To Chambers Bay Golf Course, home of the 2015 U.S. Open: How do I despise thee? Let me count the ways.
Ugly course – so ugly it was almost comical. No compatibility with the area into which it has been crammed. Does not exploit the gorgeous visuals of mountains, water, densely-wooded terrain around it. Built with a bulldozer, not natural in any way. A fake links course, beginning to end. No trees, no water, no real grass, no green greens, etc. This may be the first politically correct golf course, but if this is the future of the back-to-nature movement in golf, I must quote Samuel Goldwyn: include me out.
Visuals – the primary colors of the course are light brown, tan, and a hint of green, but the “sand” in the bunkers is the color of concrete – an ugly blue-grey that clashes severely against the dormant grasses. An ugly combination. The whole course is ugly, ugly, ugly. The fake hills are homely – and hazardous because of the stress and risks they impose upon the players.
The railroad – how could anyone pick a site where a gorgeous view of the bay and the mountains is obscured by a line of railroad tracks consistently occupied by lengthy, noisy freight trains?
Environmental sensitivity – the dried fescue fairways and rough are apparently supposed to educate us, to persuade us that this is the future of golf because it uses so little water and therefore is so simple and cheap to maintain. But the fake hills and the bunkering give the lie to all that. The bunkers are gigantic, ubiquitous and full of irregular borders and edges; the cost of maintaining them in playable condition must be enormous – guess it is OK to spend a fortune on fossil fuels to power an armada of mowers and edgers and trimmers, so long as you are saving on the water bill.
Distances going from a green to the next tee – ridiculous. Watching the vertigo-afflicted Jason Day trying to navigate those great distances, mostly by trudging up stairs, down stairs, then up stairs and down stairs again and across bridges and such, was disturbing. No wonder it took 6 hours to play a round. To make matters worse, the tree huggers who planned the course, lacking any actual trees to hug (there is but one tree on the entire “natural” landscape), have installed no cart paths on which to walk – indeed they reportedly have forbidden everyone, duffers and pros alike, to use golf carts unless you are certified as disabled. Navigating this re-enactment of the Bataan death march, without a cart, is something normal people would normally eschew.
The greens – as most of the pros noticed, the greens are terrible, absurd. It is not just that they contain the lethal combination of multiple different grasses, each of which grows at a different speed from the other grasses – in other words, by late afternoon, there is no such a thing as a smoothly rolling putt, as all putts have to bump their way through multiple changes in the height of the grass. Beyond that, the grass itself is like what you get when you have your general contractor not only build your house but also build your lawn. Poor sub-soil, total crap, stuff that will never grow properly, densely, and evenly.
Golf values – even if you ignore the greens and the ugliness, and give credit to the variety and complexity of the strategic demands of the course, it is hard to love a course that throws so many good shots into weird rolloffs, often leaving the player farther from the green than he was before he hit the shot. Not that Augusta and Pinehurst don’t have severe undulations and rolloffs, but this was like clowns and windmills. Way too much luck involved in the outcome of the approach shot. While an “A” shot often got an “A” result, just as often it did not, and a huge number of “B” shots got an “F” result while many “F” shots ended up pretty well. An Open should not be played at a venue where the correlation between the quality of the shot and its outcome is so consistently low.
Political correctness – I blame all of this on the USGA’s fussy Mike Davis and the rest of the blazers and bow-ties crew, all of whom seem obsessed with imposing their environmental and social views on the rest of us and changing the nature of the game. Don’t use water, don’t provide cart paths or short distances between holes because walking is good for you, return the game to the way it looked before we had the money and the tools to make the courses nicer, etc. Just as cars and carts are bad, trains are good – even if they are plug ugly, they ruin the views, and they are a noisy distraction.
As for the tournament, there were issues beyond the lousy golf course.
The crowds – the worst I have ever heard at a golf tournament –even worse than what you get at that frat party disguised as a golf tournament that is held every winter in Phoenix, where they have that special stadium on the par 3 hole so that those most drunk or stoned get to be a part of the show. In the case of the Chambers Bay crowds (which sounded as though their vocalizing had been amped-up by the TV people rather than muted), I have never heard so many attention-deprived idiots competing to make the most loud, intrusive, player-distracting shouts – including the now-ubiquitous “go in the hole,” timed to occur simultaneously with the impact of club on ball and usually offered on tee shots that have a zero probability of going in the hole. Why these drunks, stoners, and social misfits are not instantly ejected from the premises, especially at a Major, is just beyond me. They, along with those whose cameras click or cell phones ring during play, should be thrown out, no exceptions, no excuses.
TV coverage – a whole story in itself. There were at least a dozen things I found totally wrong – chief among them, the fact that in 4 days I rarely saw the ball in the air and I never once spotted it on the green until it had stopped rolling and I had walked up to the screen to watch it from a distance of 2 feet. No contrast between the color of the ball and the color of dormant fescue, plus lousy camera work. Secondly, Fox somehow ran out of time before completion of the full telecast of all rounds on Saturday – forcing us to watch the last 3 holes by channel-surfing to locate one of those goofy split screen deals that we are supposed to think enhance the TV experience instead of ruining it. Guess the Foxies failed to consider the possibility that a tournament round on a silly course like this would actually take more than 6 hours. Maybe the camera crew was plucked from the Bill O’Reilly show rather than drawn from a pool of people with prior experience in covering a golf tournament, people who could actually pick up the flight of the ball and show it from an angle and perspective that gave you some feeling for whether it was a good shot or a stinker. The ineptitude was shocking.
Announcers – And then there were the TV commentators. The guy who presumably knew the least about golf, Joe Buck, the play by play guy, was surprisingly good, or at least surprisingly adequate. And a couple of the over-the-hill golf pros, like Corey Pavin, were fine. But Greg Norman was a flaming disaster. Norman apparently believes that, because he won a lot of tournaments, he knows more about golf than everyone else and so it is his right, indeed his duty, to lecture us about how he would have played the shot or swung the club. Obnoxious and boring. I put Norman right up there with Nick Faldo (oops, Sir Nick Faldo), when it comes to self-centered boors.
The good news – Good thing the day was saved by a small group of marvelous players – especially Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and the beleaguered Jason Day – who made the event memorable: great competition, great theater, an admirable winner. Not even a lousy golf course and an incompetent telecast can ruin a great golf tournament.