Just finished up a 90-minute tour of Chambers Bay Golf Course with general manager Matt Allen, taking stock of all the second-phase renovations from the past year.
Good news – they are all completed. Right now, the course is playing unhindered by tractors, dump trucks and furiously moving workers. What you see now is practically what the professionals (and a handful of amateurs) will see for the 2015 U.S. Open.
An outliner: This entry will just point out the changes, blow by blow, and how they impact the respective holes:
* 7th hole (par 4): From here on out, the details will be in chronological order. But this is the appropriate starting point since the seventh-hole renovation was the biggest project of this work phase.
It took approximately three months designing, reshaping and seeding the landing area of this hole. Because of the mild winter – and extended growing season – the hole was able to open back up in its entirety in late December, and not April.
The gist of the project was to flatten out certain areas around the green so approach shots would not funnel back down the hill and stop 100 yards from the hole. The green was redesigned (more of a triangular shape with three distinct reaching points) and shifted 10 to 15 feet right (toward No. 8 teeing area), and lowered 4-5 in elevation.
The false front is not so penal. In fact, shots now have a better chance of running up the front collar and landing on the green, instead of retreating back toward the two mounds.
“The green is slower than the rest,” Allen said, “but has wonderful turf health.”
The speed of the green, Allen noted, should be closer to the normal speed of the other greens by this summer.
* 1st hole (par 4/par 5): As previously noted, for the 2015 U.S. Open, the United States Golf Association has decided to give itself flexibility to play the opening hole as a par 4 or a par 5.
So a new par-5 teeing area has been constructed kitty-corner to the putting green. It is located directly behind the caddie shack. And being that far back, the view of the hole opens up – you can see the entire routing of the hole, including green; you can see Puget Sound and you can even see the sand-quarry relic that runs along the 18th hole.
Also, the left-fairway has been pinched in by rough near the landing area from the par-5 tee.
For the U.S. Open, it sounds like that whole south end of the putting green will not be open for the gallery. Patrons will instead be rerouted behind the new teeing area and to the north side of the putting green (if folks want to watch the PGA Tour guys putt before their round begins … which is very popular vintage point at other U.S. Opens).
* 2nd hole (par 4): The right rough line has been brought in 25 feet in the landing area, forcing golfers to challenge the left side where a waste area is.
* 3rd hole (par 3): The new back tee ribbon is finished and ready for the professionals (even though NONE of the new teeing areas will be open to the public).
Sounds like the USGA will use three teeing areas for the U.S. Open – the back tee at 195 yards, one left of that and one right of that, some 30 yards closer.
A protruding dune on the right side of the hole has been taken out. A gallery walkway, some 15-20 feet wide, is now in place.
* 4th hole (par 5): This green was drastically altered in the first phase of changes. It was tweaked in this phase – the left rough line was brought in 6-7 yards.
* 5th hole (par 4): One of the first projects of this phase was bringing in the right-side waste area and severely pinching the landing area (some 310 yards away from the back tee). Since the reshaping, the look of the waste area has been neatly refined (looks very cool). This could end up being one of the true bugaboo holes in 2015.
* 8th hole (par 5): One real point of consternation has been alleviated around the green here: In the past, shots that were headed center of green or just to the right of it funneled right. Golf balls would jet – unfairly, as course officials now admit – into deep rough.
Now, the severe slope around the left side going into the green has been lowered and softened. The right side has been extended toward the caddie shack some 10 feet – with the edge heightened so it is now nearly impossible for golf balls to roll over the edge, and into the tall fescue.
This change gives the USGA a clear path to a front pin location.
* 9th hole (par 3): It is no longer a short hole where tee shots fall some 100 feet. A new lower tee box (some 40 yards behind the new teeing area at No. 1) is in place for the U.S. Open.
From the lower tee, the par 3 will play an uphill 220 yards, opening up hole locations not available from the original upper tee box. Expect that new teeing area to be used at least once during the U.S. Open.
* 10th tee (par 4): Probably the signature hole, it now has a new teeing area just right of the putting green, extending it some 80 yards. The intent was to bring the first set of bunkers back into play.
* 13th hole (par 4): Just a reminder, this hole is now a par 4. For good. Its green contours and approach-shot landing areas were altered in the first phase of changes.
* 14th hole (par 4): As if this hole wasn’t intimidating enough from the original back tee (300-yard carry to flat landing area in fairway) – another back tee has been built across the utility path. It lengthens the hole by 30-35 yards, making it a 530-yard downhill par 4.
In essence, it now makes even the long hitters like Bubba Watson choose which side of the fairway bunker it will try and hit tee shots to.
* 17th hole (par 3): The intersecting dune between the lower tee area and higher tee area has been flattened. Now golfers on the lower tee area can see the green as far left as the bunker.
* 18th hole (par 5/par 4): Just like No. 1, the hole can play long or short, changing par.
Early in this phase, the extended waste area right was pinched in toward the fairway. Its latest alteration is more aestetic – islands of fescue grass have been place to break up the sandy waste area.
Also the new par-5 tee box brings in a view of the quarry relic (some professionals night use that as a sight line in how they want to cut off the waste area right in landing their tee shots).
A design fix for a later date …
Possibly in 2014, a new 16th-hole teeing area will be built. It will be built so far right (12-15 yards), the fence near the railroad tracks will have to be rerouted. It will give the golfers a harder angle to cut tee shots over the right-side waste area (never mind being closer to speeding-by trains).
For the U.S. Open, every par-4 but No. 2 and No. 12 will be more than 500 yards in length. If the USGA wanted to play this course from the absolute tips – and it won’t; it never does – the course has been measured at 7,948 yards, Allen said.