Washington golfers can’t wait to see what the world’s best players make of their state’s top-ranked course. The consensus of opinion during next year’s U.S. Open likely will be divided down the middle: half the field considering it a beautiful and magnificent test, the other half thinking it a strange and desolate place that might be better suited to dune buggies, mountain biking, or redevelopment.
Rest assured, anyone used to tight parkland courses with well-defined fairways and small, flat greens will look out across the Pierce County-owned facility, 40 miles south of Seattle, with wide, unblinking eyes. They will take in the panorama and wonder aloud, “What on earth…?”
In fact, their reaction on seeing Chambers Bay for the first time might not be dissimilar to that of Sam Snead, who, as he approached St. Andrews on the steam train ahead of the 1946 Open Championship, looked out the window and said of what was to be the venue for the upcoming tournament, that it looked like an “old, abandoned golf course.”
Now that the fescue covering the imposing sand hills has grown in and the tire tracks of the machines that piled the sand high have disappeared, Chambers Bay certainly does look old. But it definitely hasn’t been abandoned, recording an impressive 38,000-plus open-to-the-public rounds last year. The marketing department will tell you it is pure links golf, a claim sure to be debated for as long as the faux dunes line the broad fairways and ring the huge (7,000-square-foot average), heavily contoured greens. Many argue that because designer Robert Trent Jones II and his able associates Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi required more than 100,000 truckloads of sand and earth to transform this old gravel mine, and that 1.4 million cubic yards of soil were displaced, the purity of the links is questionable. These links were constructed, they say, not discovered.
But, as anyone fortunate to have played the course will tell you, Chambers Bay looks, sounds, smells, and, most importantly, plays like the genuine article. You play the ground game here, banking approaches off the slopes and never commenting on the outcome of a shot until it has come to a complete halt.
Jones and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, who together made several thoughtful and necessary modifications to the course following the 2010 U.S. Amateur—including the digging of a 15-foot-deep bunker 120 yards short of the final green—are both hoping the weather cooperates during the Open, “cooperating” meaning one day of warm and breezeless sunshine, two gray days with significant wind, and one of heavy rain and/or strong wind that separates the men from the boys.
If your visit coincides with that last type of day, you will come off the 18th green exhausted mentally and physically and in need of a good feed. You could do a lot worse than heading straight for the Chambers Bay Grill and ordering a Prime Rib Sandwich and pint of Chambers Bay 80 Schilling, brewed by Tacoma’s Harmon Brewery.
But for something truly special, drive 20 minutes north to 6th Avenue in Tacoma, where you will find Marrow, whose delicious, if slightly unconventional, entrees have been attracting great acclaim since Jaime Kay Jones opened her second Tacoma restaurant (Top of Tacoma is the other), along with Chef Kyle Wnuk, in August 2011.
The name, says Jones, makes a bold statement about the restaurant’s “less often encountered items.” “We practice nose-to-tail cookery,” she says. “This is food for adventurous foodies.”
The Roasted Bone Marrow (from the femur bone of a calf) with Chef’s Accoutrements and Toast is every bit as good as you’d hope the signature dish to be, while the Za’atar-Dusted Seared Ahi Tuna, Octopus Carpaccio, and Steak Poutine with Cheese Curds and Marrow Gravy are all worthy of their place on a very enticing menu.
One suspects Marrow will prove a very popular spot during the 2015 U.S. Open.
Tony Dear is a transplanted Englishman who now makes his home in Seattle.