If there are two words that summarize the disgruntlement that some Pierce County golfers feel toward Chambers Bay Golf Course, they are "price" and "carts."
With summertime prices as high as $109 a round for county residents and $169 for nonresidents, some locals complain the course is too expensive. They think the county could make more money by lowering rates to lure more golfers.
"You're not going to get people coming back very often that are going to pay that kind of price, " said Joe O'Brien, a retired attorney and an avid golfer who lives in Tacoma.
The other concern: Chambers Bay does not allow golfers to use carts unless they need them for medical reasons. Instead, golfers must hire a caddy or carry their own clubs.
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"The very market you have to go after are the people that have the money, " O'Brien said. "They tend to be older golfers. They tend to be golfers who probably want carts."
Pierce County officials have heard those concerns repeatedly since Chambers Bay opened in 2007. But the high prices and the limit on carts aren't going away.
County officials say Chambers Bay wasn't meant to be just another municipal golf course.
"We believe that we have a product that is priced appropriately, " said Tony Tipton, the county's Chambers Bay project manager. "This is a championship-caliber course that is going to hold the U.S. Open."
If anything, prices could go up.
Deputy county executive Kevin Phelps said if demand increases in the years leading up to the U.S. Open, the county might raise the price of playing Chambers Bay. That would allow the county to capitalize on the growing demand while limiting the number of rounds played to make the course easier to maintain.
Phelps said the United States Golf Association wants to limit the number of rounds to make sure the course is in good shape for the 2015 U.S. Open.
"You price it to the amount of rounds you want to play, " Phelps said. "If in 2014 they say, 'you've got too many rounds, ' we want to be able to control that by raising rates."
The county at times has discounted its rates in response to low demand. And Tipton said county residents can play the course for as little as $49 in the offseason.
"We think Chambers Bay will always have affordable times to play, " he said.
As for carts, Tipton said the Scottish links-style course was designed from the beginning to be a walking course.
Its wide fairways run together and wouldn't play or look the same with cart paths between them, he said. Dunes abutting the fairways, greens and bunkers would have to be pushed back to make way for cart paths.
Tipton cited the success of other walking courses, like Oregon's Bandon Dunes. And he said cart paths would detract from Chambers Bay's mystique.
In devising its price and cart policies, Tipton said the county has relied on advice from course architect Robert Trent Jones II, the United States Golf Association and KemperSports, which manages Chambers Bay and dozens of other courses around the country.
"They don't think we're overpriced at all, " Tipton said. "They think we're one of the best values for a course that's hosting the U.S. Open."