And now we go to the scorecards.
In the matchup of U.S. Open course hosting the national open for the first time — Chambers Bay from 2015 vs. this year’s site, Erin Hills — the winner by split decision is … Erin Hills.
The reason Erin Hills gets the nod is because it holds the single-biggest advantage in plush conditions. The greens were perfect and not cauliflower, like Rory McIlory called the ones at Chambers Bay during the 2015 U.S. Open.
But what Chambers Bay did have was final-day suspense with a first-rate leaderboard that took it to the wire. Jordan Spieth ended up winning on the finishing hole over Dustin Johnson.
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Both venues are certainly deserving of another U.S. Open or two in the future.
But long term? Chambers Bay is the better site. And here are five reasons why:
NOTHING LIKE IT
The most influential leader in the United States Golf Association is executive director Mike Davis, who sees the golf landscape much differently than most.
When Davis visited the sand-and-gravel pit that was to become Chambers Bay in 2006, he instantly fell for its vast potential.
And when Robert Trent Jones Jr. announced he was building a links-style course, Davis’ mind began racing over all the options with which he could tinker in a championship set-up.
You can go through all the other courses — Oakmont, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Shinnecock Hills, and yes, Erin Hills — and none invite a style of play Chambers Bay does.
It’s because none of those courses can sustain fast-and-firm conditions as easily as Chambers Bay.
That sits as one of the ultimate perks with Davis, who time and time again said he loves seeing the ground game of links golf incorporated in a national open.
THE BEST WIN ON IT
Even in its test run at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, the best player in the world, Peter Uihlein, won the tournament.
Five years later, the stars of professional golf came to the forefront to produce a dramatic Sunday finish. McIlroy, despite his feelings about the greens, lit up the course in a charge up the leaderboard. So did Louis Ooosthuizen.
In the end, Spieth — who earlier in the year captured the Masters — won when he birdied the 18th hole, a par 5. Johnson three-putted on the same hole for par to lose by one stroke. (He somewhat made up for it the next year, winning the U.S. Open at Oaklmont).
Compare that to when Kelly Kraft defeated Patrick Cantlay (a star amateur at the time) to win the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills.
And look what happened Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open. The giants of the sport were nowhere to be found, and up-and-comer Brooks Koepka made sure this would not be a suspenseful finish with his run of birdies midway through the back nine.
THE ‘WOW’ FACTOR
The views of fescue-lined rolling hills at Erin Hills, with bordering marsh lands, were stunning.
But they don’t move the needle quite like Chambers Bay.
It starts with the second you descend into the bowl where the University Place course sits — Mount Rainer off in the distance in the east, and Puget Sound flanking the property in the west.
In terms of golf architecture, Erin Hills is a challenging collection of 18 holes. Not one of them stands out like a shiny penny.
The downhill par-3 ninth hole is, by all accounts, considered the course’s signature hole. But is it as striking as the 15th hole at Chambers Bay where “Lone Fir” sits, and the water inlet looms in the background?
Erin Hills is pleasant to the eyes.
Chambers Bay pops.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
To get to Erin Hills, you travel west out of Milwaukee, then take a two-lane road for the remaining of 35 miles to reach the remote course in the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin.
To get to Chambers Bay, you never leave the Seattle-Tacoma megalopolis, eventually being dropped off at the one of the many entrances to the University Place course.
Take any shuttle from one of the parking lots around Milwaukee, eventually you will ask yourself this question, “Why did they build this way out here?”
Take any shuttle in the Seattle-Tacoma area, you ask, “How many Starbucks will I pass by to get there?”
This isn’t an earth-shattering revelation: Patrons like options away from the course. The greater Seattle-Tacoma area gives them more opportunities than Milwaukee.
The USGA prefers it that way, too.
In June in the Northwest, you can usually bet on two things happening – rain or sun.
During that same time in the Midwest, you know a thunderstorm will eventually hit the area. Could be a few times, in fact. Just make sure and bring an umbrella, windbreaker and lots of extra shirts.
In 2015, it was a week of uninterrupted sun that made Chambers Bay very firm and crusty. The USGA knew what it would be dealing with all week, too, and could manage the course conditions accordingly.
This week, the nightly thunderstorms brought so much rain to Erin Hills, the USGA was left helpless on getting the course to play fast. Hence, the scores were ridiculously low.
Yes, Mother Nature does have a say.