Blog 327, 4/29/15 - Of Course Players Think Chambers Bay is a Farce


chambers view 1
Chambers Bay from the 8th fairway.
Chambers Bay’s disapproval rating is rising by the day it seems, seven weeks before the US Open even starts. Yesterday, in one of his typically indiscreet and rather tactless tweets, Ian Poulter said reports he’d heard from players who have already visited the course is that it is a ‘complete farce’.
This should surprise absolutely no one.
First, as we all know, Poulter is not slow to tweet his mind. Sometimes what he says is spot on and you can’t help agreeing with him even if his tone of tweet rubs you the wrong way. At other times though, he really should pause before typing, or at least run his thoughts through a filter before posting them. Second, of course PGA Tour players will think Chambers Bay is preposterous. Just a few weeks ago they were in Florida where every course is lush and gussied up for the TV cameras. Earlier this month they were at Augusta National which makes the garden at the Palace of Versailles look a little shabby. And since the Masters, they have played Harbour Town and TPC Louisiana both of which see their fair share of grooming. Compared to them, the rough and raw Chambers Bay looks and feels like something from another planet. It is definitely not your standardized, overly-manicured PGA Tour course where players can more or less shut the creative side of their brains off and simply revert to auto-pilot to hit the homogenous shots they play every week.
Third, Chambers Bay is not out to win a popularity contest. It is a challenging course any week of the year from the Sand tees, and now it is being prepared for the tournament universally recognized as the toughest test in the game. Players coming from an event where 266 was the winning total (both the RBC Heritage and Zurich Classic) will get the scare of their life. And yes, it would be easy to make Chambers Bay the complete farce at least one of Ian Poulter’s Tour buddies said it is. But the same is true of any course. You could cut 20-yard wide fairways at Royal Melbourne, St. Andrews or Cypress Point, shave the greens to one-sixteenth of an inch, and grow syrupy-thick rough. And guess what, they would become farcical too.
chambers 1st rough
Granted, the rough on Monday (here, left of the 1st fairway) was a little strong.
Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, the Chambers Bay players have seen over the last couple of weeks, is not the same course they will get in June. At the US Open media day on Monday, golf writers from across America struggled in absurdly long and impossibly thick rough just an inch off the fairways. In the morning, however, Mike Davis, the USGA’s Executive Director and the man responsible for the course set up at Chambers Bay, had assured the press that while the rough had been fed to boost growth it would be graduated sometime before the players arrive. If heavy-duty rough were to remain that close to the greens and fairways, then yes, those calling it a farce would have a point. But, as Davis pointed out, the fairways are perhaps the widest ever seen at a US Open (over 100 yards from side to side at the 13th) and after it is graduated only an incredibly bad shot will find the really dangerous stuff.
I asked Davis if, after the success of last year when Pinehurst No. 2 had no rough, he had paused before deciding to let it grow at Chambers Bay. After all, this course would be a pretty stiff test with no rough, and if you asked the architects who designed it and the superintendents that maintain it, I think the consensus would be they hoped there wouldn’t be any. 
mike davis
Mike Davis
Davis, however, gave the sort of intelligent and perceptive response you’d expect from the man regarded as one of the most astute figures in the game. “This year we thought that some rough would be appropriate,” he said. “It isn’t the thick bluegrass, ryegrass, or Bermuda grass rough you see at a lot of other places. And we do plan to graduate it. So if a player just rolls off the fairway, he’s going to get a little grass between the ball and the clubhead which will take away from his distance control, but allow him to play towards the green. That's the intent. We felt that to have it all closely-mown fairway just didn't quite work.”
I’ve never been terribly fond of US Open set-ups as watching players trying to avoid bogeys or worse rather than hunting for birdies isn’t very entertaining. Combining all three set-up obstacles – narrow fairways, thick rough, and concrete greens - can make it tedious for both the player and spectator.
But I suspect Davis has got it right at Chambers Bay. Yes, it’s going to be extremely difficult. Players will need patience like never before on greens that, though much improved in the last couple of years, are still relatively new and consequently extremely firm and a little unpredictable. Davis expects much ‘chirping’ as he calls it. But, rest assured, he will make absolutely no apology to anyone.
There will be plenty of room at Chambers Bay, and anyone taking Davis’s advice to play the course several times before the bell rings on Thursday June 18th, and thus become familiar with its many idiosyncrasies, will do well. Jack Nicklaus used to say he could tick names off his list of players to beat when he heard them in the locker room criticizing the course. The Golden Bear would love what he’s reading/hearing in the run-up to this year’s US Open, as it seems a number of players have already written off their chances.
But what of Ian Poulter’s chances? This morning the Englishman accepted an offer from Jay Blasi, the project manager who spent countless hours supervising construction and who knows Chambers Bay’s every curve, dip and borrow, to show him round the course during practice. It’s a shrewd move that will surely help Poulter avoid serious trouble.
How ironic it would be if the shots Blasi saves Poulter helped him to his first major championship.





Add comment

Security code