Chambers Bay Through the Eyes of Robert Trent Jones Jr.
June 17, 2015
In the Fall 2014 issue of NCGA Golf, Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Architects President Bruce Charlton suggested that players competing in this week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay won’t encounter the same shot twice during their four rounds.
“It was our job to create golf holes that had the ultimate flexibility, and then let the USGA choose and administer those,” Charlton said. … “A tee box is a tee box. It doesn’t have to be for one kind of player, especially when you’re playing tournament golf.”
There’s even a chance that 72 tee boxes could be used during the championship. If the USGA has its way, players won’t hit the same shot twice during the championship.
“That is one of the goals,” Charlton said. “The USGA really wants these guys to have to use their golf course management skills. They’ll be playing from a different part of the fairway every day, a different tee every day.”
And USGA Executive Director and revolutionary course setup guru Mike Davis has every single scenario plotted out.
“Mike has this cool matrix chart where if he uses a specific hole location, he has specific tees he will use,” Charlton said. “And from those tees, he has marked points in the fairway he thinks players will utilize to score the best.”
Robert Trent Jones Jr. feels the same way heading into the first U.S. Open that will be contested on a course he originally designed.
“If you can read (USGA Executive Director and course-setup maestro) Mike Davis’ mind, you should be in Vegas,” Jones quipped, before adding, “I think there is more than one golf course in this golf course. There are many courses. It’s a bi-polar golf course at least. Maybe it’s multiple personalities.
“You might not see the same course twice.”
Jones was understandably beaming about his creation at Chambers Bay during a visit last week to Poppy Hills, which is now infused with similar design principals and turf as its U.S. Open sibling.
“To have your work host a national championship, this is the highest honor in the game,” Jones said.
But get ready for a U.S. Open unlike any other:
- The first one held in the Pacific Northwest.
- The first one held on all fescue grass.
- The first one with holes that will oscillate between a par 4 and a par 5 on any given day.
“One of the reasons Chambers Bay was chosen is we would think outside the box,” Jones said.
That even includes incorporating uneven lies on the previously sacred teeing grounds.
Jones recalls brainstorming with R&A Executive Chief Peter Dawson in 2002 about how to reign in the astronomical distances the golf ball was traveling. Dawson brought up banning the wooden tee, and turning back the clock to old-time sand tees. They even experimented with the concept for nine holes during a round in Santa Barbara. It worked.
And that sparked an alternative concept.
“All of a sudden, the idea that popped into my mind, was, ‘Well where does the course start? It starts at the tee. Why do the tees have to be level?’
“And the thought was, ‘We’re not doing this to be ornery; we’re doing this to assist the player. The idea was, if you want to hit a sling shot off the 14th hole at Chambers Bay, you can tee the ball up above your feet a little bit. We’re actually assisting the right-handed player who can hit a right-to-left shot. The player who is a little unsure of himself, who wants absolute predictability, is going to be a little uneasy. We do it on approach shots. Why not on tee shots?”
Let the mind games begin, eh?
“On No. 14, you get a 120-yard advantage if you slingshot it in there, instead of playing it out to the right,” Jones said. “But you’ve got to commit to that shot. And if you turn it over too much, you are in the sandy waste and you’ve lost your advantage. So you’ve got to make a choice – Am I a hero? Or am I an ordinary Tour player? And they’ve got to commit.
“If they don’t, Mike Davis and I are in their backswings.”
Jones also added that the concept of titled tee boxes can be found at the top-ranked course in America: Pine Valley.
“The sandy waste lands and the uneven tees both come from there,” Jones said. “The uneven tees come from the Short Course there.”
Jones has heard the chirping of certain pros on Twitter panning Chambers Bay before they even arrived to check out the course. But then again, his father Robert Trent Jones Sr. was ripped by Jack Nicklaus ahead of the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National.
“You’ve got to have thick skin,” Jones said. “They will never criticize Augusta, because they will never get invited back. But there are many pros that don’t like the greens. They will never criticize St. Andrews, because how can you criticize God? The green complexes at Chambers Bay are a lot like Augusta and St. Andrews. They’re contoured, they’re decked, they spill off. Pros don’t always like that. At least half the game is played around the greens. They can’t be making 20 footers like they’re 3 footers.”
Jones also knows that a new U.S. Open venue is a natural target for pros who dictate the condition of PGA Tour events the rest of the year.
“The U.S. Open is unique,” Jones said. “In the last 20 years, par has won it eight times. Every PGA Championship has been won substantially under par. It shows that there is a different mentality toward par.
“I think one of the things that makes the Open so compelling is all golfers like to see the pros struggle to make par, just like they do. Having said that, the pros don’t like to struggle to make par on world television.”
But Jones is also hoping something else comes across to a world audience the next four days.
“The USGA has an extremely high level of visibility to transform the idea of sustainability,” said Jones, who is especially proud of the practices employed at Poppy Hills. “The message is that Chambers Bay is a public golf course, owned by the public, for the public. You can play on a U.S. Open course, relatively inexpensively. It is much less difficult to maintain. It’s sustainable.
“And if the cost of the maintenance is half, then it can encourage the youth to play for cheap, which grows the game and makes it self-sustaining. Just like the NCGA is doing with Youth on Course.”
More Chambers Bay
Want a preview of how the course will look and play? Check out the highlights from the 2010 U.S. Amateur:
And for more details on the course setup and what it’s like to play Chambers Bay, NCGA Golf’s travel story takes a comprehensive look at the ever-evolving course.