UNIVERSITY PLACE — On the Chambers Bay golf course website, there is a countdown — down to the second — to the beginning of the 2015 U.S. Open.
Tick, tick, tick … 731 days left until the Pierce County course hosts one of golf’s four major tournaments. The man in charge of the tournament vows to be ready, even if holding the U.S. Open at a new site presents additional challenges.
“When you go to an event year after year, we know what’s worked before,” said Danny Sink, the championship director who has been at Chambers Bay since the fall. “The great thing here is we have a blank slate, and no options are off the table. We have the opportunity to do something special inside and outside the ropes. It is challenging and refreshing.”
The golf course, built on a former sand and gravel mine adjacent to Puget Sound south of Tacoma, is essentially ready for the U.S. Open now. Twelve of the 18 holes have been tweaked or changed, according to Bruce Charlton, one of the designers of the course.
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“The greens will be faster, but other than that, it is playing pretty much now as it will then,” said Sink, who will be directing his seventh U.S. Open in 10 years.
Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association, has been in charge of course setup and the changes.
The rest is up to Sink, from transportation to hospitality tents, getting more than 4,000 volunteers and making room for up to 50,000 spectators. But Sink has done it all before, and he said this is the most enthusiasm he has seen from a community two years out.
While working with course operator Pierce County and other nearby communities, part of Sink’s job has been to dispel myths.
• Is the lack of a clubhouse a problem? The USGA will build a temporary clubhouse, just as it did recently at Bethpage and Pebble Beach. The players might even prefer it.
• Can you get 50,000 people to the golf course? Sink said parking and transportation are always an issue, but this isn’t the biggest transportation challenge he has faced.
• Rumors had the USGA thinking of moving the event somewhere else. Sink: Not a chance.
The golf course got a test run in 2010 when Chambers Bay hosted the U.S. Amateur.
“We were able to see what we liked and what we needed to improve on,” Sink said. “It was a good litmus test to see how balls landed and to see how some of the best players were able to play it.”
Some greens were so dry and hard that it was virtually impossible to keep an approach shot on the green during the first two days of the Amateur. Davis said afterward the USGA was surprised at how much water was needed to keep the greens from getting too dry.
“We almost had to flood them,” Davis said at the time.
Spectators were allowed to follow golfers on the fairways at the Amateur, and with basically no area of the course roped off, some spectators got hurt trying to scale the steep dunes.
The U.S. Open will draw a crowd more than 10 times that of the Amateur, and access will be much more controlled. Ticket sales are expected to be cut off at 35,000, but with volunteers, media, youth and 12 free passes for each player, there could up to 50,000 people on the course. Friday’s second round is expected to be the most-crowded day.
“This is a tough course to walk on a normal day,” Sink said. “We are going to have 20,000 bleacher seats, and we are going to create areas where you can see an approach and a tee from one bleacher. But there are folks who want to follow the groups, and they will be able to see a lot of the action.”
Sink has spent the past few weeks at Merion in Pennsylvania, helping out with this year’s U.S. Open, putting in the “busiest days that I’ll have this year.” When he returns, Sink will continue to work on the blueprints for the 2015 Open. There already are tentative plans for transportation and other important details, but he said those won’t be released until a couple of months before the Open.
“We don’t release the plans until everything is buttoned up, and I don’t think people need to know all the X’s and O’s,” Sink said. “It’s going to run smoothly.”
Even transportation details, he said.
“We know how important it is for the customer experience to be able to get to and from the course in a timely manner,” Sink said. “No one wants to spend a lot of time on a shuttle and waiting to get to the course. It’s going to be fine. We’re going to get them here, and we’re going to get them out.”
Things will ramp up even more beginning in January as Sink starts recruiting volunteers. Ticket sales will begin next June.
“We are going to have a great championship, and our goal is to be invited back,” Sink said. “We are not in the business of going to a site as good as Chambers Bay — and being as successful as we think it will be — to not be invited back.”
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or firstname.lastname@example.org