Jun 15

An Avant-Garde U.S. Open

U.S. Open – Course Like That of no Other Major

The griping about the upcoming U.S. Open continues. It’s a farce, it’s ridiculous, and so on. Whatever the conditions are at Chambers Bay in Washington State, at least everyone’s playing the same “farcical, ridiculous” course. This is what always happens when changes are made to revered institutions. Traditionalists howl, and greatly outnumber progressives, glass-half full people. I would like to propose that, rather than viewing the Open as a joke, that we think of it as an “avant-garde” event.

Avant-garde bothers almost everyone, whether it’s in music, literature, politics, or golf courses. If you listen to the critics, it would be like playing the Masters with a daily reconstruction of the course, a new set of rules each day, and a ban on mint julips.

chambers Chambers Bay is a gamble wagered around the turn of the century that seems to be on the verge of paying off. What is now one of America’s most interesting and unorthodox courses, was at one time a useless rock quarry. A group of state executives not only made a play to turn useless land into a money-maker, but from the onset of the course’s construction, had bigger stars in their eyes. They wanted to attract a major PGA event to the Pacific Northwest. They intended to do this with a course that features no trees whatsoever, and not a drop of water, the Pacific Ocean aside. Now, that’s avant-garde thinking, and the typical player is bound to hate it.

The whole thing was supposed to cost around thirteen million, but ended up at around twenty or more. There wasn’t enough money left over for a clubhouse, and what’s there still isn’t permanent. What, is it a trailer? Do they have poetry readings, meditation groups and coffee concerts in the evening? And yet, a course without a clubhouse just landed the U.S. Open – I love it. The Wall Street Journal, not usually an institution to hail the avant-garde, doesn’t hail it this time, either, describing the Open as “headed for the wild west.”
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One would think that the players would look forward to an alternative from cookie cutter experiences, but they’re not getting into the spirit of it. The fairways are about three times the width of a typical PGA level course, about one hundred yards – I’d certainly like that. But, despite the avant-garde conditions, it is at times likened to St. Andrews, where no one knows where a shot will go once it hits a mogul or depression. The answer to being treeless and waterless is found in greens that are made of the same grass as the fairways, and will send a close approach shot back to the fairway if the roll is wrong. That part of avant-garde, I don’t like so much. A good shot should be rewarded. The greens are said to be “rocket science” complicated, there is a two hundred foot vertical rise, which, they say, will affect fatigue, and the prize will go to the person who strategizes shot to shot, not in the big picture. The course is just too weird for that.

So, the Pacific Northwest finally got its major. It didn’t go to the other prestigious courses of that region. It went to a former dump that looks like someone grew a lawn on the face of Mars. I, for one, look forward to a little more daring, imagination, and letting ‘er rip. I remember watching Arnie hit a driver off the fairway, just to get a closer pitch or for the 2 percent chance of hitting the green in two. Those guys were far more avant-garde than today’s bunch, and in that way, Chambers Bay isn’t avant-garde at all – it’s saluting tradition.
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