U.S. Open: Chambers Bay

It’s been called one of the “worst golf courses” in the country, “a course with a real attitude,” and “controversial.” Even a pro on the PGA Tour, Ryan Palmer, said “it’s not a championship course.” So then why has this course been pretty successful at hosting the U.S. Open this week? Why have commentators and journalists been exploring the course’s intrigue rather than lambasting it? Because although Chambers Bay is undeniably unconventional for a golf course, especially as a stage for the U.S. Open, it is a prime example of what golf courses should strive for in the future.

The host of the U.S. Amateur in 2010, Chambers Bay was an unused sand quarry along Puget Sound before it opened in 2007. The USGA tapped the public course in University Place, Washington, eight months after it opened to host the U.S. Open. It is the first U.S. Open to ever be held in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. For a U.S. Open course, Chambers Bay is unusually young and regionally unique. But it also has one more crowning achievement: it is incredibly sustainable.

The Chambers Bay golf course in University Place, Washington (Photo: Business Insider)
The Chambers Bay golf course in University Place, Washington, and host of the 115th U.S. Open (Photo: Business Insider)

In his article in The Washington Post on Chamber’s Bay, Thomas Boswell writes, “the sustainability of the course, its low cost to maintain and its low water usage were all appropriate to the 21st century.” On the Chambers Bay website, Pierce County boasts of its public course’s walking-only policy, which frees the course from the confines of cart paths and saves the need of operating electrical golf carts. Because there is no wear from carts, the course is covered in fescue grass from tee to green. “In addition to providing a fast, firm surface that is fun to play, fescue’s deep roots make it incredibly drought tolerant, able to go days without supplemental watering,” the course website says.

This fescue grass is an agent of change for the USGA: they are trying to move professional golf away from its lush fairways to a “brown is the new green” ethos. This “back to natural” movement gained traction last year at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where its No. 2 course “had been allowed to grow back to its natural loose, free and downright scruffy-looking self.” Chambers Bay sees themselves as another pioneer of this movement: “With its limited use of water and minimalist maintenance philosophy, Chambers Bay is a poster child for sustainable golf,” the website reads. They are “encouraging other courses to move away from lush but water-intensive landscaping that is increasingly becoming untenable in communities facing competing demands for water, particularly in the water-starved Southwest.” The Los Angeles Times endorses the USGA’s efforts and expresses, in a recent article, the water problem in golf: “The economic crisis is clear. In the last seven years, the U.S. has lost 800 golf courses. One estimate put the annual rise in water costs for courses at 11%. Those two things cannot be disconnected.” Water usage is clearly something that must be addressed by the golf community and accounted for in course design, and the 2014 and 2015 U.S. Open courses have been perfect examples of this.

“With its limited use of water and minimalist maintenance philosophy, Chambers Bay is a poster child for sustainable golf.”

In conclusion, Chambers Bay is a success story. The course has produced some challenging yet exemplary golf, with four co-leaders going into the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday. While it may be criticized for its unconventional layout, it is a links course by design and a sustainable course by its structure. It is playable for the professionals while still being integrated into the landscape. Regardless of who wins the championship, “I think Chambers Bay is the story today,” former pro golfer and current commentator Greg Norman said on FOX’s U.S. Open coverage this morning. The U.S. Open may be the oldest major in America, but it is ever-changing and the USGA strives to honor 21st-century sustainability while maintaining 115 years of tradition.

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

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