The man who designed Chambers Bay

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Robert Trent Jones Jnr beat 55 other applicants to land the design job at Chambers Bay – his first course to host a major. Golf World caught up with him ahead of the championship.

You set out to design a municipal course, but the USGA quickly got involved. How did that alter your approach?
Our thinking never really changed from our mission of trying to design the best possible golf course for the site. The RFP called for a 27-hole municipal course. We provided that, but also sent a plan for a course with 18 world-class holes that could challenge the world’s best and offer the best possible experience
to amateurs. 

Set up for a US Open, Chambers Bay could be absurdly difficult. Do you fear it becoming unplayable?
The line between difficult and unplayable is indeterminate and drawn with invisible ink. And I have no idea where it’s located. We designed a three-dimensional links. The fourth dimension of wind and weather is beyond anyone’s control. We provided the USGA with a grand design, and we made the refinements they requested after the 2010 US Amateur. They oversaw preparation for the US Open and will be in charge of the set-up. If the course is set up to play a certain way and a squall rolls in, it could transform the links into a harsher playing field.
I’m only concerned about one thing that’s out of my control. We advised that the fescue rough not be fertilised. Fescue is meant to be a hungry grass that grows tall and wispy. You’re meant to be able to find your ball and get your club through it. When greenkeepers prepare for the Open they let the fescue get lean. For whatever reason, the far rough at Chambers Bay was fertilised during the winter and now it’s thick and robust and not at all in keeping with links tradition. That caught us by surprise.

Will Chambers Bay favour any particular type of player?
I don’t think you can easily categorise golfers. My sense, though, is that the winner of this year’s US Open will be a strong player who can make the long march that characterises all US Opens. It will most likely be a player with patience, skill, and imagination who possesses both an aerial and ground game and who knows how to use the trampoline effect of fescue grass. Robotic pros who insist on hitting every shot long, straight and high will probably not succeed and may blame the course. But the player who can use the topography, the ramps, and slopes, and who can really play creatively, will love it and do very well.

Click here to read our full review of Chambers bay and the backstory to it hosting the 2016 US Open.

Nick Wright