John McGrath: US Open a year away, anticipation grows at Chambers Bay

Staff writerJune 16, 2014 

What will Chambers Bay look like when the leaders tee off for the final round of the 2015 U.S. Open?

As eventual 2014 U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer and corunner-up Rickie Fowler were hitting their first drives Sunday at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 2 Course in North Carolina, I tried to envision a major tournament at the former University Place gravel pit converted into a public links course.

I saw a red-winged blackbird, purple foxgloves in full bloom, and a family lawn-bowling during a picnic on the central meadow.

I saw babies in strollers on the walking trail that snakes around the course, couples holding hands, dogs delighted to be alive and a toddler — very new to the game — giggling as he achieved balance with his mincing steps.

I saw all of this and wondered: How will it be possible for this pristine setting to be converted into a venue capable of holding 30,000 fans a day between June 18 and June 21, 2015?

But it will happen.

Bleachers will be constructed, tents will be assembled, television camera towers will be set up and the course will undergo a gradual transition, from something that challenges expert golfers into something that will challenge the best golfers on the planet.

“For us, the anticipation is already here” Chambers Bay starter Raif Barry said outside the starter’s hut that flanks the No. 1 tee. “And when the (United States Golf Association) folks get here in a few weeks, after the women’s (U.S.) Open, the excitement will really start to build up.”

Although this Father’s Day found Chambers Bay looking nothing like it will next Father’s Day, a few details could be gleaned. Take the weather, for instance. Sunday was overcast, with a 10 mph breeze that made it seem cooler than 61 degrees.

Five-day forecasts for Puget Sound are not always precise, so it’s folly to predict the conditions that await for the final round of the 2015 U.S. Open. But 61 degrees and overcast, with a 10 mph wind, sounds about right.

As long as the rain doesn’t fall in horizontal sheets, the USGA will take that in a heartbeat.

Meanwhile, many of those who showed up Sunday to golf at Chambers Bay realized they were playing on a mere approximation of the course that will occupy an international stage in 2015.

“Knowing the U.S. Open is less than a year away was one of the reasons we wanted to play here today” said Brian Cox, an investment adviser and assistant basketball coach at South Kitsap High School. “The course is in great shape. There were a few temporary greens because they’re already doing some work to make it tougher next year for the pros.”

Cox finished his round asking some of the same questions as everybody else: How will people get in and out from a road unequipped to handle traffic?

Where will the golfers stay?

Which holes will be designated as destinations for spectators?

“It will be weird when they start adding bleachers because a lot of the holes are narrow” Cox said, “and bleachers will make it an even tighter course.

“It’s gonna be crazy, but that’s what makes it so fun. It’s crazy fun. And to think it will be held in the Tacoma area. How often do we get a tournament around here, much less a major championship?”

(That’s a question even I can answer: None and none.)

“Thing is” Cox continued, “you don’t feel like you’re in Tacoma on this course. You feel like you’re in Scotland.”

Paul Nicely, a financial seller from Mercer Island, was part of Cox’s group. A serious golfer with a 7.3 handicap, he got to the turn at 40 before falling victim to the wind — and its diabolical partner, the fescue rough — on the final three holes, finishing with a score of 86.

“Playing the course” he said, “you imagine how the pros will play it next summer. We had two guests from out of town in our foursome, from Sacramento. They wanted to play here so when they watch the (U.S.) Open on TV, they can say, ‘Remember when we played that hole?’ ”

As for identifying any early favorites for the 2015 U.S. Open, that’s a prediction more problematic than forecasting the weather.

“But we had an NCAA tournament here in April” said Barry, referring to the Redhawk Invitational, a fiveteam competition whose host school was Seattle University.

“The kid who won it (the University of San Diego’s Grant Forrest) shot a 65 on the second day, when the wind was much tougher than it’s been today. He was from Scotland.”

Something to keep in mind over the next year, as the anticipation accelerates toward crazy fun. john.mcgrath@  thenewstribune.com  

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