A pair of elected leaders proposed this week that Pierce County thoroughly study the management and financial outlook of Chambers Bay Golf Course as soon as possible, and definitely before signing a contract to host another U.S. Open.
But deputy county executive Kevin Phelps said there’s no urgency to have staff dig deeper into the finances and operations of the University Place golf course. The United States Golf Association has already chosen locations for its championship through 2024, and it won’t make a final decision on the 2025 venue until next year.
“We don’t expect an immediate decision to be made, but we certainly would hope to start engaging (with the USGA) over the framework of an agreement by later sometime this year,” Phelps said.
The 115th U.S. Open (and first in the Pacific Northwest) was last month during Father’s Day weekend. It featured sunny skies, beautiful mountain and saltwater backdrops, and an exciting conclusion that went to the final hole before Jordan Spieth held the trophy aloft.
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County Executive Pat McCarthy has long said she hopes it is the first of many U.S. Opens at Chambers Bay.
But Council Chairman Dan Roach said at a meeting of the Performance Audit Committee this week that he doesn’t want the “glow” from this summer’s tournament to cause officials to prematurely agree to host another one.
Roach, R-Bonney Lake, and Councilman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, first want staff to “evaluate management and funding strategies for use, maintenance, and long-term viability of Chambers Bay Golf Course, including examination of operations contract, costs of operations and maintenance, opportunities for and analysis of revenue generation,” according to a recommendation they made to the audit committee.
Richardson said he’s not critical in any way of the 2015 U.S. Open and has no “ulterior motive” in offering the proposal. He just wants to know “what’s our long-term strategy over the next decade in regard to this course?”
Some council members also want a clearer picture of the interfund loans that have helped cover expenses at Chambers Bay during the past five years, and the executive’s plans to pay them off.
As of March 31, the golf course fund owed $3.7 million to the county’s sewer and equipment rental funds, council budget analyst Paul Bocchi said Wednesday.
“We’re hoping proceeds from the U.S. Open will pay off a big chunk of that,” Bocchi told The News Tribune.
Roach and Richardson’s proposal didn’t advance out of the audit committee Monday. Most members felt they receive adequate information from quarterly Chambers Bay financial reports, which show the course made money for the first time in 2013 and 2014. They said a larger study could wait.
Phelps said waiting makes sense. He said 2015 “is not a great year” to use as a baseline for a study because of the public golf course closures and other expenses associated with the U.S. Open.
“We think 2016 is really an important year for Chambers Bay Golf Course, and we are still optimistic that we will find that sweet spot of revenues with our expenses,” he said.
Last week, the USGA extended its U.S. Open schedule for another three years. It announced that the 2022 championship will be played at The Country Club outside Boston, the 2023 event will be hosted by the Los Angeles Country Club, and the 2024 tournament will return to Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
USGA officials like to alternate between fresh, first-time courses such as Los Angeles Country Club and familiar, well-tested venues such as Pinehurst.
Chambers Bay had been on the list of first-timers and now would like to join the ranks of the regulars.
But first, studies are under way to measure the success of this summer’s event.
Phelps said the USGA is doing a post-mortem that’s expected to take two months. The organization will survey fans, vendors, corporate clients, golfers and members of the media.
The USGA also contracted with two Pacific Lutheran University professors to assess the economic effect on the region.
And the county has yet to report whether it ended up in the black after all the bills were paid. McCarthy said in May that her office was holding a “break-even mentality,” and Phelps has said he will provide “a real good accounting” at some point after the championship.
Matt Misterek: 253-597-8472