As golf season winds down in Buffalo-Niagara, our attention turns to domes, trips and television. You have domes and your remote control device within reach, so leave the rest to me. I’m going to give offer up a nine-part series (this is part six) on eclectic eighteens across the USA. The only thread tying them together is my having played them. That, and the fact that all of the courses are worthwhile. You’ll never play them all in one sweep, as I once did, but when you find yourself in these regions, know that these courses are worth your money and your best game.
The day we played Chambers Bay was unlike any you saw last June at the US Open, save perhaps for the wind. The course had taken on a lot of water in the days leading up to our visit and was actually soft in spots. Getting virtually zero roll on tee shots had us considering a move to the white tee decks. The 50 mph winds cemented that decision for us. Chambers plays about 6000 yards from the whites, usually a distance we don’t consider. On this day, that 6000 played like 6800, with the vagaries of the powerful breezes added in.
They say that you don’t truly see the hills and undulations of Augusta National on television. I guarantee that you don’t have any idea how severely uphill and downhill the shots and walks of Chambers Bay are. The Scrambler and I had walked 36 holes at Bandon Dunes on four consecutive days, leading up to our round at Chambers. Our single round of 18 holes was more demanding and tiring than any day of 36 in Oregon.
For the first time in my golf photography career, I eschewed the use of my good Canon for my iPhone. The rationale was simple: it threatened to rain. I have a waterproof case for my phone, but not for my camera. The images you see below are a bit grainy, a bit rough (partly due to the omnipresent, green hydro-seed used to regenerate grass growth in sensitive areas) and 100% reminiscent of the conditions of the day. This was not pretty golf, not comfortable golf. In essence, this was our US Open experience. We’ve played Bethpage Black and survived. Same goes for Merion East. No course threw us against the mat, through the ropes, like Chambers Bay. I had posted rounds of 74 at Bandon Trails, 76 at Pacific Dunes, and 79 at Old Macdonald a few days before. On this forsaken day in Washington state, I didn’t make my first par until the 16th hole…and I sincerely tried!
Chambers Bay was unrelenting, unforgiving, and unconquerable. I suspect that it is not always like this. There are warm, calm days on many occasions in the northwest, and on those days, Chambers must be “gettable.” It is days like the one we experienced that put a ring on one’s love affair with golf. If you persevere, then you belong to the game.
Bandon Trails is the course that stands apart from the others at the resort, even the par-three Bandon Preserve. The reason is that it’s never on the ocean and the two holes (one and eighteen) with some proximity to the great waters, don’t access the feel. That said, Bandon Trails may be my favorite course at the resort. I’m reminded of the Far Side cartoon of the gorillas, in which one comments about his love for bananas, with no substance to support this adoration. I just like Bandon Trails. It might be the diversity of corridors and surfaces, or the elevation swings, or the simple fact that it has an isolated sensibility.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (one never knows how much is Coore and how much is Crenshaw) were tasked with a piece of land that features the most revered space on the property, the elevated point where Mike Keiser is said to have made the decision to purchase the property and save golf in the USA. There’s a photo from it in the sequence below. The irony is, it doesn’t show Trails in nearly the light such hallowed ground deserves. Perhaps that is appropriate. C&C use vertical fairway ridges that hide split fairways uniquely well on Bandon Trails. From the drop-shot, par three second hole to the uphill climb of the par-five sixteenth (a hole that eats my lunch each time I play it), and with the apparent-dogleg par three 12th alongside the majestic, par-four 13th leading into the home stretch, Bandon Trails never bores you with the same look, the same shot, consecutively or even twice.