UNIVERSITY PLACE – For nearly a decade, it’s taken plenty of imagination from Pierce County politicians, golf course architects and officials from the United States Golf Association to envision a U.S. Open at the relatively new Chambers Bay Golf Course.
Now, with that championship just 50 weeks away, the attention is turning to finding the player who might have the proper imagination and vision needed to become the next U.S. Open champion.
Friday, amid rain squalls and blustery conditions that would be perfect again next June, USGA executive director Mike Davis led a discussion about the championship along the shores of Puget Sound that will draw 235,000 spectators for the week and will be televised in 180 countries.
“I’ve watched 25 U.S. Opens,” Davis said, “I’ve been a part of 25 U.S. Opens. I’ve read a lot of history going back to 1895, and the one thing you can say almost without failure is the players that embrace the architecture, that embrace the set-up, the agronomics, are the ones who do well.”
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It will take plenty of embracing by the players because all agree Chambers Bay will be unlike any previous U.S. Open course. And that’s following the Open earlier this month at Pinehurst No. 2 that for the first time in modern major championship history in the U.S. featured more brown than green, and rough that looked more like a vacant lot than a golf course.
“I don’t think we’re going to look like Pinehurst, but it will be different,” Josh Lewis, the superintendent at Chambers Bay, said without even mentioning that Chambers Bay has exactly one tree on the course, and it doesn’t even come into play. “We’re equally outside the box, just in a different way.”
“This is a very different golf course,” Davis said. “Not only for the area, it’s different for the U.S. Open.”
And that’s what intrigued Davis and the USGA to take a chance on Chambers Bay.
“This golf course gives us tremendous flexibility on how we set it up on a daily basis,” he said.
That’s right up Davis’ alley because he loves to give the players as many different looks as possible in a span of four days.
“He’s like a kid in a candy store,” said Larry Gilhuly, the director of the Northwest Green Section for the USGA. “Oh my, it’s going to be so much fun.”
Fun for Davis because he’s planning to switch the pars on the first and 18th holes where one is a par-4 one day, then a par-5 the next. Fun, because the par-3 15th hole can play 240 yards one day, and then 125 the next. Fun, because the par-3 ninth hole will have a tee box 120 feet above the putting surface one day, then the next day the players will be playing from a completely different tee box and hitting an uphill shot.
“The player with the best imagination, the player that knows Chambers Bay and has studied Chambers Bay is really going to have an advantage,” Davis said.
That was the case during the test run for this Open, the U.S. Amateur held at Chambers Bay in 2010. Peter Uihlein was the winner over Patrick Cantlay as they were the two players who embraced the difficult conditions and adapted their games.
Gilhuly remembers running into Uihlein during a practice round that week.
“Peter Uihlein walked up,” Gilhuly said, “and immediately Peter said, ‘This is the greatest course I’ve ever seen.’ He was so fired up to play the course.”
What will be needed for Chambers Bay to be considered that again in 2015 is a good growing season this winter for its fine fescue grass, which has never been the total surface grass for a U.S. Open.
“When you look out there, it feels like a British Open course, but I’ll tell you British Open courses do not all have fine fescue putting surfaces,” Davis said.
“Warm and wet is a good links environment,” Lewis said about the weather he’s hoping for next winter. “Cold and dry would not be ideal.”
Either way, don’t expect wall-to-wall lush green conditions that are seen every year at Augusta National.
“We don’t play golf on color, never have, never will,” Lewis said. “It’s the surface.”
And good fine fescue surfaces will include plenty of bounce coming into the greens, and then smooth rolls from there.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful surface to play on. It bounces, it rolls, it’s not a tacky grass,” Davis said. “It requires more imagination.”
• Davis said Chambers will play as a par-70 at between 7,200 and 7,600 yards. No. 8 will play as a par-5 each day and either No. 1 or No. 18 will play as a par-5 on alternating days.
• Dan Burton, a vice president for the USGA and the chairman of the championship committee, addressed the fact this is the first time the U.S. Open has come to the Northwest. “It’s great to be here,” he said. “After 114 years of traveling around the United States, we finally found it.”
• Bleachers that will sit roughly 20,000 spectators will be constructed. Roughly 20 different free parking areas will be used around the region and the USGA will provide free shuttles to the golf course. Plans are still in the works for train service from King Street Station to the golf course.