Chambers Bay back in USGA rotation; Open may remain elusive
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — After teaming with his playing partner to shoot 67 on a cloudy afternoon, Joe Greiner praised the golf course he spent five hours traversing. He loved the setting, loved the variety and was especially complimentary of the greens.
Considering his everyday job involves hiking around some of the finest golf courses, Greiner knows what ingredients make a quality setup for the best golfers in the world.
“The views are great. Greens were good. It was awesome,” said Greiner, whose everyday job is caddying for Max Homa on the PGA Tour.
Greiner was speaking about Chambers Bay, the polarizing waterside golf course that hosted the 2015 U.S. Open. The layout is remembered as much for its baked, burned-out greens as for Jordan Spieth’s victory.
Chambers Bay returned to the United States Golf Association rotation this week, hosting the Amateur Four-Ball championship, one of the most prominent events at the course since Spieth raised the championship trophy on the 18th green six years ago.
This time, golfers faced a course with green fairways cutting through wispy dunes, and more importantly flawless putting surfaces after the course changed its greens in 2018 from fine fescue grass to poa annua.
The improved conditions of the course — greens specifically — and the continued connection with the USGA always leads to the next question: Could Chambers Bay get another chance at the U.S. Open?
Greiner, who reached match play before losing in the round of 32, paused.
“I think it could come back here. With the greens like this it definitely could,” said Greiner who used the yardage book of Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller from 2015. “It’s hard, though. I don’t know. I think it could.”
The 2015 U.S. Open was, in many ways, a smashing success. The first time the event was planted in the Pacific Northwest it drew massive golf-hungry crowds. But U.S. Open courses regularly teeter on the edge and a stretch of unseasonably warm and dry weather pushed Chambers Bay to its limits.
The fescue greens were the most glaring issue and eventually led to them being replaced by more manageable poa annua greens in 2018.
“The poa, it’s just a lush putting surface. You get down there on your hands and knees there’s a lot of blades per square inch on there,” Chambers Bay general manager Zac Keener said. “It’s got a nice uniform look. I think a lot of players, it’s kind of what they come to expect. I think that was a little bit of the shock in 2015.”
Brian Humphreys paired with Joe Neuheisel — son of former college football coach Rick Neuheisel — at the Amateur Four-Ball this week. He was among a few in the field who had played on the old fescue greens during the 2017 Pacific Coast Amateur.
“It definitely makes it different,” Humphreys said. “I’d say the surfaces is not quite as linksy. It’s a little bit more receptive to shots. They can still get them firm and playing at like a championship level where it’s testing approach shots into the greens and stuff. But overall, it’s just more fair on putts.”
Clearly the USGA still sees Chambers Bay as a championship venue. It was announced Monday as the host for the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur next August. There continue to be rumblings about a future U.S. Women’s Open, which currently isn’t scheduled beyond 2025 at Erin Hills, another U.S. Open host that received mixed reviews.
The Amateur Four-Ball seemed a perfect re-entry into the USGA rotation. It’s a relaxed event where top high school and college stars can mix with middle-aged amateurs, all getting a chance to play for a championship. Families walked alongside the groups down the fairways, complete with kids doing cartwheels.
Even names familiar from other sports can end up being competitors, like former NFL running back Danny Woodhead, who turned his focus to golf after retiring in 2018.
“I remember just how hard they had it (in 2015). Like it was like, concrete back then, and obviously the greens were borderline concrete too and a little bumpy,” Woodhead said. “But this is one of the coolest courses I’ve played, and I’ve been fortunate to play some really, really cool courses.”
There are still changes to be made to the functionality of the golf course for fans should a major event ever return. Bottlenecks and rolled ankles among spectators were common issues in 2015 and still need solutions.
Some of those changes need to be done no matter. Some would be contingent on the U.S. Open ever returning, which considering the course was built specifically with hosting multiple championships in mind, will hang over the golf course until it happens.
For now, it’s events like the Amateur Four-Ball and the Women’s Amateur to satisfy the appetite.
“I think they’re just excited to be able to come back be able to set this golf course in a way that can really for them demonstrate what can be done here,” Keener said.
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