The player with the best Texas wedge in the bag.”
Ellis said on most greens, you have to putt away from the hole. Dodson said most players will keep pitching wedges in their bags and putt from 20 to 30 feet off the green. “It’s hard to delineate where the greens and fairways begin and end.”
The precision with which the USGA sets up a course is remarkable, according to Chris Newsom, head professional at Soldier Hollow, site of Utah’s only USGA championship, the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Aside from having Newsom’s crew build six new tee boxes at Soldier Hollow, the USGA began preparations for “uniformity of the greens” months in advance.
Part of the process involved testing nine to 12 or even 16 different areas of each green and making notations as to hardness, softness and speed. This was done almost daily.
The USGA’s agronomists would then record this information onto a sophisticated spreadsheet and have greenskeepers work on those spots to make them uniform with the rest of the green and the course. Often it meant watering by hand the parts of a green that didn’t make grade.
Newsom said the data was shared with him and his staff for preparations but the actual spreadsheets and the data was a “sworn to secrecy” issue because if word got out to the players, it would give them a competitive advantage. And they couldn’t have that.
“That’s just an example of how precise they are at setting up one of their national championship tournaments,” said Newsom. “It will be interesting to see what they do with Chambers Bay.”
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.