Right about the time United States Golf Association vice president Dan Burton was finishing his opening remarks, a stiff summer breeze from the southwest kicked up, crashing into the banquet tent just outside the pro shop at Chambers Bay Golf Course.
It delighted Burton, who like many in his golf-governing association, including executive director Mike Davis, had been touring the course for a few days in anticipation of next summer’s 2015 U.S. Open Championship.
“Whoever brought the wind today by the way,” Burton said, “if you don’t mind bringing it next year about this time, we’d be pretty happy about that.”
Happy would be an understatement.
Davis and his staff made their first public appearance at Chambers Bay on Friday morning, holding court with the local press corps about what to expect a year from now, when the U.S. Open comes to the Pacific Northwest.
Now that the 2014 U.S. Open recently finished at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 2 Course in North Carolina, all attention — and eyes — can turn toward the links-style layout awaiting the world’s top golfers next year.
Chambers Bay will be the first new venue to host the U.S. Open since 1970.
“Every aspect of this championship so far has been incredibly positive,” Davis said. “To say we are excited to come here would be the understatement of the year. We genuinely are.
“Fifty weeks away … we could not be positioned any better.”
Davis provided a few key storylines about the tournament and host site:
• The man who has quickly established himself as the USGA’s bright outside-the-box thinker gave a brief teaching lesson on the qualities of fine-fescue grass, which is the surface of the tee boxes, fairways and greens at Chambers Bay.
Davis called it a “sustainable ... drought-tolerant” grass that is both fun and challenging to play on.
“It bounces. It rolls,” Davis said. “It’s not a catchy grass.”
And it will also be closely monitored throughout the winter, Davis said, to see how it bounces back in time for the next U.S. Open.
• He pointed out the unique architecture of Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s design, which requires different shot-shaping and ball trajectory on different holes.
“The architecture is very unusual,” Davis said. “I’ve seen a 1,000 golf courses in my life, and I’ve never seen (one) that has this aspect of backboards. There are so many holes out there — at least a dozen holes — where you can play from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ by playing to point ‘C’ all letting it use a backboard.”
• Every hole at Chambers Bay has been changed since the course opened in 2007. Most of the alterations have been either building new teeing grounds or restructuring green complexes.
Extensive work has been done on the first and 18th holes in anticipation of the 110th U.S. Amateur Championship, held in 2010, and also the 2015 U.S. Open.
And Davis and his staff have decided to do something different with those two holes, playing each as both a par 4 and a par 5 during the tournament.
When one hole plays as a par 4, the other hole will play as a par 5, and vice versa.
“Both play marvelously as a par 4 and a par 5 — and ... significantly different,” Davis said.
• The finishing stretch of holes — Nos. 15-17 — play parallel to the Puget Sound, and also some train tracks.
When asked if a “train rule” will be implemented for golfers who hit a shot while a train passes by, Davis said, “No.”
“If there is a train coming, I can see a little delay with the players not wanting to hit,” Davis said. “We would be perfectly OK with that.”
• Of course, no U.S. Open seemingly escapes criticism. And one of the ciritical topics heading into the 2015 U.S. Open seem to be on the fine-fescue greens, which no U.S. Open has ever been played on.
When asked if, in an effort to curb potential criticism, the USGA would try to educate the golfers on this type of grass — how it receives approach shots, and how the putting surface it is — Davis said all the preparation will be left up to the players and their caddies.
“There has always been that element of the unknown,” Davis said. “As I mentioned before, fescue greens will be unique. I think the vast majority will embrace them, assuming we get them in the right condition.
“But you have to let it play out. I’ve watched 25 U.S. Opens. I’ve been a part of 25 U.S. Opens. I’ve read a lot of (U.S. Open) history going all the way back to 1895. You can almost say without fail, the players who embrace the architecture, and the players who embrace the setups ... are the ones who do well.”