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World's leading stars are facing a real uphill battle


Robert Trent Jones

Robert Trent Jones

Robert Trent Jones

Chambers Bay golf course will never be forgotten in US Open history - and I say that confidently days before a ball has been struck in anger in the 115th staging of this great championship.

Visually, it's a stunning piece of historic real estate, as they say Stateside, and it will offer a feast of visual images for the television producers.

The waters of Puget Sound were calm yesterday morning, the course was bathed in sunshine, temperatures were around 21 degrees Celsius and fans arrived early to sample the atmosphere before the real action begins on Thursday.

So far so good. And then, from the first tee, you look around at the vast acreage, the 'elevations', which is a nice word for climbs of up to 1,500 feet in some places, and the vastness of the whole place.

High on the hills in the distance, all kinds of structures stand out like old-West forts.

They function as TV commentary positions, corporate hospitality pavilions, and various other temporary buildings, offering fantastic views, particularly for the corporate guests.

Down the first hole, which can measure either 496 yards as a par four or 598 yards as a par five, various groups of players are going through their measuring and evaluating routines.

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They appear to be a mile away, such is the drop in elevation.

The scale is huge, the walks arduous, even for those determined and fit enough to get around the 18 holes as best they can.

It's hard to find an exact comparison with a course on our side of the world.

Anyone who knows Celtic Manor in Wales, the 2010 Ryder Cup venue, will remember that the course is situated in a valley and you get great views on the descent to the clubhouse and course.

Chambers Bay has that effect in spades but the hilly climbs and distances involved in negotiating their passage around the links ensures that players and spectators will find the physical effort very demanding.

Portrush golfer Graeme McDowell had a practice round on Sunday and he discovered he walked seven kilometres on the front nine alone.

Older players will struggle mentally and physically.

Every player will be challenged to keep the emotions in balance, because there's a built-in frustration factor of links bounces, sidehill lies, and tricky rolls of putts on the greens.

Fun? Maybe not so much for most of the players.

Drama? That's pretty well assured, but either way, this is a US Open with a difference.

But how did it come about? And why here, why now?

Here is a Q and A that hones in on the background to Chambers Bay 2015.

Q: Why is this an historic event?

A: Because the US Open, in 114 previous stagings, has never been held in the Pacific Northwest region. That may not seem like much to Europeans, but it's a big move for the USGA to take their top Major out of the East or Mid-West.

Q: Why did Chambers Bay get the honour of staging this US Open?

A: Space is one reason. It's not just about the course but also the huge infrastructure that goes with staging this Championship, including availability of hotels and a major airport. Chambers Bay, situated in University Place, Pierce County, is only 45 minutes away from Seattle.

Q: What was there before the golf course was built?

A: 950 acres of an abandoned rock quarry set alongside the waters of Puget Sound where the Steilacoom, Puyallup and Nisqually Indian tribes roamed and where the first European settlers arrived in 1832. Pierce County took ownership 20 years ago.

Q: Who had the vision to change it into a golf course?

A: A divine madness inspired John W Ladenburg when he took over as Pierce County Executive in 2001. He wanted to bring golf tourism and expanded revenue to the area and saw potential in Chambers Bay. Later he formed the ambition to bring the US Open there.

Q: Was he hailed as a prophet in his own land?

A: Not for a long time. Ladenburg's ideas generated much criticism amid fears by that it would be a costly waste, but it ended well, as he recently received the 2015 Visionary Award from Travel Tacoma/Pierce County.

Q: Who designed the course?

A: Robert Trent Jones Junior, designer of over 250 courses worldwide.

Q: Why links and not traditional tree-lined parkland American courses?

A: The climate in this area is akin to Britain and Ireland - generally mild, with no extremes. The land was receptive to fescue grasses which we know well in Irish links. Trent Jones began work in 2006, and the course, built on 250 acres, opened in 2007 as a public links.

Q: What does Trent Jones say about the challenge for the pros this week?

A: "It will take every ounce of their professional ability" - ouch!

Q: Are there any Irish connections with Chambers Bay?

A: Chambers himself. The Bay is named after Thomas M Chambers, born in Ireland, who emigrated to America in 1816, and became a businessman and later a Judge. He died in 1876. Closer to home, John Clarkin, of Wicklow-based Turfgrass, was commissioned to advise on appropriate grasses and the proper grow-in regimen to ensure the course would play firm and fast like an Irish or British links.

Q: What's the deal with holes that will play to a different par during the Open?

A: Quirkiness in the extreme, arguably a bit over the top considering the championship is traditionally set up as the sternest of tests. This is another talking point, with holes one and 18 interchangeable as either par four or par fives, and the teeing ground on the par-three ninth is 100 feet above the green. The ninth has an alternative lower tee that could be used this week.

Q: How much is the US Open worth in revenues?

A: Estimates are that it will bring in excess of $150million to the area. The USGA alone has booked 1,200 hotel rooms for their personnel.