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Golfers Call out the Good, Bad and Ugly: Chambers Bay Golf Course

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IJune 19, 2015

Jason Day goes down with vertigo on the ninth hole.
Jason Day goes down with vertigo on the ninth hole.Harry How/Getty Images

Chambers Bay Golf Course, located in University Place, Washington, is eliciting a variety of comments from the poor quality of the putting surfaces to the beautiful views of Puget Sound, from the scenic, yet unwalkable terrain to the poor viewing for spectators. And yet the overall site is so compelling that you wish that it was all that it could be.

Phil Mickelson summed it up with one comment.

“Amy wants to come out and follow, and she simply can't, she just can't come out and first of all see,” he said. This is a woman who has followed her husband on every continent where golf is played.

Mickelson’s comment hits the mark for most who attended. Unless your idea of a good time at a golf tournament is waiting in line for someone to get out of a packed grandstand so that you can take a seat in it, this venue is not your friend.

There are walking paths, but in many instances, there is no view of golf from paths because they are in between mounds instead of being, for example, on the top of the mounds. The mounds are so steep that it’s impossible for people to use them as viewing areas. Several caddies have fallen. Jason Day took a tumble descending from the ninth tee, citing vertigo, which he has had before.

Henrik Stenson’s caddie fell and broke his wrist on Wednesday. Day’s caddie was a casualty two days ago. Tiger Woods fell twice trying to find his ball and trying to get a stance.  

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While the views of the course, covered in golden and green fescue, are dramatic against the blue water of Puget Sound, there are several holes where no spectators can go. The eighth hole has no spectator areas anyplace. But there are plenty of other places on this course where you can’t go and can’t see.

As Stenson said, “You are never going to get the feeling of it being packed on every hole. It's a course where you have to watch from a bit of a distance. A pair of binoculars is not a bad thing when you're coming here to watch.”

“It's definitely dangerous with those slopes, and the grass gets shiny and lays down. It gets a bit like ice skating out there,” Stenson said.

Tiger Woods demonstrating difficulty of lie angles and slopes at Chambers Bay.
Tiger Woods demonstrating difficulty of lie angles and slopes at Chambers Bay.Matt York/Associated Press/Associated Press

The winners in "worst spectating holes" so far are the first and 18th. There is NO walking gallery space along either side of either hole. A quick survey of experienced folks in the media room did not reveal anyone who could remember when no gallery was allowed on both sides of the first and 18th holes.

There are some golf courses, such as Pebble Beach, where the ocean is on one side, but gallery space is allowed on the other.

At the first hole, spectating is limited to behind the tee and a small peek-a-boo view of the first green and 18th fairway, midway along the right side of the 18th.

The 18th hole has hospitality tents right up to the playing area on the 18th. It would have been easy to back those up 12 feet and allow an area for people to walk and watch some play on the final hole, although the fairway is elevated and it’s uncertain just how much anyone would realistically be able to see. It’s just not user-friendly from a spectator standpoint.

Background information on the golf-course construction indicated that 1.5 million cubic yards of earth were moved to build the course, which was supposed to be designed for major championship use. Major championships mean major spectators.

So in all that shoveling, nobody gave a thought to where actual people would need to walk. They even had two chances: during the original build and then during the remodel.

Never, in either version of construction, did they bother to fix areas to make it spectator-friendly. Does Pierce County believe people watch from a sky hook? From drones sent in by Amazon? Really. Somebody call the TPC Scottsdale. They have figured it out. 

And that doesn’t even touch on the putting surfaces. The greens had inconsistent speeds, according to Mickelson, and due to the poa annua grass, they got bumpier as the day progressed.

Sergio Garcia was unrelenting on Twitter.

He said, “I think a championship the caliber of a U.S. Open deserves better quality green surfaces than we have this week, but maybe I’m wrong.”

It was followed by, “If I’m saying what everyone thinks but they don't have the guts to say it, then I’m guilty of that for sure.”

What’s the good part of the golf course? The USGA finally brought a U.S. Open to the Pacific Northwest. Assuming the organization makes a return trip, maybe it can put back a half million yards of that earth moved and pile it into some areas where people who pay to come to the course to see golf can actually see it. It’s beautiful to look at, but your vantage point just may not include golfers.

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the PGA Tour, USGA or PGA of America.

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