Larry Stone | Chambers Bay hosts the U.S. Open beginning June 15, and the men who have spent years preparing the Northwest’s unique links-style course can’t wait.
UNIVERSITY PLACE — Even on a dreary, gray day, Puget Sound glistened off Chambers Bay Golf Course on Monday.
From Grandview Trail, where joggers trotted past oblivious to the hubbub of activity below — including the train that rumbled past at midmorning — the course could be seen in all its glory. The British-style links setup makes it unlike anything we’ve ever experienced stateside for a U.S. Open.
Yet that’s what is coming, for the first time, to our neck of the woods in a mere two months. When Jordan Spieth’s final putt dropped into the cup to conclude his Masters triumph, it put Chambers Bay on the clock, and the energy surge here is palpable.
“From now on, it’s pedal to the metal,’’ said Danny Sink, the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) championship director for the 2015 U.S. Open, which tees off here with practice rounds June 15.
Sink has been embedded at Chambers Bay since Oct. 1, 2012, immersed in the complex business of preparing a municipal course for the nation’s most prestigious golf event.
Now they’re in the closing stretch, finalizing construction of the various structures needed to stage a U.S. Open. They’re preparing to implement the painstaking logistics required for the egress and ingress of the expected 235,000 attendees.
But Sink and Chambers Bay general manager Matt Allen, both of whom I visited Monday, also allowed themselves a luxurious moment or two to dream ahead. To ponder how marvelous it’s going to be when their baby — Pierce County’s baby, to be precise — is unveiled to the world.
“I can’t think of another place for the U.S. Open,’’ Allen said, “that will have this type of visuals. Pebble Beach is pretty spectacular, but given the absence of trees and the ability to get elevated shots at just about any point in time, you’re always going to have that water in view, if you want it.”
The USGA believes this has the potential to be the highest rated U.S. Open in history, based on numerous factors. FOX Sports will be presenting its first-ever golf tournament and no doubt promoting it commensurately. The current story lines in golf are rich with drama. And Sink imagines that the fan on the East Coast — watching in prime time, another stroke of good fortune — will be blown away by our Pacific Northwest grandeur.
“The word-of-mouth is going to be like ‘Oh, my God, did you see Chambers Bay last night? You’ve got to watch it,’ ’’ Sink said.
They envisioned how some of the more spectacular holes are going to play on television — No. 15, with the visual power of the lone fir tree behind it. Or 16 and 17, both playing parallel to the Sound, the photogenic nature enhanced even more by the inevitable image of a train going right by.
That’s a sight they welcome, by the way, both as a harkening back to the game’s Scottish roots and a reminder of the perverse nature of playing here. Allen knows there will be times when golfers back off their shot to let the train pass, which they believe will just add to the endearing quirkiness of Chambers Bay.
“It’s what the everyday golfer feels here,’’ Sink said.
But these are the best golfers in the world converging on the South Sound and bringing a slew of compelling story lines with them. Spieth’s emerging brilliance. Tiger Woods’ ongoing attempt to regain his throne. Phil Mickelson’s fervent desire to complete a career slam.
Not to mention local favorite Ryan Moore, the ever-charismatic Rory McIlroy, the enigmatic Sergio Garcia, and any number of other well-known players who could emerge from the pack.
That concept of presenting the course as it plays the other 51 weeks of the year — minus the invariably diabolical USGA layout — is big for the event organizers. Which is why they are openly hoping not for four days of bright sunshine, but rather the full gamut of weather variance that we all know and love, from sun to wind to mist — minus a full-blown rainstorm, of course.
“We want the best players in the world to feel the same way as the schoolteacher from Steilacoom that comes out here to play,’’ Sink said. “That’s cool for us.”
Also cool is the thought of the versatility of the course as it relates to yardage, tee locations and angles into the hole.
The folks in charge of such things are “over the moon excited,” Sink said, about the options available to them, based on the weather conditions and their imagination. But if it does rain, Chambers Bay will benefit from being what Sink calls the best draining golf course in the country.
Par can be changed on 1 and 18, depending on the wind and other factors. It might be possible to have three or four drivable par 4s, the accomplishment of which will lead to roars from the gallery the organizers are genuinely curious about. How far will the noise of 40,000 people carry after a killer drive or gorgeous putt? You can’t test those things; you have to see them in action.
Their ultimate Chambers Bay daydream brings them to Sunday’s final round, 18th hole, the tournament hanging in the balance as any number of players converge down the stretch.
“Someone may make an eagle if we play 18 as a par 5 on Sunday,’’ Sink said. “An eagle to win the U.S. Open is unheard of.”
It’s a pretty thought befitting a potentially spectacular layout. Allen says the course, with its unique fescue grass, is just where they want it, helped along by a milder-than-normal winter. The public will be allowed to keep playing Chambers Bay until Memorial weekend, when they’ll shut it down and put on the finishing touches.
In the next few months, they expect drop-in visits from many of the world’s best players to familiarize themselves with the course. That process will no doubt heat up before and after the World Match-Play Championships in San Francisco, April 29-May 3.
In the meantime, it’s time for the U.S. Open organizers to hunker down for the detail work, educate fans (they expect more first-time attendees than any U.S. Open ever) and wait for the world to come to them.
“We’re excited to be the epicenter of golf for the next few months,’’ Allen said.