Meehan: Chambers Bay experience lingers
I’m a lousy collector.
When I started traveling in this profession 25 years ago, I came up with the not-so-novel idea of purchasing T-shirts to denote visits to various stadiums, schools and cities. It didn’t last long, but I swear I have a Pocatello T-shirt somewhere in storage.
I moved on to hats, but prices soared a little too high for my taste. Still, I’m particularly proud of an old corduroy Los Angeles Rams hat. Then it was shot glasses. I’m solid there, approaching 175, with a few contributions from family and friends.
In the last decade or so, I’ve collected scorecards from golf courses. I have a 3-inch-thick pile on the dresser and a growing stack in the trunk of my car.
And on an obscure wall downstairs is my only framed scorecard – from Gozzer Ranch. I’ll admit a good score was one of the reasons I dashed to the craft store. A bigger reason was my playing partners that day made for a memorable 4 1/2 hours. The biggest reason was the course itself. I wanted to recall every swing, every hole on that fabulous track.
Gozzer is about to get some company on the wall. That’s an indication of my enjoyment from a tour of Chambers Bay last month.
I wrote about the true links course outside Tacoma for The S-R golf tab that came out last week, but it’s worthy of additional attention. It’ll become the center of the golf universe as site of the 2015 U.S. Open.
“We get calls all the time about places that think they might be a potential U.S. Open site,” Mike Davis, USGA senior director or rules and competitions, said in a news release. “When I got there, it was like, ‘Holy cow.’ My jaw dropped. It was beyond spectacular.”
It seemed fitting that we were greeted by a gray, overcast and chilly morning on the day of our round, conditions inherent to links golf as much as sandy terrain and high grass bordering the fairways.
But the key weather attribute was a steady breeze. I don’t know how it’ll be in June 2015, but our foursome dealt with a club-and-a-half wind. It was unsettling to say the least, reminiscent of playing Palouse Ridge in 25-mph gusts.
I hit driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 3-iron, 4-iron and 5-iron off non-par-3 tee boxes, trying to decode all the elements in play: wind, length of the hole, shape of the fairway, ideal landing spot, avoiding trouble, but mostly the wind on a course with 90 acres of sand and 95 acres of dunes.
“It’s part of the reason we encourage people to take caddies, particularly the first handful of times they play it, because they can really help you see those things,” Chambers Bay general manager Matt Allen said. “It’s a factor on the greens, too. When you get 10- to 20-mile-an-hour winds and you’re putting uphill and into the wind, it’s going to be that much slower. Courses that are exposed to the wind regularly can also develop some grain-like elements and sometimes it’ll break a way that doesn’t make sense.”
Crosswinds, which seemed to be the norm, often took 3-wood and 5-wood out of play because any shot with elevation was going to be redirected. Out came driver or low iron.
We played No. 16 at 323 yards and it took me forever to pull a club out on the tee box. Driver was too risky. Fairway woods would surely get pushed left into sand or high grass. I settled on a low 4-iron that barely caught the left side of the fairway after the wind was done with it. That was only half the battle as the second shot also required a low trajectory to a table-top green that is the smallest on the course.
After putting out, I noticed what looked like an add-on – a sliver of green in back perhaps 20 feet long, 13 feet wide. It would be next to impossible to keep a ball on that postage stamp from anything but a direct angle.
It was another example of Chambers Bay’s versatility. Peter Uihlein drove the 16th green to clinch the 2010 U.S. Amateur championship. The hole can stretch to 425 yards from the tips. The downhill par-3 15th measured 139 yards. It can play as long as 246 yards. Every hole has abundant options with the selection of the tee box and the placement of the pin.
“Part of what is so great about links golf and what the USGA loves about this site is these great matchups of hole locations and tees,” Allen said. “We’re building tees to suit a hole location.”
A colleague recently asked me which hole was my favorite. I was stumped for a second, then named at least five holes. Glancing at the scorecard as I finish this column and prepare to buy another frame, I could have easily kept going.