U.S. Open Week: The History of Chambers Bay

I feel extremely fortunate to have played several of the courses on this year’s PGA Tour schedule: Augusta National (GA), Harbour Town (SC), TPC Sawgrass (FL), Quail Hollow (NC), Colonial (TX), Chambers Bay (WA), Grand National (AL), and Sedgefield Country Club (NC). By my count, that’s eight courses. Before I graduate from the Golf Academy, I’d also like to play TPC Scottsdale and Torrey Pines in San Diego. Chambers Bay, site of Thursday’s U.S. Open, is unlike any course I have every played, but part of what makes the course so unique is the history of the property on which it sits.

Chambers Bay has just one tree, a Douglas fir positioned behind the 15th green.
Chambers Bay has just one tree, a Douglas fir positioned behind the 15th green.

Chambers Bay is situated on Chambers Creek Properties, which is comprised of more than 950 acres located along the shores of Puget Sound in University Place, Washington. The area first found use as a rock quarry stemming as far back as the Steilacoom Indian Tribe and the first European settlers in 1832. Over the years the Chambers Creek Properties area has been used as a location for a paper mill, a major industrial center, multiple lumber companies, a railroad center, a sand and gravel mine popular with four-wheelers and dirt-bikers, a bus barn, a regional wastewater treatment plant, a preservation and recreational area, and today, as a world class 18-hole championship golf course. Chambers Creek Properties includes numerous non-golf recreational opportunities, including a three-mile walking trail, part of which travels through the west side of the golf course.

Chambers Bay is located within Chambers Creek Regional Park, 930 acres along the shore of south Puget Sound. While Pierce County’s ownership is relatively recent (the County purchased the land for $33 million in 1992), the making of the Park properties and its surrounding land uses began to take shape hundreds of years ago, influenced not only by the physical changes made, but by the people who lived and worked here. The first settlers of the area were the Steilacoom Indian Tribe, a small group of Puget Salish speakers who lived along the east shore of Puget Sound in the current location of the Town of Steilacoom. An ancient summer fishing village was identified in the southern-most portion of the area within the historic entrance to Chambers Bay. The arrival of the Hudson Bay Company and its Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC) in 1832 was the start of the European settlement in the area. Fort Steilacoom, built just south of the properties across Chambers Creek, was the PSAC headquarters and commercial trading settlement until it became a US Army outpost established to help keep the peace following establishment of the Canada-US Boundary in 1846. Many of the historic fort buildings are still in existence today.

Timber and mining operation moved into
Timber and mining operations moved into the area in the 1850s.

Industrial development of the region began in the 1850s with grist mills and small-scale timber activities supporting nearby agricultural and lumber mills. In the early 1890s, the federal government selected Pacific Bridge Company to construct Fort Casey, Fort Warden and Fort Flagler, strategic military locations guarding the entrance to Puget Sound. Pacific Bridge was one of the two fledgling gravel mines operating on the site where the Chambers Bay golf course now lies. Subsequent owners over the next century enjoyed the rich gravel deposits found there. By 1992, Lone Star Northwest had merged all the gravel mining into the single largest producer of sand and gravel in the nation. Large scale mining continued until December 2003 when commercial mining ended and reclamation of the Chambers Creek properties began.

Pierce County first began operations at the properties in the 1950s with the development of a small County road shop and gravel mine where the Environmental Services Building and playfields exist today. In the 1980s, portions of the Chambers Creek Canyon began to be acquired and donated to protect this unique, wooded canyon and creek area from overdevelopment.

The Chambers Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant began operations on a small portion of the Lone Star Northwest Gravel Mine in 1984; and, eight years later, the Sewer Utility purchased the entire mine. The Utility’s 650-acre purchase triggered the creation of the Chambers Creek Public Work’s properties and the development of the Master Site Plan in 1997 to govern the reclamation and restoration.

In less than 15 years, the transformation from mineral extraction and resource industry to reclamation is clearly evident. The public offices and government operations, public access and recreation areas, habitat restoration and enhancement, championship golf and fine dining venue, and miles of trails are just a portion of the changes.

Chambers Creek Properties' Master Site Plan including a golf course, recreational areas, and a water treatment plant.
Chambers Creek Properties’ Master Site Plan including a golf course, recreational areas, and a water treatment plant.

In 2011, recreational opportunities were expanded to the 930-acre site due to the growth in popularity. The Executive shifted day-to-day responsibilities to the expert staff in the Parks and Recreation Department, making it easier to coordinate and promote public access, events and opportunities, and commercial activities at the site.

Currently, expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, the overpass bridge opening more than two miles of salt water beach, and more trails are the most visible changes. Pierce County Parks and Recreation along with Public Works and Utilities will continue to work on additional amenities detailed in the Master Site plan as funding becomes available in the years to come.

Chambers Bay was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.. the 250-acre links-style course is the centerpiece of the 930-acre park. The course opened in June of 2007 and was awarded the 115th U.S. Open eight months later. Tickets sold out 11 months prior to the event. During construction, 1.4 million cubic yards of dirt and sand (over 100,000 truckloads) were removed, cleaned off site, and then returned to sculpt the course. At the time of construction, the site was still permitted as a working mine, which meant fewer restrictions for the course architects.

Five sets of tees are available, ranging from 5,250 to 7,585 yards, and because Chambers Bay is a municipal course, Pierce County residents receive discounted rates. The course is for walkers only, and caddies are available but are optional. Motorized carts are permitted only for those with medical conditions or disabilities, and a caddie must be hired as the driver.

The greens do not have fringes – it is a transparent transition from fairway to green. All the grass is fescue. Chambers Bay has just one tree, a Douglas fir positioned behind the 15th green. Chambers Bay hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2010, when it was set-up as a Par 71 at 7,742 yards, the longest course in USGA history, until it was surpassed by Erin Hills the following year (by 18 yards).

Course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. poses with one of his original sketches of Chambers Bay.
Course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. poses with one of his original sketches of Chambers Bay.

Chambers Bay is operated by Kemper Sports Management, which also operates Bandon Dunes in southern Oregon.

In August of 2007, Chambers Bay was certified by Audubon International as a Silver Signature Sanctuary, the first golf course in both the state of Washington and in the Pacific Northwest. Signature certification is awarded only to new developments which are designed, constructed, and maintained according to Audubon International’s precise planning standards and environmental disciplines.

Chambers Bay Golf
Chambers Bay – Wikipedia
Pierce County Website

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