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Chambers Bay vs. Pacific Dunes: Which golf links is better for the traveling golfer?

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort - Pacific Dunes Course - Hole 4
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Before Chambers Bay came along, the American course getting all the rave was Pacific Dunes at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

Chambers Bay was awarded the 2015 U.S. Open, Pacific Dunes is ranked as high as the best golf course in America. So which new northwest links is better?

The USGA has spoken, awarding Chambers Bay a U.S. Open Championship before it was even out of its terrible twos.

It's a big reason why Chambers Bay is currently America's most hyped golf course, on a level we haven't seen in quite some time. It takes that title from another one of the Pacific Northwest's gems when it opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the southern coast of Oregon, which quickly unseated Pebble Beach Golf Links in Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses You Can Play in America" in 2006 and in 2008. Chambers Bay debuted in eighth position.

The two courses are linked for many reasons. They have the same management company, Kemper Sports, and both have achieved success by striving to offer the pure links golf experience, but they come with a wealth of differences as well.

In our WorldGolf.com exit polls, those who review Chambers Bay have a tendency to compare the course to the courses down the coast at Bandon Dunes.

Wrote 11-handicapper Joel Grant in February of 2008:

"For those of us who live near Seattle and for whom Bandon Dunes is a long trip, we now have a taste of Bandon in the Puget Sound."

Fellow 8-handicapper Bob Mart proclaimed in June of 2009: "(Chambers Bay) is better than any course at Bandon Dunes, and better than Pebble Beach."

Colin Campbell, a 7-handicap wrote: "I grew up playing in Scotland's west coast: Turnberry, (Royal) Troon, etc. (Chambers Bay) is the BEST US Links golf course I have ever played. Bandon is overpriced and over-rated for golf (great for social)."

Interesting comments coming from a U.K. golfer who has played the true links of Scotland, because Chambers Bay and Pacific Dunes are quite different.

The better course vs. the better links

If the question comes down to which is the better pure golf links, there can be no debating Pacific Dunes' superiority.

While Chambers Bay has been sculpted out of a gravel mine by Robert Trent Jones Jr. into the mold of a links (with a price tag reportedly around $20 million), Pacific Dunes was found on some of North America's most dramatic pure links land, where little land shaping was needed and natural bunkers abounded.

WorldGolf.com reader "dyakimec" agrees with me that calling Chambers Bay a "pure links course" is a bit of a stretch, commenting on Jason Scott Deegan's recent course review of Chambers Bay: "Yes, Chambers Bay does possess links like qualities, but true links golf cannot be 'manufactured.'"

As for being a complete golf course on the other hand, one that can be played by both 20-handicappers and the plus-5 PGA Tour pros during the U.S. Open, Chambers Bay gets the nod. The course can play over 7,500 yards for the pros but can be quite playable from five other sets of tee boxes and lacks the kind of round-killing bunkering that can't be avoided by high-handicappers on Pacific Dunes. The USGA is especially intrigued by Chambers flexibility with tee boxes, so look for them to make full use of the creativity.

Chambers Bay vs. Pacific Dunes as a golf experience: The verdict

As an 8-handicap player who isn't counting on qualifying for the 2015 U.S. Open or 2010 U.S. Amateur, I would rather play Pacific Dunes than Chambers Bay for a variety of reasons.

I find the design of Pacific Dunes to be far more complex. I admire the alternate ninth green and 10th tee boxes daily, to the imaginative routing on Pacific Dunes, with its seven par 4s on the front nine and four par 3s on the back nine. The par-4 16th is a rare hole that plays easier into the wind than downwind, thanks to the delicacy of the approach shot.

Scratch players are probably going to opt for Chambers Bay, and part of that is because Pacific Dunes doesn't set up a back set of tees for daily play, even though there are some hidden tee boxes that could stretch the course out. For pace of play reasons, these tees are generally not used. But for 95 percent of golfers, Pacific Dunes' daily setup is tough enough.

So, all things being equal, I'd opt for a round on Pacific Dunes over Chambers Bay. That said, getting to Bandon Dunes ain't easy, and I'll bet I'm in the Seattle-Tacoma region again before I'm "passing through" Bandon.

Chambers Bay vs. Pacific Dunes: Tale of the Tape

Green fees: Chambers Bay (non-resident) - $149-169; Pacific Dunes - $210-265.

Course yardage: Chambers Bay - 7,585, 76.9/135 (middle tees: 6,541, 72.2/129); Pacific Dunes - 6,633, 71.9/129 (middle-back tees: 6,142 69.3-125).

Getting to Chambers Bay: Chambers Bay is located near Tacoma in University Place, a half hour's drive south from Sea-Tac Airport.

Getting to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: Bandon is a five-hour drive from Portland, 2.5 hours from Eugene. Direct flights are available from San Francisco and Portland via United Airlines to North Bend (OTH) Airport which is 20 minutes north of the resort.

More photos

Chambers Bay Golf Course in Tacoma - Hole 15Chambers Bay Golf Course - Hole 10Pacific Dunes Golf Course - Hole 16

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Thunderdome

    GolferWriterGuy wrote on: Aug 26, 2009

    To me it's not so much a Thunderdome-style showdown about which is better as much as it is a question of what are you looking for?
    If you want a vacation and a fully-immersive environment, go to Bandon Dunes. The caddies, the scotch, it's all a good time. The resort is insular in its remoteness. And, while Pacific Dunes is an outstanding course, there are a few boring holes and it looks and plays just like its older sibling. At Pacific you will be forced to play more foreign links style golf than at Chambers Bay where you can play more of your regular game.
    While I've only played Chambers Bay once, I preferred the course in terms of the experience of playing golf. There are more memorable holes and unique views -- think lunar landscape meets Roman ruins -- at Chambers than at Pacific. Yes, the conditioning is still immature and the greens were a little rough, but the routing, elevation changes and various shots are worthwhile. Chambers is more of a day trip but it's also cheaper and more accessible for more people.
    If you want a tremendous day, Chambers Bay is a must play. If you want a weekend with your buddies, make the trip to Bandon. If you really want to get down to a "winner," while both are great I was more immediately impressed by Chambers Bay in terms of the golf course itself (not the whole experience of lodging, meals, pro shop, etc. where Bandon is the clear winner).


  • chambers bay vs. pacific dunes

    reid wrote on: Aug 25, 2009

    This is a tough question to answer. From the traveling golfer's perspective, I suppose I'd have to go with Pacific Dunes. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort's accomodations and service create a comfy environment, and there is enough golf at the resort to keep one busy for a week.
    There's no comfy confines surrounding, or near Chambers Bay. It's a course that should top the list for traveling golfers in the PNW, but by itself isn't a reason to take a vacation.
    In terms of the golf, Chambers Bay is extraordinary, but it is also very young and has some maturing to do, whereas Pacific Dunes is hitting it's stride in terms of playability and conditioning. And the penalty for bad swings is definitely higher at Pacific Dunes than Chambers Bay.
    The views at Chambers Bay are awesome, but the views at Pacific Dunes are sublime. It's the difference between the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean.
    For me, the waves on the Pacific and its resulting sea mist are magical, and although I live on the Sound and love it, would prefer to vacation in magical spots like Bandon.
    Here's a link to a review from a recent 'guys trip' to the resort: www.reidwegstravel.com