When you want to build the state's best golf course in University Place, do you gamble on the local up-and-comer to design it or do you secure the big-name national designer with a long record of success?
John Harbottle III of Tacoma or Robert Trent Jones II of Palo Alto, Calif.?
That's the question Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg should chew over before he meets with the County Council on Feb. 23. Ladenburg says he will make the selection before that meeting on the county's golf-as-economic-development strategy.
Forget the hand-wringing over whether our county has any business erecting another golf course. No, it shouldn't erect just another golf course. We have an overabundance of public and private courses where hackers like me have to kick the ball out of the short rough just to shoot 102.
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But we won't confuse the Chambers Creek Golf Course - on 200-plus acres of the 930-acre retired gravel mine along Puget Sound - with any old 18-hole golf course.
Western Washington has no other course that runs alongside Puget Sound. The views and topography mean the architect can create a PGA-quality course that will compete for top professional men's and women's tournaments. State and regional tournaments will want to host their multiday competitions there.
Add in amenities for a golf school, an intricate practice facility, a premier restaurant on the overlook, a public trail system, lookouts, picnic areas and beach access, an adjacent short nine-hole course and a series of small bungalows for rent during tournaments and other events.
Building Chambers Creek Golf Course, with its economic returns and environmental benefits, is a no-brainer.
Choosing its architect isn't as readily apparent. But on review, we have a clear front-runner.
For Harbottle, designing a course like this - in his own back yard - could make his architectural career.
The DNA in the Harbottle clan has its own golf gene. His father, John Jr., won the Washington Senior Men's Amateur title five times. His mother, Pat, won the 1955 U.S. Women's Amateur title.
With nearly 12 years in the course creation business, Harbottle's designs have shown up on several golf publications' lists of best new courses. Audubon International, watchdog of all things environmental, has bestowed its prized "Signature Status Award" on Harbottle's sensitive work.
Locally, you can play Harbottle's Olympic Course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton. If you travel to Reno, you can play another much-praised Harbottle layout at the Genoa Club at Genoa Lakes.
Golf Today magazine reports, "Harbottle is 'hot.'"
In January, TravelGolf.com profiled Harbottle, calling him "one of the hottest course architects on the West Coast."
In the battle to build the Links at Chambers Creek, you can't help but root for Harbottle as the sentimental favorite.
But when it comes to what we must have at Chambers Creek - nothing but the best on land perfectly situated for the best - you can't bank on sentiment.
Pierce County wants what's called in golf parlance "a links course" at Chambers Creek. For the pros, that means a course like the ones you'd find where golf originated in Scotland. No water in play except for a creek, perhaps.
Let's call it "The Links at Chambers Bay."
In his TravelGolf.com profile, Harbottle says much of his work reflects features of the old courses in Scotland and Ireland that he has visited. But he also acknowledges, "I don't think we've done any what you'd call true links courses."
For Trent Jones and his team of creative designers and strategists, their Chambers Creek creation would add another classic to a portfolio packed with classics. The two-generation firm has built some of the best golf courses - 200 of them in 30 countries on six continents - for 75 years.
The Trent Jones firm has built award-winning links courses. One of its most ambitious projects spread 378 championship golf holes over 100 miles in Alabama. The series of destination resorts, wildlife habitat and trails is called the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
While Harbottle won an award from Audubon International and committed to consulting with Audubon on Chambers Creek, Audubon International thinks so much of Trent Jones that it has joined his team on the Chambers Creek project. Audubon has collaborated with Trent Jones on five certified signature courses - second most of any design firm.
The Harbottle vs. Trent Jones differences show up in the inventiveness and sophistication of their draft proposals.
One reason Chambers Creek works perfectly as a golf resort is because the county's on-site sewage treatment plant can distribute treated gray water on the course rather than emptying it into Puget Sound.
Harbottle's proposal put the bulk of that water in lakes and ponds scattered across the course - undermining the pure "links course" appeal. Trent Jones, meanwhile, creates irrigation lakes and decoratively landscaped ponds bordered by public trails separate from the course.
Trent Jones invests in his own powerful marketing, starting with his name recognition, to bring worldwide attention to his creations.
This course needs worldwide attention and prestige to attract the professional tournaments that provide enough return on investment that will make Chambers Creek successful.
Done right, it will add another attraction to help Tacoma's convention center appeal to event planners looking for a primo recreational draw for their conventioneers.
Finally, you can see the difference in the two designers' bottom-line price tags, too. Harbottle's proposal estimates course construction costs at $6.9 million. Trent Jones' more comprehensive budget estimate comes in just under $14.4 million.
Didn't someone smart once say, "You get what you pay for?"