Chambers Bay, site of this year’s U.S. Open, has been around for just eight years. And the early reviews from many golfers in advance of Thursday’s first round were either diplomatic or worse.
Ian Poulter tweeted in late April that, after talking to several peers who had played the course, the conclusion was that it was a “complete farce.” Others specifically attacked the greens. This week during practice rounds at the course — which is visually stunning overlooking Puget Sound near Tacoma, Wash. — the sour attitudes were more tempered but still evident.
If that sounds at all familiar to local golf fans or simply local sports fans of a certain age, it should. Hazeltine National opened in Chaska to members in 1962. Eight years later, it hosted the U.S. Open. Chambers Bay is, in fact, the youngest course to host the Open since Hazeltine did 45 years ago.
Criticism of Hazeltine back in the day? It was not sugarcoated, at least as it came from eventual runner-up Dave Hill. He was quoted as saying this back then: “If I had to play this course every day for fun, I’d find another game. … Just because you cut the grass and put up flags doesn’t mean you have a golf course. What does it lack? Eighty acres of corn and a few cows.”
Whether it was a matter of the squeaky wheel getting greased, Hazeltine folks realizing they had a real problem on their hands or a little bit of both, the course later underwent a massive transformation. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., it was renovated by his son, Rees, before the 1991 Open returned.
Hill came back for a practice round in 1990 and was quoted in a Patrick Reusse column afterward as saying, “This is the first time I’ve played the course since 1970. It’s totally different. I got to tell you … I like it.”
That brings us back to Chambers Bay and another interesting parallel: that course, with just one tree, strange slopes and greens that have been described as being shaped like potato chips, was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. — the son of the original Hazeltine architect and brother of the man who rescued it.
Whether Chambers Bay will need similar renovation down the road remains to be seen.
There are still three days left to determine if these are just the grumblings of a few or symptoms of a course that will need some additional help over time.
“There’s a big difference between a 10-year-old course and one that’s 30 years old,” Hill said upon revisiting Hazeltine in 1990. “I never meant to offend the Hazeltine members. I meant to offend the United States Golf Association for putting the tournament on a course that wasn’t ready.”