The tournament had one of the most dramatic finishes in history, and it had controversy, as players complained about the greens, some likening them to broccoli and cauliflower.
Like a gorgeous ship sailing away after bedazzling a village, the question is whether the U.S. Open will return to Chambers Bay in University Place — and if so, when? The decision is in the hands of the United States Golf Association, which brought the Open to the Northwest for the first time last June.
The tournament had one of the most dramatic finishes in history — Jordan Spieth won when Dustin Johnson three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole. It also had controversy, as players complained about the greens. Two players said it was like putting on vegetables (broccoli, according to Henrik Stenson, and cauliflower, said Rory McIlroy).
The course is in good shape. It was the site of the Redhawk Invitational, an annual spring tournament hosted by Seattle University, this month, and University of Washington coach Matt Thurmond said afterward, “The greens were awesome.”
One thing is certain: Pierce County, which owns Chambers Bay, wants another U.S. Open.
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“We want to have the U.S. Open back,” said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who will leave office after this year’s election because of term limits and is running for state auditor.
McCarthy and Gov. Jay Inslee were among several officials, including Sen. Patty Murray and four members of Congress, who sent a letter of appreciation to the USGA saying they are looking forward to another Open and other USGA championships at Chambers Bay.
The USGA has announced U.S. Open sites through 2024. Mike Butz, senior managing director for USGA Open championships, said he doesn’t know when future sites will be announced or what they will be. But he has nice things to say about Chambers Bay.
“I don’t think there is any question in the USGA’s mind that the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was a success,” he said last week. He also described Pierce County as a “great partner.”
Butz said the USGA has a committee that selects future Open sites, and as many as 20 courses can be up for consideration.
Pierce County is eager to host any of the USGA’s 13 championships (the number moves to 14 in 2018 with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open) to stay in the hunt for the U.S. Open. Hosting other USGA championships also would offer proof of good greens and civic support.
Butz said the USGA appreciates the interest and added that no elaborate sales job is necessary because “the venue proved itself.”
He said the USGA liked the enthusiastic and appreciative crowds.
“We came away with a sense of appreciation for the passion people in the Northwest have for sports in general,” he said. “They brought the 12th Man to golf.”
Butz said horticultural advances in future years might combat the invasion of poa annua grasses on the fescue greens, and better luck with weather could help, too. Dry, hot weather contributed to the poa problem.
Butz said Chambers Bay was hardly the first course to have problems with greens at a U.S. Open.
“I remember Shinnecock Hills had moss over its greens in 1986, and nine years later those issues were corrected,” he said, referring to the 1995 Open.
Butz said steps would need to be taken to improve spectator flow on the course if the Open returns to Chambers Bay.
“We learned some things,” he said, adding that problems are almost inevitable the first time at any course.
One person confident that the U.S. Open will return is former Pierce County executive John Ladenburg, who can be called “the father of Chambers Bay” because he envisioned a course capable of hosting the U.S. Open and got it built.
Ladenburg said, it is “just a matter of time before they come back — it was so successful.” He called any Open at Chambers Bay “a cash cow” for the USGA.
He noted that not only did tickets sell out fast, some booths in the huge merchandise pavilion had to be resupplied before the week of the tournament because the public was so eager for souvenirs.
Ladenburg said a solution to improving spectator flow on the course might be to remove some of the big mounds and replace them after the tournament. The course was man-made on a sand and gravel pit.
Ladenburg also wants a U.S. Women’s Open at Chambers Bay.
“I told (USGA executive director) Mike Davis that we should get the Women’s U.S. Open before 2025 because we are the closest course to the Asian market. I think we’d get 5,000 people flying over here to watch.”
South Koreans have won 11 of the past 20 “majors” on the LPGA Tour. U.S. Women’s Open sites are set through 2021.
Chambers Bay general manager Matt Allen said after the U.S. Open that 40 percent of the play on the course was from out of state. Before the Open, 20 percent was out-of-state, he said.