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Chambers Bay

Last night, I wrote about our drive down to University Place in the afternoon for a barbecue with friends Fred and Jeni. University Place is a suburb of Tacoma lying on its western edge along Puget Sound, south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. To the southwest along the Sound is some land, now known as Chambers Creek Properties, with a complicated history:

The Chambers Creek Properties is comprised of over 950 acres located along the shores of the Puget Sound, in University Place, WA. While Pierce’s County’s ownership of the properties has been fairly recent, the making of the properties and its surrounding land uses began to take shape over 200 years ago and was influenced by not only the physical changes made, but by the people who lived and worked here.

The quarry history stems as far back as the Steilacoom Indian Tribe and the first European settlers in 1832.

Over the last 200 years, the entire Chambers Creek Properties area has been used as a location for a paper mill, a proposed match company, a major industrial center, multiple lumber companies, a railroad center, a county gravel mine, a bus barn, a regional wastewater treatment plant, a preservation and recreational area . .. .

The centerpiece of the property today is Chambers Bay golf course, a public course that opened three Junes ago and was designed by Robert Trent Jones II. It was famous the day it opened (see this article that appeared at the time), and soon was named the host course for two USGA championships: this year’s US Amateur and the 2015 US Open.

Hosting a US Open is the greatest honor a course can receive. Just look at the list of host courses for next five Opens, leading up to 2015: Pebble Beach, Congressional, Olympic, Merion, Pinehurst. If you are familiar with the country’s great courses, you’ll know that each of these courses has a long and rich history. Since bringing the Open to Bethpage Black on Long Island in 2002, the USGA has been making an effort to include great public courses in the rota — Torrey Pines two years ago, Bethpage Black again last year, and now Chambers Bay.

It would not have occurred to me to take a look at Chambers Bay yesterday but for the fact that when we drove into University Place, the sign indicating that we had entered it also noted that it’s the home of Chambers Bay. While at Fred and Jeni’s, I pulled out my iPhone and found it on the map, noting that it was just a couple of miles to the southwest. When we were ready to leave, I mentioned that we might head down there and Fred described the walking route that runs along it, which he uses for dog walking and which would give us good views. That decided it.

We drove down to Grandview Drive, a north-south street that forms the eastern edge of the property. There is plenty of parking along the drive, and from there one can walk a few feet past the trees that line the street, arriving at a parallel north-south walkway just on the east side of the fence that separates the road and walkway from the course. The course itself runs from the fence line westward to the sound, down a slope from about 200 feet in elevation on the east to sea level on the west. There are almost no trees, making for an open and dramatic view over the Sound to the Olympic Mountains. From right to left, or north to south, in the Sound, one sees the south end of Fox Island, McNeil Island (home of a federal penitentiary for a century, but more recently the site of a state prison), and Anderson Island. And at one’s feet is the golf course itself.

You can see a schematic and overhead shot of the course layout here, and a hole-by-hole description here. A not-so-good photo that I took on my iPhone is at the top of the post. It shows the fourth and fifth holes.

South of the course was what seemed — from our northeastern vantage — something of a wasteland. After our walk, we drove south and turned into the entry to the clubhouse, which is on the southeast side. A road descends from there westwards toward the wasteland. At the bottom is a parking lot, near some concrete ruins left behind from one of the old operations. We couldn’t figure out what. Pierce County’s Chambers Creek Properties website gives a sense of some of the recreational possibilities other than golf — trails, meadows, playfields, off-leash area.

It’s quite a setting. Let me quote from the article I linked to earlier, re-printed at CBS Sports’ website but appearing originally in Estates West Golf Living, written by Jeff Wallach.

Not only does the Chambers Bay Golf Course tell a triumphant reclamation story about turning a wasteland into a gorgeous asset; it also illustrates how government can actually act in the best interests of its constituents. The visionaries behind the larger Chambers Creek Project — which includes the golf course, parks and other amenities spread across 930 acres — are not real estate developers or corporate CEOs. County executives and other public servants concepted this brilliant, walking-only public golf course that locals can play at a great discount.

And in case you thought Chambers Bay might be missing any crucial angle of perfection, throw in that romance of the passing trains (which may at some future point stop at the property), boats plying the blue waters of Puget Sound (one day golfers may also be able to arrive by boat) and even ‘ancient’ ruins adjacent to the playing surfaces — in this case, the castle-like ramparts of huge sorting bins left from the land’s industrial past.

Oh, Wallach mentions those ‘ancient’ ruins that we couldn’t decipher. Ramparts of huge sorting bins.

If you’re down in Tacoma, be sure to take a detour and have a look. It’s worth it. And come the last week of August, you can guess where we’ll be.

Categories: Golf, Travel
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