Planet Golf — 11 June 2015 by Jim Street
Steer clear of Chambers Basement

(Editor’s Note: With the U.S. Open starting June 18, Golferswest.com will re-publish many of the stories our writers have written of the course over the past months and years. This one deals with a deep bunker 100 years from the 18th green at Chambers Bay. It could come into play down the stretch)

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa. – There’s a new hazard at Chambers Bay and boy is it a doozy.

As part of the course’s preparation for the U.S. Open in 2015, a cavernous pot bunker has been inserted into the 18th fairway, some 120 yards from the green.

Enter at your own risk and pack a snack ’cause you could be in there awhile.

The hazard even has a name – Chambers Basement – and anyone unfortunate enough to hit a ball in there probably will come up with a few other names for it, none of them very flattering. The pot bunker is nine feet deep, reachable by nine wooden steps located on the west side of the hazard. There’s nothing but trouble once inside.

Although there is another added feature to the hole — it will be played as a par-4 and a par-5 during the Open — the pot bunker surely will become a popular topic of conversation.

“I can’t tell you where the name came from,” Mike Allen, the Chambers Bay General Manager, said of the bunker, “but it was put in play for when the hole is played as a par-5. From that tee, the drives are going to be short of the bunker. Then it’s all about the layup.”

As a par-5, most drives on the 600-yard 18th would leave a 250- to 260-yard shot to the green. The longest hitters will go for it, but others probably will play it safe and layup, leaving a short wedge into the green. Although unlikely, because these guys are so darn good, the Chambers Basement could turn a potential birdie into a double bogey.

“Either you can bang at the green, or you are going to have to figure out how to lay it up and miss that bunker,” Allen said. “It’s kind of in that (layup) yardage by design, and if you decide to lay up, you have to decide to play one side or the other of the bunker.”

During a recent outing at the five-year-old course, none of the players in our foursome actually landed in the bunker, but to get a sense of what it would be like playing out of the nine-foot deep pit, colleagues Kirby Arnold (pictured above) and Bob Sherwin treked to the sandy bottom.

“You have virtually no visual,” Kirby reported. “You can’t see the pin.”

Steps take you to the Chambers Basement

His shot, with a sand wedge, landed some 30 yards from the green. He was thrilled. Bob’s shot, from several feet closer to the wooden steps, made it out of the hazard, but barely. He called it one of the most intimidating hazards he’s ever played – and he’s had a lot of practice, if you get my drift.

Depending on where the ball comes to rest, a practically impossible shot could be staring at you.

“There certainly are more places in that bunker where you would have to go sideways than forward,” Allen said.

And because the hazard is so deliciously troublesome, you could expect the majority of players in the Open to bang the ball towards the green, rather than lay up anywhere near the Chambers Basement.

The hazard was partly the result of how the players played the hole during the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers. It became a part of the Chambers Bay landscape this past January and although he didn’t actually design the bunker, USGA executive director Mike Davis liked the idea of some sort of hazard being constructed on the 18th hole.

“We saw some things even before the Amateur and we said we’re not sure they are going to work just right and then allowed the architects to do their job,” Davis said. “For example, the new bunker on No. 18, that really had a lot to do with the decision to play the hole as a par-5. The way it was, it was simply way too wide in the layup zone if they weren’t going for it in two. We looked at it and talked to the architects and said, what do we do here?

“It would be awkward to narrow the fairway by bringing the rough in from the left side because it just wouldn’t play right. So we collectively sat at a table and decided that maybe a center bunker is the answer. You either have to play short of, left of or right of the bunker with you layup, or you go for the green by going over the bunker. Regardless, it makes you think. It’s not as though the USGA came in and said, “we want a bunker, we want it right there and this is exactly how to build it.”

Allen added, “He wanted us to build a bunker in a place that’s going to require a more precise layup and build it so deep that if they’re in it, it will require an heroic shot to reach the green.”

Mission accomplished.

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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