“Chambers Bay will forever have the moniker of a U.S. Open course,” course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. said. “Only 27 active courses (since World War II) have that moniker. From my perspective, no higher honor could have been given.”
UNIVERSITY PLACE — Chambers Bay is about to become golf royalty. People outside the state who had never heard of Pierce County and thought Tacoma was just a suburb of Seattle soon will know otherwise. Chambers Bay, strikingly situated on Puget Sound, hosts the U.S. Open from June 18-21. For a week, the world will be watching.
Robert Trent Jones Jr., architect of the course on the former gravel and sand mine, likened it to a movie winning an Oscar for Best Picture. The movie and award are forever linked.
“Chambers Bay will forever have the moniker of a U.S. Open course,” Jones said. “Only 27 active courses (since World War II) have that moniker. From my perspective, no higher honor could have been given.”
Players already in the U.S. Open
Fifty players are currently exempt based on USGA criteria — meaning they don’t have to qualify — for June’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
That is one fewer than it was earlier this month, as Corey Conners, the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur, lost his exemption when he turned professional after the Masters.
Players not already exempt who are in the top 60 in the world rankings as of June 1 also will be exempt, as will players in the top 60 in the world as of June 15. The winner of the European PGA Championship in late May also is exempt. The remainder of the 156-player field will be determined in sectional qualifying.
The list of players who are exempt:
Keegan Bradley, Angel Cabrera, Michael Campbell, Darren Clarke, Erik Compton, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Lucas Glover, Bill Haas, Russell Henley, Morgan Hoffman, Billy Horschel, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Chris Kirk, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Hideki Matsuyama, Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Colin Montgomerie, Kevin Na, Bradley Neil, Geoff Ogilvy, Louis Oosthuizen, Ryan Palmer, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Oliver Schneiderjans (amateur), Charl Schwartzel, John Senden, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, Henrik Stenson, Brendon Todd, Cameron Tringale, Jimmy Walker Bubba Watson, Gary Woodland, Tiger Woods, Gunn Yang (amateur).
For Pierce County, which owns the course, things will be different, too. People from around the world who have never heard of Tacoma, much less University Place, now will know it.
“People have no concept of the amount of media attention. They will have over 1,200 media members for the Open,” said John Ladenburg, the former Pierce County executive who spearheaded the idea and whose vision it was to build a course that would host a U.S. Open. “You can’t buy that kind of publicity. And it’s for Washington state. There has never been a world sporting event like this in the Pacific Northwest, and we are all in it together.”
Pat McCarthy, who succeeded Ladenburg as county executive, said the championship is projected to bring $145 million to the region for what she calls the “Super Bowl of Golf.”
The county and the USGA have been preparing for years. All parties say everything is ready, the event will go off seamlessly and there are no sleepless nights — just excitement for the week and what it will mean beyond.
If you hold a U.S. Open, they will come
Matt Allen, general manager of Chambers Bay, has seen business increase the past couple years. In 2013 Chambers Bay was profitable for the first time. It was even busier in 2014.
And after the U.S. Open?
“They will be as busy as they want to be,” Ladenburg said.
The course has been running at basically full capacity the past couple of years, but an influx of out-of-area players — who pay the highest greens fees — is expected to significantly increase revenue.
Joe Rehor, the PGA director of golf at famed Bethpage State Park in New York, has been there since 1979. Of course, when he began working there, it was not world renowned. But then the U.S. Open came to Bethpage Black in 2002, the first time it had been held at a municipal course.
Suddenly, it was on the to-do list of well-heeled golfers around the world, people with the means to visit the courses that play host to the game’s greatest players.
“We had people coming from everywhere,” Rehor said. “Anytime you break that top 100 (list of golf courses) and people have seen it on TV — a great course and at a reasonable rate — they want to come play it.”
Just the anticipation of the U.S. Open coming has had that effect at Chambers Bay. (The course opened in 2007, and in a surprise move less than a year later the USGA awarded it this year’s Open.)
Despite significant closures in the winter to get the course ready for the U.S. Open, Chambers Bay had record revenues of $6.9 million in 2014, 26 percent ahead of budget.
Average greens fees were up 25 percent from 2013 to an average of $108.83 because there were more out-of-state players paying full price. Merchandise revenue was up 47 percent because of the demand for U.S. Open items.
The number of out-of-state visitors might really spike with millions of golfers around the world getting an up-close look in June, particularly if the course gets good reviews.
“The USGA has told us to expect more of a bubble post-U.S. Open than before — and we have definitely had some increase before, so that could lead you to expect the response could be overwhelming,” Allen said.
Ladenburg never doubted that a U.S. Open would bring a lot of business to the course. He had even bigger ideas about what the event could mean to the Northwest.
“I thought, ‘We don’t have a golf industry in Washington,’ ” he said. “I was aware of the tournaments in Southern California and Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) and how they embraced it, all the things the tournaments do for charities and to diversify the economy.
“So I thought if we could build a world-class course and get a U.S. Open, we could get the golf industry to come here. I thought we could jump-start interest in golf and in professional tournaments and get an LPGA or PGA stop (in the area).”
Ladenburg still believes that is possible.
“A lot of local people from big corporations will be at the Open,” he said. “They will see this huge event, and it may generate that effect.”
A weeklong infomercial
Hotels around the area have been booked for weeks at much higher than typical rates. McCarthy said the average stay is expected to be four nights, and the average visitor will spend $1,200 while he or she is here.
“Sales tax alone will generate $8 million,” she said.
But McCarthy’s thoughts have always been beyond the big week.
“We like to say that we want this to be the week that keeps on giving,” she said.
To assure that, McCarthy said the county had to make sure the golf course was at “platinum level.”
Tee times have been significantly cut back over the past year. Greens were protected at night during inclement weather. And after a mild winter, everyone involved said the course will be in fine condition for its global close-up.
That, of course, does not guarantee the players will like it. U.S. Open courses are notoriously difficult, and the event is being played on a links-style course and on fescue grass for the first time.
But criticism is just part of the game.
“From my personal standpoint, I welcome the sports chatter,” course architect Jones said. “I created the defense, and the course is the opponent for the players. Think of me as the goalkeeper. I am on defense, and I welcome it.”
Ladenburg is more concerned with what viewers around the world will see.
“They are going to be stunned by the scenery,” he said. “All 18 holes have dramatic views of Puget Sound and the islands. Pebble Beach (the legendary, picturesque course in California) has only seven holes on the water.”
There will be enough publicity to go around, McCarthy said.
“We could not spend enough money to get this exposure,” McCarthy said. “This is really a chance to showcase the Northwest. Not just Pierce County or University Place or Tacoma, but the entire region. And we are proud to showcase the best place in the world: the Sound, Mount Rainier, clean water and sustainability.”
|An elite club|
|Chambers Bay will become the 50th site to host a U.S. Open. Oakmont Country Club has hosted the U.S. Open eight times, which is the most. A look at the courses that have held the event more than once:|
|Course||Location||No. (most recent)||Comment|
|Oakmont CC||Oakmont, Pa.||8 (2007)||The Open returns in 2016|
|Baltusrol Golf Club||Springfield, N.J.||7 (1993)||First two were on Old Course, which no longer exists|
|Oakland Hills CC||Bloomfield Township, Mich.||6 (1996)||Steve Jones won in ’96 after making it through qualifying|
|Pebble Beach Golf Links||Pebble Beach, Calif.||5 (2010)||Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Tom Watson among the winners|
|Merion Golf Club||Haverford Township, Pa.||5 (2013)||Ben Hogan won in 1950, his first major title after returning from accident|
|Olympic Club||San Francisco||5 (2012)||Jack Fleck got $6,000 for 1955 win; Webb Simpson $1.44 million in 2012|
|Winged Foot||Mamaroneck, N.Y.||5 (2006)||Members voted no to hosting 2015 Open, opening door for Chambers Bay|
|Shinnecock Hills GC||Southhampton, N.Y.||4 (2004)||Held its first U.S. Open in 1896; returning in 2018|
|Inverness Club||Toledo, Ohio||4 (1979)||Famous tree planted to prevent shortcut after first round in 1979|
|Myopia Hunt Club||South Hamilton, Mass.||4 (1908)||Winning score was 331 in 1901, highest in U.S. Open history|
|Pinehurst No. 2||Pinehurst, N.C.||3 (2014)||Held men’s and women’s Opens last year in back-to-back weeks|
|Congressional||Bethesda, Md.||3 (2011)||Rory McIlroy set Open scoring mark in 2011|
|Southern Hills CC||Tulsa, Okla.||3 (2001)||Woods won the PGA Championship there in 2007|
|Oak Hills CC||Pittsford, N.Y.||3 (1989)||Hosted 2003, 2013 PGA Championships|
|The Country Club||Brookline, Mass.||3 (1988)||Amateur Francis Ouimet won the legendary 1913 Open there|
|Cherry Hills CC||Cherry Hills Village, Colo.||3 (1978)||Arnold Palmer won in 1960, with Nicklaus and Hogan tying for second|
|Medinah CC||Medinah, Ill.||3 (1990)||Hosted the 2012 Ryder Cup|
|Chicago GC||Wheaton, Ill.||3 (1911)||With 120 members, it’s ranked fifth-most exclusive course in the world|
|Bethpage (Black)||Farmingdale, N.Y.||2 (2009)||First truly public course to host a U.S. Open|
|Olympia Fields CC||Olympia Fields, Ill.||2 (2003)||Jim Furyk won in 2003, 75 years after it was first held there|
|Hazeltine National GC||Chaskam, Minn.||2 (1991)||Hosted 1970 Open just eight years after it opened|
|Canterbury GC||Beachwood, Ohio||2 (1946)||Nicklaus won 1973 PGA Championship there|
|Philadelphia Cricket Club||Philadelphia||2 (1910)||The course is now a nine-hole layout|