Course Reviews

The Walking Golfer Course Rating System

Total is out of 10 Points
0 – 4 points – Walkability
0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics
0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy

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Chambers Bay Golf Course

Chambers Bay Golf Course, University Place, WA
Par 72
7,585 Yards

On April 20th, I had the pleasure of playing 36 holes at Chambers Bay with Society member Mike Wagner and fellow golf architect buff and local sherpa Peter Herreid. It was an epic day of golf, in perfect conditions, on the course that will host the 2010 US Amateur and 2015 US Open.

Nyk Pike and the team at Chambers Bay were fantastic hosts and the caddies were excellent.

If you are fortunate enough to play Chambers Bay on a clear day, you will be greeted with a breathtaking vista that includes the Puget Sound, several islands, the Olympic Mountains in the distance, and a bird’s eye view of one of the few real links courses in North America.


View of the 1st, 18th, Sound and the Olympics from the Chambers Bay Clubhouse

Chambers Bay meshes seamlessly with its surrounds, although it was completely manufactured with over 1.5 million cubic feet of earth moved. Prior to construction, the site was an old mine comprised of sand, gravel and rock that would provide an ideal foundation for the course and its many bunkers and waste areas. The raw and rustic look of Chambers Bay in its present form is the culmination of skillful earth moving and agronomy.

Robert Trent Jones II and Company was hired by Pierce County to design and build the course, and it was determined early on that it should be walking only.

From a Q&A with RTJ II provided by the Chambers Bay website:

The decision to have a walking golf course was very difficult from an “industry trend,” standpoint, but ultimately it was the decision that made the entire project come together . . .

1) It allowed unique site features to be incorporated into the golf course design

From a designer’s perspective, golf carts and more importantly golf cart paths have a severely negative impact on the design of a course. The paths often compromise the strategy or playability of a golf hole. The most notable spot where a golf cart paths have an adverse affect on golf is in a valley setting. When we first walked the property for Chambers Bay, we taken back by the scale of the landforms, and excited to find a number of dynamic settings for golf holes and more importantly green complexes. To have dunes or hillsides on both sides of a golf hole is extremely rare and immensely exciting opportunity and has the potential to yield great golf holes. The dunes or hillsides, essentially become the walls of the hole, (and sometimes you can use those walls to bank your shots). Fitting a golf cart path in that setting not only disrupts that natural beauty, but compromises the strategic element of the hole. At Chambers Bay, eleven holes would have been severely affected by introducing golf cart paths. Most notably, the greensites for holes 1, 10, 12 and 14 never could have been utilized.

2) It allowed us to utilize the appropriate grasses for the golf course

One of the beauties of links golf is the firm and fast playing conditions . . . in the U.S. we play golf on carpet, while the Scots play on hardwood floors. Those “hardwood floors” allow players to hit the ball low, run it along the ground and utilize the contours of the fairways/greens to get their ball close to the hole. In order to achieve firm and fast playing conditions two things are needed: sandy soils and fescue/bent grasses. Without these grass types, the entire design of the golf course, especially the slopes, rolls, humps and bumps in the fairways and greens would be completely different. The fescue and bents grasses are the only grasses that provide the proper canvas for links golf. While these grasses thrive on sandy soils and in maritime climates, they are not as wear tolerant as some more common grasses to golf in the United States. The wear and tear that golf carts place on the grasses would have killed the fescue and bent grasses utilized at Chambers Bay.

RTJ II’s design team has turned this old sand and gravel mine into a venue that will be worthy of hosting the US Open in 2015. The links design has provided the USGA and team at Chambers Bay with a massive amount of flexibility in terms of course set up. One of the great benefits of a wide open links style golf course is the pliability of the land and routing.

Society member Mike Wagner is a scratch golfer who has played some of the best courses in North America, including Cypress Point and Pacific Dunes. He has provided some thoughts on Chambers Bay that I completely agree with:

“Chambers Bay, for any links enthusiast, is the ultimate experience.  Players have the option of playing anywhere from 5200 to 7500 yards, making the linksland enjoyable for those of differing distance capabilites.  The green complexes, waste areas, and demanding bunkers will test every golfer, while the pure links style also gives players a chance to enter greens through rolling land features.  Chambers Bay is as demanding as any golf course I’ve played, challenging the player on many risk/reward tee shots, depending on the tees and lines they choose.  Certain holes require extreme precision for a close birdie chance, but always have a ground entrance option, setting the stage to test uncertain nerves.

The views are breathtaking!  The property is on Puget Sound and has an elevation change of approximately 500 feet, which provides stunning panoramic views.  Very few courses in the world can provide the setting of Chambers Bay – Puget Sound, passenger trains, and a public access walking path meandering through the lower portion of the course.

As a walking only course, Chambers Bay has been able to build green sites that are rarely seen in North America.  If you’ve played at any of the Bandon Resort courses, you’ll know what I mean – it has a very similar feel.  Without cart paths, they have created approach shots that incorporate immense dunes and allow players to use slopes appropriately.

As for walkability, Chambers is rugged and rewarding.  The occasional steep climb, or gradual elevation change, is rewarded with views of the entire course, Puget Sound, and the surrounding islands.  Most people will sleep well after the roughly seven mile walk over the grounds.  It’s well worth it..”

A great deal has been written about the fescue greens at Chambers Bay because several have been rebuilt and the speed, in general, is consistent but very slow. For any golfer who is used to putting on super fast country club greens, Chambers will be a shock and it will take several holes to adjust to the speed. However, I do not believe the greens negatively impact the experience or would be out of place on many a links. I have played quite a few courses in Ireland that had slow greens which required an adjustment in putting technique.

While green speed at Chambers Bay will likely pick up over time, which will help most golfers, they are currently an enjoyable challenge. Just putt them with an open mind and be creative. One of the benefits of slower greens is that the golfer can play an attacking ground game without worrying about bump and runs rolling off the green into waiting bunkers and waste areas. Aggressive golf can be a lot of fun and the ground game is a vital element in scoring at Chambers Bay.

In terms of Walkability, Chambers Bay rates a 2.75 out of 4 based on responses from the public for our Walkability Ratings.

There is a couple hundred feet of elevation change on the course and there are a few long green to tee transfers, but the course’s dedication to providing a spectacular walking only environment makes the trek an absolute pleasure. For golfers who are not in good physical condition, I would suggest a caddy and some cardio work before you play the course to get ready for it. The walk at Chambers may not be “easy’ for all golfers, but it is definitely “manageable”.

I pushed my Clicgear 2.0 cart for 36 and was ready for another 9 when we finished. Chambers Bay is definitely a great walking golf course and the design team have done a phenomenal job of integrating a lot of the elevation changes into the field of play, not the green to tee transfers.

Chambers Bay receives 3.75 our of 4 for Architecture and Aesthetics.

Aside from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach, there are probably few settings on the west coast that could challenge Chambers Bay for honors as the most spectacular golfing site. As mentioned, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains provide a stunning back drop for the course which is located in a massive 250 acre amphitheatre that was once a mine. There are elevation changes on tee shots of over a hundred feet and huge dunes line many holes and cast spectacular shadows across the course in the afternoon.

The routing is excellent as well. Please read the hole by hole description below for more detail, but it is safe to say that RTJ II and Company have created eighteen good to exceptional holes on the property with a balance of distance, risk reward and variety.

Chambers Bay also gets full marks, 2 out of 2, for Playability and Strategy.

Like few other courses I have seen, Chambers Bay provides excellent strategic challenge for every level of golfer. For example, several “cape-like” tee shots ask the golfer how much risk they are willing to take with their drive to minimize distance on the approach. The seventh and fourteenth are a wonderful illustration of an architect challenging both the tiger golfer and the short hitter with aggressive and safer options.

The fairways are wide as befits a links course, although “rough lines” are being implemented per the USGAs request for the 2010 US Amateur. It is very difficult to lose a ball on most holes, but it is also tough to score, which provides a nice balance. The ability to place a tee shot is vital for the golfer to challenge the course, but the tricky waste areas and mounds can be played away from by the higher handicapper looking to play bogey golf.

Thus, overall, Chambers Bay receives a 9 out of 10 from The Walking Golfer and I would encourage any passionate walking golfer to go out of their way to play the course if they are ever in the area.

Hole by Hole Review

There are five sets of tees at Chambers Bay so the longest and shortest are listed.

#1 – Puget Sound – Par 4 (491/381)

The first at Chambers Bay is the toughest opening hole I have ever seen. This uphill Par 4 will play like a Par 5 for most golfers. The first and eighteenth fairways are combined, with mounds and bunkers breaking up the flow. A solid drive will leave about two hundred yards, uphill, to a green with large mounds on the right and a steep drop to the left. A large undulating putting surface awaits the well placed approach.

The 1st Green at Chambers Bay from behind looking back towards the tee. Photo by Rob Rigg.

#2 – Foxy – Par 4 (404/301)

The second calls for a well placed drive either short or left of a large waste area. This will leave a short to mid iron to a green with a nice side board on the right but trouble left. A big miss to either side will probably lead to a bunker shot, while short is safe. The flags in the picture below show where the USGA is planning on growing in the rough for the 2010 US Amateur.

The 2nd green at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

#3 – Blown Out – Par 3 (165/92)

The third is a fairly short par 3 with a front right to back left sloping green. There is room on the right to miss, but short and left will lead to a nasty recovery from the blown out waste area. A back left pin, as shown below, will test the nerves of even the best golfer.

The Par #3 3rd at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg.

#4 – Hazard’s Ascent – Par 5 (568/347)

After a fairly long uphill green to tee transfer, the golfer is looking out at what may be one of the most daunting three shotters in the world. A gnarly waste area runs the length of this long hole and the green will only accept a well placed third. It is likely that golfers have spent many a shot trying to escape the waste area in front of the green.

Currently, the 4th green is out of play so the hole has been turned into a drivable Par 4. The wise play is likely a three wood off the tee to the left side of a wide fairway and then a delicate chip onto the green that sits in a punchbowl.

The 4th from the tee with the temporary green to the left and normal green at the top right. By Rob Rigg

#5 – Free Fall – Par 4 (490/323)

From the temporary 4th green the golfer descends, leaves his bag, grabs his driver, and hikes up to the 5th tee where a spectacular view awaits. There is a waste area running up the right side and bunkers to the left, in the distance, a wide fairway welcomes a tee shot that seems to hang in the air forever. The mid-iron approach is uphill to a very interesting green that is protected by a small bunker that seems to pay homage to the road hole at St Andrews.

There is an alternate green which is rarely in play that can be used on the 5th to create a short risk/reward hole.

The 5th is one of the most spectacular and challenging holes on the property, and starts a wonderful string of three Par 4s.

The 5th green from the 4th tee. Photo by Rob Rigg

#6 – Deception Point – Par 4 (447/283)

A large fairway awaits the golfer off the tee, but often the best line is fairly tight to the mounding on the right.

The 6th at Chambers Bay from the Tee. By Rob Rigg

The front of the green is well protected by a steep slope that will beat back weak approaches. Bunkers left and right put a premium on accuracy. A miss long will leave a delicate but manageable chip or putt back onto the green.

#7 – Humpback – Par 4 (508/363)

The trio of fine two shotters is completed by the all world seventh. The golfer is called upon to bite off as much as he can chew on this epic drive that must carry a massive waste bunker. If the tee shot on the seventh cannot get your heart-pumping then you may not be alive. There is nothing more satisfying than taking it at the left side of the first mound and making the fairway.

The tee shot at the 7th at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

The daunting approach is a sobering moment for the golfer who just smashed a drive over the waste area. An optimal second will carry the false front and finish at the back of the green. Anything short or landing on the false front will roll back by the mound. At least two extra clubs are needed to manage the elevation change which means that even a good drive will often lead to a mid or long iron approach.

Approach to the 7th Green at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

As pictured below, there is a nice side-board on the left side of the green, and the back is safe as well. The spine at the right of the picture segments the green. The false front looks like a cliff, which it is, and the mounds in the picture above are now lurking in the distance.

The 7th Green at Chambers Bay. Photo courtesy of Scott Weersing. Photos for personal use only.

#8 – High Road, Low Road – Par 5 (602/441)

The eighth is a long and narrow three shotter with a rumpled fairway that runs on a ledge across the top of the property. An embankment of dirt runs along the hole to the left and there is a steep drop off to the right. Neither the tee shot, nor the second are for the faint of heart. The short approach is to an elevated green with a kick board on the left side.

The golfers below are hitting towards the green which can be partially seen on the right side of the picture.

The 8th at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

#9 – Olympus – Par 3 (227/132)

The one shot ninth involves a severely elevated tee shot to the green below. The Olympic mountains glow in the distance on a sunny day, and the golfer has a wonderful view of the entire course from the tee.

This hole is a ton of fun. Depending on the wind it can play a couple of clubs shorter or longer than normal. Short and right is a bad miss, while the left side provides a nice bank that will kick the tee shot onto the multi-tiered green.

#10 High Dunes – Par 4 (398/311)

The back nine starts off with a classic links hole that looks like it was transplanted from the Irish coast. Towering dunes frame the tricky risk/reward drive that can be laid up short of the bunkers, which leaves a long approach, or farther up the bottle neck, which leaves a short iron.

The forward tees could be used in the US Amateur or US Open to create a 320 yard driveable Par 4 with serious consequences for a miss.

The 10th at Chambers Bay from the Tee. Photo by Rob Rigg

The challenging green complex is protected by the deep front right bunker that can be seen from the tee and dominates the golfer’s vision on the approach. Another bunker lurks on the left side, while a nice back board has been laid across the dune a little farther back. Although this is a relatively short hole, par is a great score.

The 10th hole green complex at Chambers. Photo courtesy of Scott Weersing. Photos for personal use only.

#11 – Shadows – Par 4 (500/378)

The 11th is a mammoth two shotter from the tips that consists of an interesting drive over a knoll in the middle of the fairway. The approach is to an elevated green that is built on a shelf with a bank to the right side and a steep drop to the left. Many golfers will miss short or left and face a tricky chip shot onto the multi-tiered green.

The 11th green at Chambers from the 3rd green. Photo by Rob Rigg

#12 – The Narrows – Par 4 (304/219)

The great Par 4s at Chambers Bay just keep on coming, although number twelve is more like a Par 3 1/2. The golfer faces an uphill drive that needs to carry the serpentine fairway and a large blow out bunker to reach the green in one. A draw from the tee is the optimal shot and will often get a great kick onto the putting surface.

The tee shot at #12 Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The large and undulating green stretches 58 yards from front to back so any drive to a back pin placement that gets stuck on the front can leave a putt of well over 100 feet. Two well struck drives are pictured below, unfortunately neither dropped for an eagle, there is nothing easy about this green and it provides a solid defense of par.

The 12th Green at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

#13 – Eagle Eye – Par 5 (534/437)

The thirteenth is a solid three shotter that has ample room of the tee, although hugging the dune on the right side will provide a shot at the green in two. A miss right will result in a brutal recovery from the dunes, while a safe play to the left will make the green unreachable.

About 225 yards to the 13th green at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

As if often the case at Chambers Bay, the architect is playing mind games with the golfer. “Position A” will leave the approach pictured above, which must traverse a 160 yard long waste area and a gaping 35 yard bunker in the hopes of running up onto the green. A safe approach to the left leaves a fairly straight-forward chip or bump and run up the left side to a slightly pushed up green.

This is a solid hole that will give up the occassional eagle and earn its fair share of bogeys.

#14 – Cape Fear – Par 4 (521/309)

The tee shot on fourteen is the best on the course, it is truly spectacular, challenging and exhilarating. From the back tees, a well struck drive drops over a hundred feet as it rockets across a huge waste area to the fairway benched between against towering mounds. Even from the middle tees, as pictured below, the drive is heart pounding yet well suited to the golfer who can draw the ball.

The rumpled fairway is a work of art and the lone bunker in the middle of the fairway is a monumental distraction that gobbles up many a well struck drive. The optimal tee shot will land just over or to the left of the bunker and get a turbo boost towards the green which adds another thirty yards to the drive.

The putting surface is protected to the left by bunkers, but there is plenty of room on the right to miss. Short grass around the green provides a wonderful option to putt to the pin. Par is not out of reach on this hole, but it will feel like a good score.

The 14th from the middle tee at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg.

#15 – Lone Fir – Par 3 (172/103)

The architect uses the lone fir at Chambers Bay to great effect on many holes, none better than the post card worthy fifteenth.

This short one shotter is downhill and across a waste area to the green. It is probably the easiest hole on the course, but when the wind picks up it can be tough to judge distance and there is danger lurking around the hole. Long is probably the safest bailout as there is a backboard that should send a tee shot back onto the green.

More noteworthy for its looks than its difficulty, there is many a course that could only dream of having something like it.

The 15th at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

#16 – Beached – Par 4 (425/279)

Like #10, the two shot sixteenth brings a lot of old world charm to the course. However, instead of evoking an Irish links, the train tracks running up the right side of the hole are reminiscent of quite a few courses in Scotland.

A long waste area runs up the right for most of the hole and directs the tee shot to a wide fairway that stretches out to the left. The rumpled fairway complicates the approach but provides a great opportunity to bump and run using the slope to carry the ball safely onto the green. A miss right could be costly as the bunker well below the putting surface is the only thing protecting the golfer from a lost ball.

The “infinity green” is a nice touch that appears to pull the Sound much closer to the field of play.

The 16th at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

#17 – Derailed – Par 3

Although the scenery is different, from the middle tees, the tee shot on number 17 is eerily similar to 15.

On most days, a short iron played downhill to the left side of the green will suffice nicely as the bunkers in front should be avoided at all costs. The train tracks to the right can provide a distraction at certain times of the day, but for the most part they just add to the ambiance.

The 17th at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg

#18 – Tahoma – Par 5 (604/462)

The home hole at Chambers Bay will provide a lot of excitement on tournament Sundays. Tipped out at over 600 yards it is a long hole that gives the golfer plenty to think about.

The waste area in front of the tee should never see a drive, but the two bunkers to the left will get plenty of action. With a tailwind a 3 Wood to the middle of the fairway might be the right play although a powerful drive down the right side or over the edge of the left bunker will be required to get home in two.

The 18th from the tee at Chambers Bay. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The green is set in an amphitheater and the uphill approach is difficult to judge because, although the pin is visible, the wave like tiering of the green is confusing. A front right pin will be tricky because the bunkers are brought into play, while a back pin will demand the addition of several clubs on the
approach, although the friendly backboard can be used to get it close. This hole will yield a wide array of scores which is I am confident the architect had in mind when he designed it.

The 18th hole from behind the green. Photo courtesy of Scott Weersing. Photos for personal use only.

A round at Chambers Bay is the type of golf experience that will keep walking golfers from around North America coming back for more.

RTJ II, Jay Blasi and the team have done something very special in Pierce County, WA and The Walking Golfer would encourage all golfers to visit Chambers Bay and experience what it has to offer.

The Walking Golfer Course Rating for Chambers Bay

2.5 / 4 points – Walkability

3.5 / 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics

2.0 / 2 points – Playability and Strategy

8.0 / 10 – Total

Review by Rob Rigg (April, 2009)

The Walking Golfer Course Rating System

Total is out of 10 Points

0 – 4 points – Walkability

0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics

0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy

Royal Oaks Country Club

Royal Oaks Country Club (Vancouver, WA)
Par 72 (7,017 yards)

Royal Oaks Country Club is located about 15 minutes from Portland, OR in Vancouver, WA. The course at Royal Oaks consistently ranks in the Top 10 for Washington State and amongst the 100 best “Classic” designs in the country.

There are a lot of things to really like about Royal Oaks from both a golf and country club perspective. A spectacular $7.2 million clubhouse and pro shop remodel has really modernized the club and will provide members with much improved amenities for years to come. The addition of a work out room to go along with the multiple pools and excellent restaurant will certainly attract new members, especially locals. Royal Oaks has a wonderful family and community spirit about it, that must make many other private clubs in the area jealous. The club’s solid junior program begins at age 5 and runs through high school which is commendable.

The 2nd Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The golf course at Royal Oaks is immaculately maintained by Alan Neilsen, the long time super, and his dedicated staff. The fairways, bunkers and greens were all in magnificent condition when I played, especially for so early in the season. The greens were fast, consistent and a pleasure to putt on. Despite an overwhelming number of trees, the greens must receive ample airflow and sunlight to be in such good condition.

Royal Oaks is very much a classic design that was routed across a rather small footprint of what must be less than 100 acres. The fairways are lined with trees, which serve to separate playing corridors throughout the round. To score at Royal Oaks, the golfer must be able to place his ball in the proper position off the tee. Most errant drives will force a punch out from under the trees back into play, and on some holes a drive or approach in the wrong portion of the fairway will leave the golfer stymied by trees. The greens at Royal Oaks tend to slope from back to front, so it is important to keep the ball below the hole to avoid a frighteningly quick down hill putt.

1st Hole – Early Warning – Par 4 (318/368)

The first hole at Royal Oaks reveals the strategy of the day. Place your tee shot, watch out for trees, and keep your approach below the hole.

1st Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The ideal line off the tee is just right of the bunker, which can be achieved with a hybrid, long iron or fairway wood depending on the golfer. A good tee shot will leave a mid to short iron approach into the green which is protected to the left by a bunker and a rather steep slope.

Approach shot into the 1st Green. Photo by Rob Rigg.

2nd Hole – Slicers Folly – Par 5 (474/535)

The best line off the tee at the three shot second is definitely to the left side of the fairway for any chance of reaching the green in two.

2nd Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The green is protected from an approach from the right side by a stand of trees. A cut three wood or lay up is the only option for a missed drive. The green is protected on the left and right by a series of bunkers, but a low running shot has a chance of getting on the dance floor.

Approach to the 2nd Green. Photo by Rob Rigg.

3rd Hole – Burnt Bridge – Par 4 (347/423)

The third is a difficult hole that calls for a well placed draw off the tee. Anything left is either in the trees or in the creek that runs up that side and then across the fairway about 140 yards short of the green. A pushed tee shot will force a punch out, or a very long second.

3rd Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

As is often the case, the green is sloped back to front, open to a running approach, and protected on both sides by bunkers.

3rd Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

4th Hole – Straight Arrow – Par 4 (361/453)

The two shot fourth calls for a well struck drive that finds the middle of the fairway because there is little room to miss with the trees hungrily waiting.

4th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The left side of the fairway is often the best angle for the approach to this slightly tilted green. A small hollow protects the front, with a bunker on the right and a stream way left. As is often the case at Royal Oaks, a premium is placed on accuracy off the tee.

4th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

5th Hole – Waterloo – Par 3 (110/160)

The only greens on the course that are protected by ponds are at the one shot 5th and one shot 12th. Waterloo should be an easy par because the tee shot is with a short iron, however the water, bunkers left, right and back will challenge even the experienced golfer’s nerves.

The 5th at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

6th Hole – Longworth – Par 5 (489/535)

The sixth hole is bordered to the left off the tee by houses, the first time the golfer encounters them on the course. As with the two shot third, this par 5 calls for a well struck draw off the tee. A long drive that starts at the red tree in the picture below and finishes past the bunker will leave a 3 wood into the green which is protected by a well placed bunker about 75 yards from the green on the left side. A push or fade will probably force a punch out from the trees or a lay up to about the 150 marker. A hook will likely be OB unless the trees are kind to you.

6th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

A draw is again called for to reach the green in two. Bunkers protect the putting surface on the right and left and a slope beyond the mounds at the back creates a difficult up and down if you go long. This was one of my favorite holes on the course as scores can range from an eagle to an X.

Approach to the 6th at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

7th Hole – Looks Easy – Par 4 (281/318)

The potentially driveable seventh is a chance for the golfer to make birdie with a huge drive or two carefully placed shots. The fairway is hidden from the tee as it slopes down towards the green.

Tee shot at the 7th at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

A hybrid or three wood will leave a short approach to another green protected on both sides by bunkers but open at the front. A bump and run probably looks like the correct play, but it is difficult to stop the ball short of the pin as the down slope in front of the green will kick your ball to the back, leaving a very tricky down hill putt for birdie. It is difficult to see in the photo, but the green has several undulations that break it up into three distinct sections.

The 7th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

8th Hole – The Chute – Par 3 (142/233)

The appropriately named eighth nicely complements the short par 4 seventh. From the tips, a well struck fairway wood traverses a creek before encountering a steep false front to a green protected by bunkers on both sides and rough at the back. The putting surface is steeply cambered back to front with a spine on the back left that makes for a very nervy two putt. This is one of the most challenging holes at Royal Oaks where bogey is much more common than par.

The par 3 8th at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

9th Hole – Lonely Apple – Par 4 (343/427)

The front nine concludes with a solid two shotter that moves right to left as it climbs to the green. Trees guard the left side of the fairway, and the ideal tee shot is a draw that starts on the right and finishes beyond the dog leg. The front nine finishes where you started, at the clubhouse.

10th Hole – Acorn Alley – Par 4 (280/315)

The tenth may appear short on the scorecard but the tight fairway will take driver out of the hands of all but the confident straight hitter. The approach is from a valley to an uphill green.

10th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The tenth green is appears like a small target from the fairway, with a deep bunker protecting the front and another bunker to the right. As seen below, the green apexes in the middle and slopes to either side making ball placement vitally important to secure a two putt.

The 10th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

11th Hole – The Grandy – Par 4 (379/431)

The two shot eleventh is pretty straight-forward. The fairway is safe, while left and right are full of danger.

The 11th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The green is surrounded by bunkers so the safe play is to the center of the green which will result in a good birdie chance.

11th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

12th Hole – The Pond – Par 3 (133/196)

The tee box of the day and pin placement will dictate how much of the pond will come into play. The rather large green slopes back right to front left and is protected by bunkers on the left and back left. Short left is the only bailout for the nervous golfer.

12th Hole at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

13th Hole – The Monster – Par 5 (449/555)

You may need to get out your chainsaw for this one as the thirteenth calls for three well placed shots to have a chance at birdie. The tee shot is fired out of a chute of trees and placement in the fairway is key.

13th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

A well struck drive provides no hope of reaching the green in two as it is located around the corner to the right beyond the trees. The ideal lay up is as close to the bunker ahead as possible to leave a straight shot into the green.

2nd shot at the 13th at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

As you can see, there is little room for error on The Monster. The green slopes from back right to front left and is protected by trees and bunkers on either side.

Approach to the 13th at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The golfer should be happy with par and ecstatic with a birdie, unfortunately I missed mine . . .

The 13th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

14th Hole – Gully – Par 4 (341/451)

This is a long par 4 that calls again for a straight drive down the middle.

14th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

The green is fairly deep, slightly elevated and protected by a bunker on the front left. Anything that lands short will stay short, leaving a tricky chip to the hole.

14th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

15th Hole – Forty Firs – Par 5 (435/556)

As the name suggests, there is a lot of wood to avoid on this reachable par 5. The slightly elevated green demands a well struck second to reach the putting surface.

15th Green at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

16th Hole – Sweet Sixteen – Par 3 (149/226)

What you see is what you get at the long one shot sixteenth. A hybrid or long iron must avoid bunkers left and right and a drop off at the back. Short is okay, leaving a manageable up and down for par.

16th Hole at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

17th Hole – Gopher Broke – Par 4 (337/420)

A lone fairway bunker protects the left side off the tee. Aim at the tree straight ahead to leave the ideal approach angle into this small green protected on both sides by bunkers. If you are in play off the tee, a birdie is possible, otherwise you will be punching out and scrambling for par.

17th Tee at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

18th Hole – Headin’ Home – Par 4 (341/415)

The shadows were getting long late in the afternoon at the home hole. The bunker on the left side of the fairway may force the golfer right into a stand of trees, which I would know from experience. A punch out to 150 yards leaves a straight forward approach to a green protected front left, right, and at the back with bunkers. Get your four and head to the bar to unwind from what may have been a tough day on the course.

18th Hole at Royal Oaks. Photo by Rob Rigg.

Obviously to score well at Royal Oaks you need to be accurate, especially with your drives. Several tee shots call for a draw or fade to optimize the possibility of making birdie. Like many parkland courses in the Pacific Northwest, Royal Oaks can be difficult for long hitters who are directionally challenged. It is not surprising that Royal Oaks produces a good number of strong junior golfers, due to the challenging layout, a great junior program and an excellent family atmosphere at the club.

In terms of Walkability, Royal Oaks is an easy 4 out of 4. The course is flat and green to tee transfers are short.

I would rate Royal Oaks 2.5 out of 4 for Architecture and Aesthetics. The setting is beautiful, the course is meticulously maintained, but there is not a lot of variety in the holes or green complexes.

I would rate Royal Oaks 1 out of 2 for Strategy and Playability. For the low handicap golfer, this is a challenging course where good scores can certainly be achieved. It takes a lot of skill to get around Royal Oaks without a couple of blow ups, because errant tee shots are punished and recovery skills are paramount. For the high handicap golfer, it is important to “take your medicine” when appropriate, get the ball back in play and scramble like crazy. Even with lady luck on your side, there is nowhere to hide the shortcomings of your game.

Overall, the golf course at Royal Oaks receives a well deserved 7.5 out of 10 from The Walking Golfer. As a private club, it definitely rates higher for anyone looking for a family oriented country club with all of the amenities that one could hope for. I hope to get back for another round to take on this challenging layout.

TWG Rating for Royal Oaks:

4.0 / 4 – Walkability

2.5 / 4 – Architecture and Aesthetics

1.0 / 2 – Strategy and Playability

7.5 / 10 – Total

Review by Rob Rigg, 2009

The Walking Golfer Course Rating System

Total is out of 10 Points

0 – 4 points – Walkability

0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics

0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy