From the start, tumbling contours mimic the troughs and swells of Puget Sound, while craggy hummocks mirror Olympic Mountain peaks beyond. The dunes seem like they might conceal dinosaur bones, and sprawling, scraggly waste areas appear to have lost their turf over hundreds of years. True golfers will respond to these cues by playing seven-iron punch shots into greens (rather than full wedges out of habit). On the first hole, a slope along the right lays a welcome mat for bump-and-run approaches. At the fourth, a 568-yard par five, mounds on the left ricochet shots onto the green. Players can putt from twenty yards out on nearly every hole. The course’s untamed look extends all the way back to the tee boxes, which, to the dismay of some commentators, are in many cases not boxes at all but long ribbons of rumpled turf bleeding into the fairways.
The designers carved out land features that would encourage creative shotmaking, but they also deferred to the site’s existing assets. They shifted green locations to reveal the best views and elevated the tees of holes five and nine to present sweeping panoramas. At the waterfront par-four sixteenth, they excavated a twenty-five-foot berm along the right side to expose the sound. And just inland on a shelf of land above sixteen, they tilted the second and third to strengthen the impression that these holes, too, are perched directly on the water.
Within the course’s wide-open landscape lie intimate nooks and niches. A natural amphitheater green at the par-four sixth is cradled by dunes, and the 398-yard tenth funnels through forty-foot sand hills toward a tiny, sheltered green. On the site of a former quarry access road, the 304-yard twelfth follows a narrow uphill passage to a large punchbowl.
Rounds may briefly stall here at the drivable twelfth (this is a muni, after all). But as waiting foursomes greet players on the adjacent fifteenth tee and nongolfers stroll by on the public paths, the spirit of St. Andrews is keenly felt. A slope overlooking the fifteenth green and the shoreline’s lone fir is an ideal spot for waving to train engineers or watching sailboats glide past Fox Island. The fortunate few will glimpse a migrating gray whale. On holes eight and thirteen, a player may notice an impromptu gallery of locals enjoying the fresh air and the arc of a well-struck shot.
The decision to forgo carts made this network of walking paths possible. It also opened the door to a bona fide caddie program and spared the linksy fescue, which cannot survive heavy cart traffic. Eventually the grass will be weaned off fertilizer and irrigation water, allowing it to play firmer and faster and to take on a properly faded look. The course’s putting surfaces will grow slicker, and while the rough will continue to grow in, the goal is keep the tall fescues thin, wispy and playable—until a major championship arrives.
Chambers Bay may vie to host a major event—ideally a PGA Championship, since its maritime climate is so preferable to the heat that engulfs the rest of the country in August. The venue offers space for corporate tents, bleachers and ample parking. Way-back tees have been scouted, and even pros will wince to discover hazards strewn in the fairways, such as the pot bunker on the cape-hole fourteenth or the steep dunes on seven and eleven.
"This course is a leveler," says Jones with a measure of pride. "It’s democratic." Indeed, Chambers Bay provides exquisite recreation by and for the people. —Jessica Shambora
Architect: Robert Trent Jones II. Yardage: 7,585. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $65–$150. Tee Times: 877-295-4657, chambersbaygolf.com.