The U.S. Open May Return to Chambers Bay

By Tony Dear

A recent visit to the 2015 U.S. Open Venue more or less convinced our writer the championship will return one day.

Given what happened in 2015, it’s likely that if and when the USGA ever announces the U.S. Open is returning to Chambers Bay, the backlash will be strong. You’ll remember most people didn’t seem terribly fond of the place —the players were almost universally angry about the state of the greens, the fans weren’t impressed with their vantage points (or lack of them) at certain holes, and Gary Player was unconvinced with the whole set up—“the most unpleasant golf tournament I’ve seen in my life,” said the nine-time major champion.

There are no doubt plenty of folk who hope Chambers Bay has staged its last U.S. Open already. But, after attending a celebration of the course’s first 10 years last week, and listening to people who will shape its progress over the next 10, I can assure you it is not going to let the generally negative reaction to its first U.S. Open deter it from hosting another one.

Addressing an audience of media and local stakeholders, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said the County (which owns Chambers Bay) would be “aggressively going after both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens, and other big events. We’re going to continue making Chambers Bay better and better,” said the man who succeeded Pat McCarthy, the county executive at the time of the 2015 championship and who, in turn, had taken over from John Ladenburg whose idea Chambers Bay had been.

Significant additions that will no doubt help the course attract the USGA back to the Pacific Northwest some day (sites are confirmed through 2026), will be the 190-room hotel and villas, 5,000-square-foot event space, 200-seat Tom Douglas restaurant, and 4,000-square-foot clubhouse to be built around the site of the current clubhouse. Local company Chambers Bay Development, co-owned by Dan Putnam—the father of PGA Tour and Web.com players Michael and Andrew Putnam who grew up just a few miles away—won the bid last fall, and will break ground before the end of this year with completion scheduled for 2019.

But what use will a hotel be if the greens remain bumpy, and the viewing areas limited?

“There are no worries about the spectator experience,” says Ladenburg who remains a central figure in the evolution of Chambers Bay. “At a post-championship USGA event, I had a conversation with an official who had been involved in roping the course. He told me he was already thinking about what they would need to do for next time.”

 

As for the course, Director of Agronomy Eric Johnson says it is all in hand. “Over time, perennial-type annual bluegrass (commonly known as poa annua var. reptans) will become dominant on the greens,” he adds. “Currently there are a handful of perennial biotypes along with annual biotypes, colonial bentgrass and the fine fescue that was first sown here.”

The mix of turfgrasses explains why the greens remain so mottled even to this day. But 2015’s problems went deeper than a combination of grasses. Matt Allen, the general manager at the course which will host the prestigious Pacific Coast Amateur in a few weeks and the U.S. Amateur Fourball Championship in May 2019, says the weather preceding the event could not have been less helpful. “We weren’t prepared for the heat and lack of rain,” he says. “So, we had to water the greens immediately before and during the tournament. The fescue had gone dormant, but the poa just thrived with the irrigation.”

The 10th green has a more uniform color, and is noticeably smoother than most other greens at Chambers Bay. It shows the benefits of Eric Johnson’s poa annua seeding program. (Photo credit: Dave Hall)

 

Since June 2015, Johnson has increased cultural inputs (mowing, rolling, fertilizer, pesticide, water) to favor annual bluegrass establishment, and is seeding the greens with the only commercially available annual bluegrass turf—Poa reptans Two-Putt. “The good news,” he says, “is that it establishes pretty well. The bad news is that its prolific seedhead production in the first year or so gives the greens that blotchy appearance.”

Johnson has also begun saving and analyzing clipping yields from the greens in an effort to monitor growth and make better decisions on when to cut, seed, fertilize, and irrigate. “Every-day play is our focus as a public course,” he says. “I want smooth greens as well as consistent speed and firmness.”

The delay in reaching that goal hasn’t deterred golfers traveling to Tacoma, Wash., to play the course where Jordan Spieth shot 275 to win his second major championship in a row. “Since then we’ve had visitors from all 50 states and 27 countries,” says Allen, who adds that the number of rounds played at Chambers Bay each year is typically around 38,000.

Course improvements and a fancy new hotel will be welcome, but they still might not guarantee Chambers Bay another U.S. Open. Maybe the experiment with public courses (Pebble Beach, Bethpage, Torrey Pines, Pinehurst, Chambers Bay, and Erin Hills) will eventually fizzle out, and the old classics will take over. But perhaps the amazing views over Puget Sound and prime-time finish on the East Coast will work in its favor.

Then, of course, there’s the money. The 2015 U.S. Open had a $134 million impact on the local economy, and the USGA did rather well out of it too. According to its Annual Report, USGA revenue from its Open championships (U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open) in 2016, when the U.S. Open was played at Oakmont, was $53.3m. In 2015, it was $64.3m.  “The USGA needs to make money on the U.S. Open,” says Ladenburg. “And it made a lot at Chambers Bay.”

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Would you like to see the U.S. Open return to Chambers Bay? Let us know in the comments below!

15 Comments
  1. I think the Chambers Bay golf course is a fine place for the US Open and other golf tournaments. I have to laugh at the poor professionals who are not capable of or do not want to play on a course that the rest of us would gladly play. We are used to bumpy blotchy greens, fairways that are not mowed evenly with the weather adversely affecting playing conditions. The US Open, Senior Open, and Women’s Open should all be played on public courses.

    1. I hear what you are saying, but a major tournament should be played in pristine conditions in my opinion.

  2. The first time U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was a complete travesty and a joke!

    Please let this course sink into the Puget Sound!

    It doesn’t say how many rounds were repeat rounds and the green fees for a public course are ridiculous!

  3. I think this boils down to a few simple issues. The finish and drama that the layout produced was spectacular. Two of the best players in the world dueling it out down the stretch was great theater. Compare that to this year’s sleeper and CB wins hands down. The spectator experience was handicapped by the USGA keeping people off the mounds where the best views are – easy fix. Don’t overlook the financial side, the USGA needs to have a big cash producer. If the green issues can be solved, it might be a while but the U.S. Open will be back almost certainly.

  4. The USGA charges golf courses money, under the Green Section, to help them manage turf on their course, but when it comes to the US Open, they don’t have a clue about what they are doing. The Chambers Bay fiasco was maybe the worst. It’s time for an overhaul at the USGA.

  5. The history of the US Open is of classic courses in pristine condition – especially the greens – and very difficult playing challenges with an emphasis on accuracy, not links style conditions with unpredictable bounces and slow, lousy or even questionable greens. It is our national championship at which we demand the best from the world’s finest tour professionals. The same must be expected of the course upon which they play.

    I, for one, hope that the USGA has had enough of their experiment with links courses and public courses, and gets back to its roots.

    Bring back Merion, Winged Foot, Medinah, Pebble Beach (no, it is not a links course), Shinnecock (no, it is not a links course) and other great tracks.

  6. I played Chambers Bay. Not impressed for me let alone a U.S. Open. Doesn’t hold a candle to Erin Hills or other public courses.

  7. My wife and I played Chambers Bay in 2014 …. a pretty unimpressive experience. Instead of looking to Chambes Bay why not stick to a proven venue. The USGA should occasionally look for a site south of the Mason Dixon Line, maybe a classic course like Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, the only golf course to have hosted a U.S. Open, a Women’s U.S. Open and a Tournament Players Championship. As a further footnote for Colonal’s consideration the course was Ben Hogan’s and Byron Nelson’s home course ….

  8. If it is going to be the same quirky course it was in 2015 I don’t want to see any major tournament played there. When a player hits a seemingly good shot at a hole and it rolls 25 or 50 feet away down a hill, or whatever…that isn’t a championship golf venue.

  9. Prior to the Open at Chambers Bay, I mistakenly thought it’s layout would allow great viewing on every hole. But upon arriving, we were dismayed to see the berms which would have been great for spectators had been roped off, actually blocking play from view. We ended up retreating to a grandstand for the weekend — boring! I’ve never had more difficulty trying to watch a golf tournament. If wide areas are not available to spectators if/when there’s a next time for the Open at Chambers Bay, I’ll gladly stay home.

  10. It all comes down to MONEY. West Coast prime time finish + public course that will let the USGA do anything they want and suck up all the money + people (including local tax payers) that will put money into the course to try and fix the previous issues = another US Open. Only problem is will the course still be in business by 2030? Erin Hills almost didn’t make it but for a rich hedge fund guy. Stay tuned….

  11. The problems with CB greens have been around for 10 years. Countless dollars and expertise has been poured into trying to fix them. Why should we believe that the solution is suddenly at hand??

  12. Course management and the USGA have poured countless hours of expertise and barrels of dollars over the past 10 years in attempts to fix these greens. Why should we believe the solution is suddenly and magically at hand? Let them prove it first through various wet and dry times and maybe then a decision on a future Open can be made.

  13. I would like to see the actual golf take center stage at the U.S.Open rather than issues with the courses. By golf taking center stage I do not mean the golfers ability to putt on bad greens, hit from riduculously long rough or having to figure out that ever patch of dirt is really a bunker.

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