When Views Take Priority Over Sound Architecture

As the Chambers Bay U.S. Open continues to generate discussion, the course is a source of consternation for many. After all, there were those world-class holes like the 6th, 10th, 15th (played from the proper tee) and the Puget Sound-side 16th. The 18th is a beautiful finisher when it's played when played as a par-5.

These world class holes give a sense of permanence that elicits a desire to walk, play or take in great players tackling their intricacies.

And then there are so many holes that could not be looked past. They are the ones playing uphill toward the old gravel pit shell: the 4th, 7th, plus the 8th hole shelf and elevated 9th.

Even Greg Norman, who likes to build 'em so tough he's the only architect to have a course bulldozed before anyone could be tortured by its excess difficulty, identified the lay-of-the-land 6th and 10th as his favorites (John Hawkins' story in SI trailed the Shark).

Both of those holes exuded the sensation of pure links golf, with the 6th right out of central casting for Lytham, while the 10th could fit in at Royal St. Georges. Both offered glimpses of the Sound, too. Yet they appealed not because of the vistas offered, but because they felt like they'd been there a hundred years.

The lesson in all of this? Chambers Bay falls just short of elite world class status because too many holes chased severe terrain in search of elevated Puget Sound views, with the sense that holes 8 and 9 were built solely for this purpose.

While all golfers love playing a course where it builds to a point that offers a breathtaking (elevated) view, multiple attempts to wow typically come with consequences. At Chambers Bay, this means some severe climbing. And when you have to work so hard to get a vista, the scenery becomes less exciting.

Furthermore, the elevated sweeping view is often overrated and more marketing-driven than a common sense design element. The vistas are even less inspired when the course ends up by the very water the architect moved mountains to help you see from high above.

Take Chambers Bay's beautiful tenth hole, cut through a huge dunescape and offering a small hint of water. No wonder the artists gravitate toward this hole for a painting. There is only a hint of water in the background, yet it's more beautiful than an in-your-face elevated view. It's a hole any golfer would be thrilled to tackle:

The common refrain overheard in accessing Chambers Bay went something like this: the east-west, low-lying holes were beloved while the north-south ones in pursuit of sweeping views ended up offending. The architect wanted to give the golfer big views and grand shots played against the backdrop of water. Yet nearly all golfers gravitate toward the golf played at natural elevations where the vistas offer glimpses of the astounding beauty that is the Puget Sound.