CHAMBERS BAY, Scotland – OK, it’s not really Scotland, but parts of Pierce County’s challenging new golf course in University Place feel like it.
And parts have that treacherous Pebble Beach/Torrey Pines feel of golfing along the edge of oceanfront cliffs.
And, in some places, it feels as if you’re playing Bedrock Country Club – adjacent to the rock quarry where Fred Flintstone worked.
What the soon-to-open (June 23) Chambers Bay course doesn’t feel like is Tacoma. Nor does it feel like any golf experience you can find in this region.
The course along the Narrows opened for a media preview Friday afternoon. And the Soundview Trail, a walking/biking path nearby, opens to the public today.
The Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course is on land reclaimed from a former sand and gravel quarry. It has some drawbacks: It will be expensive (green fees from $65 to $150), a serious challenge to play (a slope of 130 from what would be the typical “blue” tees), and it’s a walk-only course that features some steep climbs.
But when Pierce County executive John Ladenburg said, at the start of the project, “we challenged our team to build a best-of-the-best type of course,” I think he can feel as if his challenge has been met.
Although there’s no clubhouse and parts of the course are still getting shaped up, it’s already an impressive facility.
Because it is built on a sand base along the water, it’s considered a links-style course, and likened most closely to the renowned Bandon Dunes facility in Oregon.
So, you won’t have to worry about hitting out of the trees ... there’s only one (1) on the entire course. But if you get off the fairways, you’re in waste bunkers or dodging rough patches and “moguls” of sand.
There’s considerable terrain and very few flat holes. The landing areas off the tee are generally wide, but the fairways narrow on the way to the greens, requiring some of the links-mandated bump-and-run techniques.
When the designer questioned the Pierce County folks if they thought there would be sufficient wind coming up through the Narrows to provide an atmospheric challenge for golfers, he was asked if he ever saw the footage of the old Narrows Bridge being blown into tangled wreckage.
“Oh, OK,” he said ... supposedly.
Much of the appeal or any of these higher-end courses has to be visual. Almost every tee box at Chambers Bay features a view of the Sound, or the Olympic Mountains, or Fox Island. Every hole is entirely distinct and memorable.
Most fairways are separated by dunes, making it rare that you see other golfers on other holes and creating the feel of having the course to yourself.
And long? Even from the “white” tees, there are five par 4s of more than 425 yards.
No. 1 leads straight down toward the Sound ... 465 yards for a par-4. No. 7 is called “Humpback,” but it should be named Camelback because of the two large outcrops in the middle of the fairway just short of the green. Very different and distinctive.
No. 9 is a dramatic par-3 with a precipitous vertical drop over the quarry-scarred terrain. No. 10 may have the narrowest fairway leading up to a green you’ve seen, and the last few holes swing along the Sound-front railroad tracks and then back up past quarry remnants that look like some huge industrial Stonehenge.
By allowing no carts, the planners have eliminated a number of rounds that some seniors might otherwise play.
But playing a course without cart paths also creates a different, more natural, feel for those who are able to walk it.
Golfers can carry their own bags or hire a caddy for an additional $35 per round plus tip.
Some who have walked the course warned me that it made for a strenuous round. I’m no marathon runner by any means, but I didn’t find it prohibitive. Of course, somebody else was carrying my bag, too.
County officials already have made clear their desires to woo a big-name tournament to Chambers Bay, shooting as high as a U.S. Open.
That seemed like big talk to me. But after playing it, and seeing the legitimate length built into the layout (almost 7,600 yards from the championship tees), it looks like this place could be challenging enough for the big boys without tricks or gimmickry.
It would be a vastly different track for the pros, the scenery would be outrageous for a telecast, and the fact that only a fraction of the county land available is under development means there would be room for all the other demands like sponsors’ tents, parking, etc.
Developers agree that Chambers Bay is not for everybody. Many can’t afford it. Many can’t walk it. And whether this will turn into a viable financial investment for the county is a topic for later discussion.
But here’s what I can tell you, after playing Chambers Bay and after having seen a number of the top courses around the country: Pierce County has created a golf course that is unique, diverse, challenging, and first-rate in all regards.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440