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Originally published April 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 12, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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How Chambers Bay was built: Following nature's rules

Can you really create Scotland on the edges of Puget Sound? If you have tons of sand and money ... A year or two from now, it will be interesting...

Special to The Seattle Times

Can you really create Scotland on the edges of Puget Sound? If you have tons of sand and money ...

A year or two from now, it will be interesting to see if you can tell which holes on Chambers Bay were there and which ones were put there.

Look carefully and you can see the tracks of the bulldozers which pushed up the sand into 30- and 40-foot high dunes.

In time, wind and rain will smooth the tracks and tall fescue grasses will obscure them.

In time, this could be one of the great links courses in America, in a country where there are few.

"We tried to re-craft nature the way she would have done it," said Robert Trent Jones Jr., the course architect. "You can't try to break nature's rules, or she will break you."

Jones found what he called a "depleted site" when he first arrived at Chambers Bay. For more than 100 years, the 600 acres along the Sound had been a gravel pit.

"What I saw," said Jones, "was the quality of the materials, the sand and the gravel. This was an extraordinary site where you could truly turn a sow's ear into a silk purse."

New courses in America without trees are called links courses, but by definition a links course is built on land that is reclaimed from the sea and sits near an estuary.

Pebble Beach, on a bluff along the ocean, isn't a links course. Chambers Bay is.

Links or not, the great new courses in America — Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Whistling Straits, Sand Hills — are built on sand, have firm surfaces and demand players walk, not ride.

The best comparable course for Chambers Bay may prove to be Whistling Straits, which, like Chambers Bay, was built by moving large amounts of sand.

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Whistling Straits, in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan, has already hosted a PGA Championship. It also costs $125 more a round than Chambers Bay will, even though Chambers Bay will top out at $150 for 18 holes.

Earlier, Jones designed the Links at Spanish Bay near Pebble Beach, reshaping sand left from another quarry, but he did so under intense environmental restrictions.

The Chambers Bay site was still permitted as a working mine, meaning there were fewer restrictions, and the architects went to work.

"We danced around the office we were so excited when we got the job," said Jay Blasi, the 28-year-old on-site member of the Jones team. "This was a site begging for links golf."

The county had received interest from more than 50 architects. Many wanted to keep the trees, and add others. There were sketches of lakes and ponds.

The Jones approach was to build Scotland in the Northwest, to remove all but one tree, and to start moving sand. The train of dump trucks was endless, more than 100,000 loads moving 1.4 million cubic yards to be filtered, and then replaced.

There is one spot on the back nine where the sand is left exposed and creates a six-acre bunker. Sand was scooped from the middle of what is now the 10th fairway to create a valley through what were existing ridges of sand to produce something right out of Ballybunion in Ireland.

Despite the work of the architects, the original site had character beyond its views of the water.

Railroad tracks ran along the water's edge, just as they do along many of the great links courses in England and Scotland.

The site was not only massive — Jones used 250 acres for golf when most courses don't use 150 acres — but had enough elevation gain and so few trees that you can see almost every hole. The site was anchored by two cathedral ridges of sand, and alongside what would become the 18th fairway remained the skeletons of giant bins that in other years held the sand and gravel, Chambers Bay's own Stonehenge effect.

Bruce Charlton, president of the Jones company and third member of the design team, said the challenge at Chambers Bay was to think out of the box, to exploit a site that had no limits.

"We were all pretty excited about what could be done," he said.

Jones, whose late father Robert Trent Jones was the first of the great modern architects, said he tried to design a graceful course that would test the game's great players and yet be enjoyed by all.

The course doesn't have a signature hole, and didn't try to have one. It might, with no real topical restraints, have more good holes than even Bandon and Pacific Dunes.

You can do that when you shape the land and can spend as much as you want doing it.

How good is Chambers Bay?

"The golfers will tell us that," said Jones, "with their feet and their wallets."

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