I’ve made a two-month study of the Chambers Bay Golf Course and have come to the conclusion that some changes are needed.
These changes focus on making Pierce County more fiscally responsible for the operation of the golf course while providing greater access to more county residents.
Chambers Bay was built with $20.7 million from the proceeds of a bond issue. The revenues in the first year of operation were sufficient to support maintenance of the course. As long as other costs are maintained, the course revenues should be sufficient to repay these construction costs.
During my e-mail exchanges with Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg over the last couple of months, he argued, “There is no taxpayer money in the golf course” because the bond issue is supporting the construction costs of the course. I disagree.
Ladenburg also wrote that the waterfront land that the course is built on is valued at $0 even though Pierce County bought the entire parcel of land for $33 million in 1992.
My property has increased in tax valuation about 300 percent since 1992, so obviously, the Chambers Bay property has also appreciated substantially. In addition, Pierce County is considering partnering with the private sector to build a world-class clubhouse and hotel to accommodate the 2015 U.S. Open to be held at Chambers Bay. Taxpayers obviously have a huge stake in this facility.
I questioned Ladenburg and Toby Davis, senior vice president of KemperSports, the company managing Chambers Bay, about the pricing for residents. They both stated that Chambers Bay is not and was never meant to be another local municipal course.
They both want to keep the rounds played to around 35,000 vs. the 60,000 most golf courses allow. They also want to have higher green fees that just support the cost of running the course and have fewer players enjoying the course.
Ladenburg and others have compared Chambers Bay to Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines golf courses in California. Pebble Beach green fees are $495. Pebble Beach, however, was built with private funds. It is certainly free to charge whatever it thinks golfers will pay.
The better comparison is with Torrey Pines, a long established public golf course and host to the 2008 U.S. Open. Its resident green fees range from $28 for seniors on weekdays to $49 for any resident on weekends.
Chambers Bay charges residents $95 on weekdays and $115 on weekends. Chambers Bay charges an additional $35 for a caddy and recommends at least another $35 tip if you can’t handle your clubs. One can easily see how that is way beyond the average golfer’s budget.
The Chambers Bay pro shop reports that approximately 40 percent of the players are Pierce County residents. Reducing resident greens fees to $50 would therefore cut $600,000 from the golf course’s income in its first year. But the county could make up for the loss by increasing tee times.
Walking on the public paths around the Chambers Bay course during the day, you will notice that not many people are playing compared to other courses. The course has an 11-minute spread between tee times as opposed to 71/2 minutes, the norm for most courses.
If the 11-minute spread were reduced to a nine-minute compromise, it would allow 11 more tee times in the nine-hour golfing day during summer hours and as few as six more tee times in the shortest days of winter.
These extra slots would bring the total play from 35,000 rounds to 48,000 rounds, which is still a long way from the 60,000 that many public courses allow. The extra tee times would generate an additional $700,000 for the course even after the reduction of resident greens fees to $50.
Chambers Bay is a public golf course, not a monument unto itself. It’s time to let the true owners of the course play it.
Lee Schriver is a University Place resident.