Embattled U.S. Open venue Chambers Bay has its virtues -- and question marks

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- Has there been one aspect of Chambers Bay during the U.S. Open that didn't garner a strong opinion?

U.S. Opens are notorious for setup grumbling. After players were generally diplomatic in practice rounds, the floodgates were wide open by Friday afternoon. Henrik Stenson called the greens "putting on broccoli," Jordan Spieth called the 18th hole "dumb" as a par 4.

Fox analyst Greg Norman (a two-time Open Champion) said the course gets him excited to play golf. Gary Player, who has a design firm himself, was on the far opposite end of the spectrum, making the rounds Friday and Saturday to media outlets expressing his utter disdain for the place.

Watch: Gary Player shreds USGA, Chambers Bay


Player's comments are mostly a whiff, and Mike Bailey critiques them here.

But let me start here: If you want a new, public golf course to garner rave reviews from the field, its first look shouldn't be under U.S. Open pressure and conditions. Look at fellow modern links Castle Stuart: It's first time hosting the European Tour's Scottish Open in 2011, the winner shot 19-under (landslide and all), then the following two years, 17-under. Castle Stuart's design isn't as penal as Chambers, but it also gets windier there and was built for amateur golf tours and not a major.

Personally, I have been torn on Chambers Bay the entire week for a variety of reasons. For every characteristic I love, there is a sore spot.

Pro: This was a made-for-TV golf course

Ratings were sky high and it's easy to see why: the Pacific Northwest sunshine glimmering off Puget Sound and Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s imaginative shaping makes every tee shot a spectacle. Then, there was such tremendous suspense every time a ball landed on the ground and began to move. You never knew where it would stop.

The next PGA Tour stop that goes to a course with small, flat greens, where balls stop on a dime, won't be all that fun in comparison, will it?

Con: Spectator mobility seems to be an afterthought

For a course that was purpose-built for a pro championship, it seems unconscionable that spectators weren't allowed to walk along many fairways. Several holes were blocked off entirely from spectators. There were also some medical issues with people falling on steep, slippery dunes.

Pro: We have a great leaderboard

If venues are measured by the leaderboard, you can't argue Chambers Bay has been a success. Entering the third round, five of the top-10 players in the world were inside the top 15. Better yet, long and short hitters alike are all contending, as Phil Mickelson predicted earlier in the week.

Con: The pace of play has been dreadful

Thursday and Friday pace of play, expected to be 4:45 by Mike Davis, was closer to 5:30. On Thursday morning, Bubba Watson, after waiting in the 18th fairway for the green to clear, called it "pathetic, professional golf."

He's not wrong. The USGA seemed content with the fact rounds would take long here, while it had to have affected players. We know the USGA loves getting into players heads, but should constant waiting be one of their arrows?

Pro: Another U.S. Open on a public golf course

The world's most democratic major championship should be held on a public course, right? In my opinion, the more majors on worthy public courses the better.

Con: That said, is this truly a "muni"?

Half the beauty of Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South are the fact they were never really built with a U.S. Open in mind. Rather, they were built as park amenities and later revealed themselves as ideal tournament venues.

Chambers Bay is different. It wasn't built with local regulars first and foremost in mind, but to earn a major championship. It's not affordable for residents in the same way that Bethpage and Torrey are. Rates are $169-209 for Pierce County residents. Locals frequent Torrey and Bethpage (both multi-course facilities) for their regular games.

Pro: Golf course development is at its best when it's reclaiming land

I am a huge fan of John Ladenburg's decision to remake this old quarry into park space rather than a housing tract. Hopefully the property is enjoyed by residents to the fullest, whether it's the course or the trails around it, for decades to come.

You can watch Matt Ginella's terrific piece on how Chambers Bay came to be here:

Video: Chambers Bay from quarry to U.S. Open

Con: Should public money be chasing major championships?

With a reported $20 million price tag to build the course, that's a lot of taxpayer money to chase a U.S Open (the USGA isn't exactly cash-poor). Economic impact of the U.S. Open is estimated to be around $130 million to the surrounding area.

Politically, there can be a debate about whether or not this is public money spent wisely in a similar category of tax dollars and bonds going to new stadiums built for pro sports teams owned by billionaires.

Truthfully, we may not have a good sense of Chambers Bay's true impact for a few decades.

Pro: Continuing to promote firm and brown

The USGA's promotion of firm, fast and brown this century is a noble one as courses across the country, most drastically California, struggle with drought conditions.

In 2014, Pinehurst No. 2 was the USGA's first real deviation from more traditional lush fairway/hack-out-rough routing to one with a single-row irrigation setup that features a firm fairway that blends more naturally into barren waste areas.

Augusta National sets an unrealistic standard of conditions every April. Meanwhile, there are a lot of golf fans tickled pink to watch the world's best golfers play inconsistent greens for a change.

Con: The USGA has been asleep at the wheel

Here is where the USGA has made its own bed, so to speak. By allowing golf clubs and balls to spiral out of control at the same time they grow an affinity for firm-and-fast fairways and greens, that type of course now requires 250-300 acres and 7,700 yards or more to challenge these guys. The more acres needed for golf almost certainly equals a more expensive game.

In 2017, U.S Open host Erin Hills will probably play even closer to 8,000 yards.

Mike Davis said earlier in the week that the USGA doesn't go to hosts to be a "one-and-done." So we'll see what, if any changes they make based on player and spectator concerns and if the course ever returns to the rotation.

For now, it's a great leaderboard. Enjoy the rest of what has been an unquestionably entertaining U.S. Open.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Embattled U.S. Open venue Chambers Bay has its virtues -- and question marks