It's a yearly tradition: The United States Golf Association and Executive Director Mike Davis getting firmly into the psyches of the world's best golfers. With 2015 U.S. Open host Chambers Bay, the USGA voodoo appears to be well ahead of schedule.
It's a novel, if not experimental concept for the U.S. Open, normally staged on Golden Era designs that are exclusive country clubs. With Chambers Bay, opened in 2007, the massive property that was formerly a sand and gravel quarry will draw record attendance. The course setup can change wildly day to day at the hands of the tournament committee thanks to long, ribbon tees and enormous putting surfaces.
Also unique in 2015, virtually no player will have the benefit of knowing the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design very well. The only other event it has hosted is the 2010 U.S. Amateur (2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth shot a second-day 83 and missed qualifying for match play). The USGA then took that feedback to continue to develop the ideal test for the main event in 2015.
Davis said he believes players should take it upon themselves to visit the course many times prior to the event.
"I would contend that there is no way a player will have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it," Davis said at U.S. Open media day. "The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and just walking it and using your yardage book, that person is done, will not win the U.S. Open."
Some tour players like 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson have scoffed at the notion they have all sorts of free time to go out of their way to study the course. Others have been less than enthused with what they've seen. Henrik Stenson called it a "tricked-up links course." Ryan Palmer had the most flamboyant comments following his visit.
"(Davis') idea of tee boxes on down hills, up hills and side hills is ridiculous," Palmer told USA Today's Steve DiMeglio. "That's not golf. I don't care what anybody says. It will get a lot of bad press from the players. It is a joke. I don't understand it. I just don't know why they would do it."
Ian Poulter, who hadn't yet played it personally, fanned some flames with this tweet in April:
Well several players have played Chambers Bay in prep for US Open. The reports back are its a complete farce. I guess someone has to win.
— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) April 29, 2015
**Update 2: Tiger Woods heeded the advice of Mike Davis and planned his own two-day scouting visit to Chambers Bay the week of The Memorial Tournament. Matt Ginella was on site and had this reaction on Morning Drive.
Chambers Bay rated by the daily-fee golfer
Whether or not the tour pros love the venue, regular golfers can revel in the fact Chambers Bay is the latest addition to the USGA's shift toward publicly accessible U.S. Open venues. But the caveat is that the course has been under a watchful eye of the USGA and constantly tweaked and renovated ever since opening. Temporary greens and other operational interruptions, due in part because Chambers is wall-to-wall fescue grass, which can be tougher to manage than bent grass in the Pacific Northwest, have been a common occurrence, which some golfers haven't been too happy about after plunking down $150-$200 or more for a round.
On Golf Advisor, Chambers Bay has had 14 reviews since summer 2013. (I played the course back in 2009 as part of a jaunt from Harding Park to Bandon Dunes to Chambers Bay.)
In the chart below, we compare Chambers Bay to the top Seattle-area course since 2013, the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, as well as to the Seattle average.
The most negative review on Golf Advisor came in June 2014 from golfer theonlybfc. He felt like a second-class citizen due to nets protecting parts of the fairways and four temp greens and awarded the experience one star.
"The greens were in worse shape than any muni course I have ever played," he wrote. "Caddy said that we would be seeing seven different green speeds throughout the day, and he was right."
Perhaps due to a full summer of added grow-in, reviews for the remainder of 2014 were very positive, with little mention of condition issues. Golf Advisor's own Mike Bailey awarded the experience five stars. Golfer JLandenburg was a staunch defender of Chambers:
"This course is an incredible opportunity to learn a new kind of golf," the single-digit handicapper wrote. "But many here are simply too closed minded to get it."
There seems to be a little more on the line than usual for this U.S. Open, whether you're Davis, the course or new TV partner Fox. If you've had the chance to play Chambers Bay leading up to the U.S. Open, we're curious how you found the experience, and whether it's a fitting test for a major championship.
Update: Morning Drive team discusses their visit to Chambers Bay
Golf Channel's Morning Drive team played Chambers Bay the week before it officially closed to the public for U.S. Open preparations. You can read Damon Hack's review here, Gary Williams' here and Charlie Rymer's here.