The story behind Chambers Bay’s gargantuan dunes

John Ladenburg gets the credit for conceiving the whole idea of Chambers Bay in the first place. It is, essentially, his baby. Pierce County deserves recognition for allowing Ladenburg’s vision to become a reality. Management company KemperSports has directed operations since before the course opened and has played a vital role in preparing Chambers Bay for the big show. Robert Trent Jones Jnr and his able associates Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi also deserve great acclaim for dreaming up the 18 distinctive holes over which the US Open will be contested. 

One team of professionals, whose contribution to the course’s development cannot be overestimated, but which has received precious little attention in the eight years since Chambers Bay opened, is the crew that actually built it – the 100 or so surveyors, drainage experts, shapers, earthwork specialists, screening professionals, and laborers of Heritage Links. 

Based in Houston, Texas and a division of large industrial contractor Lexicon Inc., Heritage Links is headed by Jon O’Donnell, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and a former intern on the maintenance staff at Augusta National. The company’s 65 plus machines moved 1.5million cubic yards of sand and dirt to create the huge mounds and ridges that separate and characterise the holes.

According to O’Donnell, the most difficult hole to build was the uphill par-5 8th. “There are some pretty steep slopes there, especially to the left of the fairway. The guys in the dozers needed to wear their seat belts for that one.” It is the wonderful par-4 10th though that O’Donnell and his Heritage Links staff should be most proud of though (right). Framed by two massive sand hills on either side of the fairway, the hole runs slightly uphill and directly toward Puget Sound. “That area was just one massive pile of sand when we arrived,” says O’Donnell. “We basically dug right up the middle of it to create the valley.”


The views are natural but the sand hills on the 10th were created by earth movers.The dunes provide definition and a stadium-style viewing platform around the 10th green.

Nick Wright