In 2006, all United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis saw Chambers Bay Golf Course as was a former gravel quarry in physical upheaval.
And now, he can actually see the fruits of his 2015 U.S. Open vision.
Davis and his staff, plus Pierce County and Kemper Sports Management officials, learned a lot about the fescue-layered, links-style 18-hole championship course at the test-run U.S. Amateur in 2010.
In the fall after that national championship, Davis and the USGA recommended more work on some of the holes — all in seven distinct phases.
Now that the inside-the-ropes renovation has been completed, the way the course is now open to the public is very much what the world’s best golfers will see when they embark on the University Place property in just more than two years.
“All the reports I am getting are very, very good,” Davis said. “I think we are in a very good place on where we need to be in terms of the golf course now.”
Alterations to 10 holes, ranging from tweaks to major overhauls, started in October 2011. Seven of the holes have new teeing grounds, which either lengthen the hole or drastically change the angle to the fairway.
“Chambers Bay has wonderful flexibility to it, and a lot of these changes had to do with giving us more choices during U.S. Open week depending on what kind of weather we might get, and how we want to (set) the course up,” Davis said.
Three of the last projects to be finished were arguably the biggest changes to the course:
• First and 18th holes: When Chambers Bay opened in 2007, the first hole was a long par 4, and the finishing 18th hole was a winding par 5.
For the U.S. Amateur, the USGA alternated par on both holes — where No. 1 could be a par 4 or par 5, and No. 18 could be a par 5 or par 4.
The idea was soundly ratified after the U.S. Amateur — so much that Davis plans on using it in the 2015 U.S. Open.
An additional tee box was built directly behind the caddie shack, which not only extends the No. 1 hole greatly in distance, it opens up great views of the surrounding Puget Sound behind the green.
“Moving the (first) tee back, it puts a completely different drive zone in play,” Davis said. “Now you are hitting on the upslope and not (getting) much release, and it’s a much longer shot to try and hit that green in two (shots).”
This strategy — changing par on a hole during a tournament — is unprecedented at a U.S. Open.
“At the end of it we are looking for the player who shoots the low score for 72 holes,” Davis said. “Par, in some ways, is a relative number. We are looking for low 72 holes — at 270 (strokes) or 275. Who cares what par is?”
• Ninth plays uphill and down: One of the biggest joy rides for golfers at Chambers Bay is watching their tee shots from the elevated ninth tee fall some 100 feet to the par-3 green.
But USGA officials noticed after the U.S. Amateur that all of the course’s par-3 holes traveled downhill. Davis wanted to change that — and discovered a different place for a ninth-hole tee box.
The new tee area sits 40 yards from the new tee at the first hole. From there, the hole plays 220 yards uphill.
“The way that green was designed, it receives played shots well in both directions,” Davis said.
• Seventh green rebuilt: This was easily the most work-intensive project, taking three months to design, reshape and reseed the landing area of this hole.
The primary aim was to flatten out certain parts around the green so approach shots from the fairway would hold.
The green was redesigned almost in a triangular shape with three distinct sectors. Also, the new green was shifted 15 feet south of the original and lowered by nearly five feet.
True to the course’s links-style nature, that green should now welcome low-trajectory or bump-and-run shots.
“The green is slower than the rest,” Chambers Bay general manager Matt Allen said, “but has wonderful turf health.”
As Davis notes, many of the changes were made with the U.S. Open in mind. Some of them, like No. 7, also improve daily play for the public.
Except for a new teeing area being built at No. 16 sometime next year, the remaining work focuses on gallery walkways and utility-vehicle runways, Davis said.
“I have my fingers crossed that this is going to be a spectacular U.S. Open,” Davis said. “It will be very different. These top-level touring pros, unless they have been down to Bandon Dunes, have never played a golf course on all fine fescue. Everyone thinks they play it at the British Open every year, but believe me, those greens are not all fine fescue.
“This is going to be very different, but a wonderful U.S. Open.”