In the most dramatic conclusion to a U.S. Open in the last decade, Dustin Johnson three-putted for par on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay in 2015, capping a memorable week that ended with Jordan Spieth raising the trophy, which put him halfway to the Grand Slam.
The event was the crown jewel for golf in Washington, a state that for decades has been vastly underappreciated in the game’s circles. Washington has hosted 25 USGA championships, more than 35 other states, including Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and Arizona.
There is also a distinguished roster of golfers who hail from the Evergreen State. That list includes Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion; Bill Wright, the first African American to win a USGA championship; Ryan Moore, who is one of just five players to win an NCAA individual title and a U.S. Amateur in the same year; and the duo of JoAnne Gunderson Carner and Anne Quast Sander, who top the list of female USGA champions, combining to win 15 championships between 1956 and 1993.
But for all the great players who have called Washington home, it is Chambers Bay, a county-owned course some 40 miles south and west of Seattle, that has attracted the most attention from the golf community.
Built on an old sand and gravel quarry, the course was designed by Robert Trent Jones II specifically for the purpose of staging a major championship on the shores of Puget Sound. It opened in 2007 and within a year had been awarded the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open.
The 2015 championship marked the first U.S. Open played in the Pacific Northwest, and Chambers Bay became the youngest course since Hazeltine National in 1970 to host the championship. Its supporters hoped that its enormous potential and breathtaking views could overcome its lack of history and tradition.
The months leading up to that year’s U.S. Open were among the hottest and driest on record for the area, creating firm and fast conditions that were ideal for the links-style layout. But the warm weather caused issues for the greens, which consisted primarily of fine fescue grass that thrived in the typically cool maritime climate.
While the fescue laid down in the heat, invasive poa annua thrived, taking over significant portions of several greens. This gave some of the greens a splotchy appearance and made them rather bumpy in the afternoon, which drew criticism from some players in the field.
“A typical June up here is cool with several days of rain,” said Larry Gilhuly, USGA agronomist for the West Region. “That year we got the exact opposite and it resulted in conditions so firm that you could barely see any ball marks.”
Ultimately, a championship and its host venue are judged by the quality of its leader board and the excitement of its finish. Nine of the players who finished in the top 10 were among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, including four – Spieth, Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – of the OWGR’s top 10.
“You had the best players in the world putting on quite a show, and that’s a credit to the golf course,” said Louis Oosthuizen, who shot a record-tying 29 on the back nine during the final round to tie Johnson for second place. “When you look at the trophy, it has a year and a name. That’s all. There’s no room to talk about the length of rough or the condition of greens or if the fairways were hard or soft. In the end none of that matters. The score is what matters.”
Beyond the events of one week in June 2015, Chambers Bay’s legacy is reflected by how it continues to serve the community. Thanks in part to the $134 million that the U.S. Open generated for the local economy, the course has expanded its mission in serving the residents of Pierce County.
Chambers Bay’s commitment to junior golf is unparalleled among championship-caliber courses. In 2018, it hosted a regional Drive, Chip and Putt qualifier and a PGA Junior Golf Camp. It is also the only U.S. Open course that is affiliated with a First Tee section, hosting year-long programming for the South Puget Sound chapter.
Chambers Bay also participates in the Washington State Golf Association’s “Youth On Course” initiative that provides youths ages 6 to 18 an opportunity to play there for $5. Additionally, three colleges and two high schools use Chambers Bay as their home course.
The area continues to attract thousands of visitors each day. The golf course may be the main source of revenue, but it sits within a larger 930-acre site known as Chambers Creek Regional Park, which has 4 miles of walking trails, 2.5 miles of publicly-accessible shoreline, a playground, soccer fields and two large meadows.
“It isn’t just a golf course, it truly is a community treasure,” said Gilhuly, who lives in Gig Harbor, 10 miles north of Chambers Bay. “There is something for the whole family to do here and the best part is that it’s all open to the public.”
Changes have been made to the greens, too. In 2017, three of them (Nos. 7, 10 and 13) were resodded with poa annua. The results were so overwhelmingly positive that Chambers Bay, in consultation with Pierce County and the USGA, converted the remaining 15 putting surfaces to poa annua in October 2018.
When the 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship is conducted at Chambers Bay, it will join an elite list of facilities – including The Olympic Club, Winged Foot and Pinehurst – that will have hosted the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championships.
“There is a lot of excitement for the 2021 Four-Ball,” said Gilhuly. “This community can’t wait to host another national championship. We take a tremendous amount of pride in this course.”
Mike Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.