Quite a lot of golf courses throughout the world call themselves a ‘links course’, but only a few really deserve to be called just that. Although a lot of golfers roughly know what is meant by a links course, only a few actually know what it means. Yes, it has something to do with dunes, sand, seaside grass, difficult rough and the fact that wind is always a factor…
Many famous golf courses in the world claim to be an actual links course, because of the fact that links golf is where it all began. Early golf developed on links land and in time the golf links were cultivated and the sand and burns (small rivers) that crossed the links were shaped into the hazards that they are today. Because of this, golf fanatics love to play links courses as it captures the essence of golf. The label ‘links’ attracts golfers, but too often courses do not check all the boxes to be called a pure links.
For instance, Pebble Beach Golf Links and Old Head Golf Links at Kinsale are located along the sea, they have a lot of links characteristics, but according to golf purists these are not actual links courses. And strange enough, some courses located hundreds of kilometers from a coast can have all of the characteristics of a seaside links except for proximity to water. The Sand Hills Golf Club, located in the midst of the Sand Hills of Nebraska, is such an example. Often such courses are referred to as an ‘inland links’.
What about Chambers Bay?
- A links course is built along a major body of water
- A links course usually has very few trees, if any
- A links course resides on sandy soil that drains easily
- A links course has a natural open layout where the native landscape, wind and rain play a major factor
- A links course features ground contours that provide remarkable inherent undulations and slopes in the fairways and greens
- A links course rarely has any internal water features
- A links course’s rough areas feature pure seaside grasses
Most of them are indeed real characteristics of a links course, but it is apparent that Chambers Bay does not mention the ones which do not apply. And they makes some claims which are very true for Chambers Bay, but not for a links course …The fact that Chambers Bay does not have any internal water is great, but that does not make you a links course.
So, perhaps it’s best to define what actually makes a links course a true links. On the internet a lot of definitions can be found, but the following definition looks pretty decent and complete:
Definition of a links course:
A links course is located alongside the sea, it consists of sandy soil and has little vegetation other than tall sea grasses and gorse, a hearty low-growing evergreen plant. The natural terrain is used to develop the golf holes. An important reason the game of golf originated on this type of land was because it suited play. Course designers had limited resources for moving earth to shape a course. Many of the bunkers were once natural windswept dunes. The layout of the holes is also part of a true links course, with the first nine going out to the farthest point from the clubhouse and the second nine bringing you back (out and in).
A modern take on the traditional definition
When Chambers Bay first opened in 2007, one of the promotional claims for the course was the opportunity to play pure links golf. From a marketing perspective this makes perfectly sense. The golf course is located on the edge of a large body of water, it is made entirely of fescue grass, it has a sandy soil and it only has one tree which never actually comes into play.
There is however one problem. Although it is a nice label for Chambers Bay, technically it is not true. Chambers Bay has got links properties, but it is a modern take on the traditional definition. Below a quick recap why Chambers Bay is not really a links course:
Natural terrain: Chambers Bay is not built in a natural terrain, it has been shaped and developed. During the construction of the course at Chambers Bay 1.4 million cubic yards (1.1 million m³) of dirt and sand (over 100,000 truckloads) were removed, cleaned off site, and returned to sculpt the course. At the time, it was still a working mine.
Layout: The layout of the holes at Chambers Bay is different from a true links layout. As mentioned before, normally the first nine holes go out to the farthest point from the clubhouse and the second nine bring you back. At Chambers Bay (see image) this is not the case.
Elevation: Links courses are built in natural dune areas which do not have major elevation changes (see Old Course at St. Andrews Links). Chambers Bay is full of ups-and-downs, including elevated tee shots on hole 5, 9 and 14, and the uphill, rising shots needed to play holes 4, 7, 12 and 13.
The Tree: This might be nitpicking, but the purist of links golf would not approve of Lone Fir, the ‘only’ tree at Chambers Bay. And, it is not that Chambers Bay was treeless to begin with. The only mature tree which survived was Lone Fir, a solitary, wind-warped fir. On a real links course, you will simply not find any tree and Chambers Bay course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr will agree on that point.
Chambers Bay is a bit weird
Does it matter that Chambers Bay is not a pure links course? According to us, no it doesn’t. The design brief for Chambers Bay was simple yet challenging: create a world-class golf course, enjoyable for golfers of any skill level, yet capable of hosting major championships and events. And Robert Trent Jones Jr pulled it off. Just 8 months after Chambers Bay opened, it was named ‘US Open’ venue for 2015, which is quite an achievement!
Many golfers, like Ian Poulter, have critized Chambers Bay. One thing is certain, the US Open at Chambers Bay will be different. Why? We will try to explain some of the weirdness at Chambers Bay…
For the first time holes (Nos. 1 and 18) will change par during the tournament. One day you might start off on a 598-yard par-5, with a friendly fairway and a birdie opportunity and the next day you might be trying to squeeze a tee shot in between a brutal fairway bunker and ankle-high rough on a 496-yard par-4 first.
Different sets of tees!
The par-3 ninth hole has two different sets of tees . You might think, what’s so different about that? Understand that one tee plays dramatically downhill to a green with bunkers guarding all parts of the right side and the other tee is an uphill carry of some 240 yards. It is two holes in one, something you’ve never seen before on a golf course and definitely never seen before in a major championship.
Some tees could be on a slope. Usually, golfers tee off on totally flat surfaces. But maybe not at Chambers Bay. USGA Executive Director Mike Davis: “One of the things that’s unique to this is the architects put in what they refer to it as ribbon tees, these tees that just kind of meander. And it allows us to put tee markers where we want. And in some cases we may end up putting tee markers on slight slopes as opposed to you think, well, you’re always going to have teeing markers on very flat areas. But there may be some where we give the players a little downhill slope, a little uphill slope, a side slope.”
We will see who will break the course. We will certainly pay Chambers Bay a visit once the US Open has gone and the green fee has come down a bit. The $299,- price tag is overpriced, but who wouldn’t raise its price after being a US Open venue!?