U.S. Open means big to-do list

From the golf course to the County-City Building, Pierce County was buzzing Friday as news spread that Chambers Bay Golf Course will host the 2015 U.S. Open.

But even as the news sank in, it became apparent that landing the tournament was just the beginning of a process that will keep organizers busy for seven years.

“We’re going to celebrate today,” said Steve Skinner, president of KemperSports, which operates Chambers Bay Golf Course for the county. “And the work starts tomorrow.”

The United States Golf Association announced Friday that Chambers Bay will host the 2015 U.S. Open Championship and the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship. It’s a rare honor for a new course like Chambers Bay, which opened last June.

The USGA selected another young course, Erin Hills in Wisconsin, to host the 2011 U.S. Amateur.

“Typically, we just don’t name sites this new,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competitions. He said the organization was “so impressed and intrigued with these sites” that it chose them anyway.

The news was welcomed at Chambers Bay.

“I called my parents this morning to say, ‘We did it,’” said Nick Saper, Chambers Bay’s guest services supervisor. “Everyone here feels a sense of accomplishment.”

County Council Chairman Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor, said the tournaments will be “huge for economic development.”

“It moves us above that image as a bedroom community to Seattle,” Lee said. “All of a sudden we have our own identity.”

It’s Bruce Kendall’s job to cultivate that identity. The chief executive officer of the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County already is thinking of ways to capitalize on the golf tournaments.

“It’s a three- or four-day globally broadcast commercial for Pierce County,” Kendall said.

As many as 65,000 people a day may attend the U.S. Open. Kendall said some may like it enough to stay.

“Some of those people will stick,” he said. “Most of those people will have very deep pockets.”

Accommodating the crush of visitors will be a big logistical challenge. Regional transit agencies already are discussing how to transport tens of thousands of people a day to and from Chambers Bay.

Pierce Transit Chief Executive Officer Lynne Griffith said the agency has a lot of experience that will help it prepare for the golf tournaments. She cited the 2005 Tall Ships festival, Tacoma’s annual Independence Day celebrations and the Puyallup Fair.

Griffith expects to provide bus service to and from Chambers Bay. Private bus companies also could be involved. And Sounder commuter trains might deliver spectators to Chambers Bay on tracks that run beside the golf course.

Transportation is a key challenge, but not the only one. Parking, lodging and security must be organized.

Even the golf course must be readied for the tournaments.

Next week Pierce County plans to solicit proposals from private developers who would spend about $35 million for a new clubhouse, lodging, a practice facility and a driving range at Chambers Bay.

And the USGA likely will put its own stamp on Chambers Bay to make it challenging for the world’s best golfers. That could mean higher grass, narrower fairways and longer holes.

Though the amateur tournament in two years will be a big event in itself, it also will serve as a trial run for the 2015 U.S. Open. And the county has seven years to prepare for the larger tournament.

But given the work to be done, 2015 may come sooner than you think.

“It’s a lot of planning,” Pierce Transit’s Griffith said of the challenge. “Fortunately, we have seven years, though in terms of an event this size, that’s not very long.”

David Wickert: 253-274-7341


Staff writer Brent Champaco contributed to this report.