Tacoma’s Michael Putnam was perplexed when, out of the blue, he received a phone call two weeks ago from Walter Driver, the president of the United States Golf Association.
Driver called to invite Putnam to a member-guest tournament at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
Putnam’s thought – “Um, I’m back on the Nationwide Tour, so why me?” – went through his head over and over.
He got his answer Friday: Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place had been chosen to play host to two major USGA events – the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open.
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“He was going to hit me up as his publicity ploy,” said Putnam, whose family lives just a few minutes down the road from Chambers Bay.
Fresh off collecting one 2007 best-new-course award after another, Chambers Bay became the first new course selected to host a U.S. Open since Hazeltine Golf Club in Minnesota. Hazeltine was chosen in 1970.
It will be the third municipal layout to host the U.S. Open, joining Bethpage Black in New York (2002 and again next season) and Torrey Pines in California (this June).
Key figures in Chambers Bay’s development – notably architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and local products Ryan Moore of Puyallup, Ken Still of Fircrest and Putnam, all past or present PGA Tour golfers – were excited.
“This is one of the most exciting things I can remember happening ... to the Tacoma area,” said Still, 72, a three-time tour winner who’s in the Pacific Northwest golf hall of fame. “It’s a Super Bowl, a World Series ... and you have to climb Mount Everest to get it.”
Getting Chambers Bay up and operating was, in itself, an endurance test of sorts.
Nearly three years and $21 million were invested by Pierce County to transform an abandoned sand and gravel pit into an 18-hole, links-style layout on the shores of Puget Sound.
When the course finally opened last summer, the experts – Moore, Putnam, Still, and later fellow PGA Tour players Aaron Baddeley and Bubba Watson – came to try out the layout.
So, it wasn’t a complete shock to Moore when word surfaced two weeks ago the venue was in the running for major events.
“I’m not too shocked. It’s something where the USGA needed to branch out (to other courses),” Moore said before teeing it up Friday in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California.
“It’s an awesome course, and it is in an area that can handle a U.S. Open. I see it as a win-win situation.”
No architect alive has constructed a course that has been chosen as a U.S. Open site, until Friday.
It was Jones’ father, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who designed Hazeltine in 1962. Eight years later, the U.S. Open came to the course.
“As my daughter said, she’s had her fingers and toes crossed for a long time,” Jones, Jr. said. “This is the highest possible honor ... to have in the game. A U.S. Open isn’t purchased. It’s not a PGA Tour event. It’s our national championship, and it’s like winning an Academy Award.”
Now, the next phase begins – turning a recently-opened course into a USGA championship site.
Steve Skinner, the president of KemperSports which manages Chambers Bay, said the USGA will start “right away” on site visits to modify a few layout details while the course continues to mature. Jones’ Bay Area-based firm will be involved.
“We’re 30 months away, and counting,” Skinner said of the U.S. Amateur dates. “By the third growing season, it will be in a good, strong state. And by the time 2010 comes around it will be well grown-in, and well-established.”
It represents the rare privilege for Moore and Putnam to help host a U.S. Open in their backyard. If things work out, one or both may even get to sleep in their own bed(s) while taking on golf’s biggest challenge.
“I’m going to get a lot of questions about it, especially since I’ve told people I live on the golf course,” Putnam said. “It will be weird having that here. It might take a little of that (U.S. Open) feeling away – until you see 70,000 people out there every day.”
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Five times the charm
Courses that have hosted the U.S. Open five or more times.
Oakmont Country CluB, Oakmont, Pa
Architect: Henry Fownes
U.S. Opens: 1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994, 2007
Notable feature: 210 deep bunkers, including the famous “Church Pews”.
Memorable moment: Johnny Miller’s final-round 63 in 1973 and his subsequent comment: “A round that must have been made in heaven.”
Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J.
Architect: A. W. Tillinghast
U.S. Opens: 1903, 1915, 1936, 1954, 1967, 1980, 1993
Notable feature: The 17th hole, a 630-yard par 5. (John Daly is the only player to reach the green in 2.)
Memorable moment: In 1980, Jack Nicklaus, 40, won his fourth U.S. Open, his second at Baltusrol.
Oakland Hills Country Club, Birmingham, Mich.
Architect: Donald Ross
U.S. Opens: 1924, 1937, 1951, 1961, 1985, 1996
Notable feature: Thick rough.
Memorable moment: After shooting a final-round 67 and winning the 1951 tournament, Ben Hogan said, “I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.”
Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Architect: A.W. Tillinghast
U.S. Opens: 1929, 1959, 1974, 1984, 2006
Notable feature: The 514-yard ninth hole is the longest par-4 in major championship history.
Memorable moment: In 1974, there were seven subpar rounds shot in the tournament. It became know as the “Massacre at Winged Foot.”