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Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington encourages 'alternate' lingo as U.S. Open preparations continue

Wes GilbertsonBy Wes Gilbertson,
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Chambers Bay golf course - 10th hole
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The 10th hole at Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Wash. (Wes Gilbertson/TravelGolf)

TACOMA, Wash. -- You'll never convince golfers to stop muttering four-letter words under their breath after bad shots, but there's another term that is currently considered taboo at Chambers Bay.

Temporary.

As in, "temporary greens."

"We don't call them temporary greens," cautions the shuttle driver, taking a handful of golfers from the brand new practice facility to the first tee at the 7,585-yard track that will serve as site of the 2015 U.S. Open. "We call them alternate greens."

Moments later, the starter is singing the exact same tune.

"When I think of temporary greens," he says with a toothy grin, "I think of a bucket in a hole."

Temporary greens often live up to their awful reputation -- you know, an oversized hole cut out of a shaggy piece of fairway -- but that's not the case at Chambers Bay, the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that tumbles through an old gravel-and-sand quarry about an hour south of Seattle.

Chambers Bay: The course

On this day in late March, three holes -- no. 1, no. 7 and no. 13 -- are finishing on greens of the, uh, alternate variety. The new putting surface at the seventh hole won't open until next spring, but the rest of the dance-floor renovations should be complete by June 2012.

"We've got some really good feedback, frankly, about the putting quality of those alternate greens," said Matt Allen, the GM at Chambers Bay. "Everything is fescue, so you can just take a nice, dense piece of fairway turf and slowly take the mowing height down, and soon you've got a pretty nice putting green.

"And we've been able to creatively locate them near some of those fairway bunkers to create something that's visually interesting. It's certainly hard to explain to people as they're making a reservation how it compares to the typical temporary green experience."

It's not a typical temporary green experience.

The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay

It won't be a typical U.S. Open, either.

Situated on the shoreline of the Puget Sound and owned by Pierce County, Chambers Bay is one of the most linksy layouts on this side of the Atlantic. The 2015 U.S. Open will be firmer and faster than any other installment on record.

Chambers Bay hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur as a test event, and they're currently tweaking the design in response to what they learned from their first glimpse of the course in extreme tournament-type conditions.

With only five of the 312 entrants managing a sub-par round at Chambers Bay during the stroke-play portion of the amateur showdown, nobody is worried the course will be too easy for the pros. Long before former Oklahoma State star Peter Uihlein won the final match, the USGA had realized the dangers of allowing the ground to get too dry and firm. They'd also identified some slopes that didn't play quite as intended -- punishing good approach shots instead of rewarding them -- and those problem areas are now getting a makeover.

There's the rub.

With the exception of installing a gnarly pot bunker in the second-shot landing area of the 18th fairway, the changes at Chambers Bay are not necessarily designed to ensure the 2015 U.S. Open is a battle of attrition. Once the private jets have departed, the grandstands are dismantled and the ropes are down, this should also be a fair challenge for the rest of us.

"I think that's the irony," Allen said. "Most of these changes have been to soften the golf course."

Chambers Bay: The verdict

The jury is still out on this one.

Chambers Bay, a great golf course? Guilty as charged.

Chambers Bay, a great U.S. Open venue? We won't know that answer until the trophy is presented on June 21, 2015. (This would be an intriguing track for an 18-hole Monday playoff, but I digress.)

Whether it's a major championship or a just fall-series event, most weekend warriors love to tune into Golf Channel and be able to say, "Hey, I played that course!"

For a limited time at Chambers Bay, you can claim you helped test-drive the track for the first U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest. Since it's currently measuring a bit shorter than usual and the rough is still at reasonable levels, you might even be able to boast about your final tally.

"We're inviting and encouraging people to witness the transformation," Allen said. "I think people are intrigued. This is their first chance to play a golf course that's going to crown the national champion."

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Wes Gilbertson is a sports reporter and golf feature writer at the Calgary Sun. Living in Calgary, Alta., he trades his golf clubs for a hockey stick in the winter months. When the snow melts, he's living proof that thin mountain air doesn't turn everybody into a long-drive specialist. Follow Wes on Twitter at @GilbertsonGolf.

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

 
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