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Chambers Bay Golf Course could lose iconic tree

The lone Douglas fir at Chambers Bay Golf Course – a signature image for a course that will host the U.S. Open in 2015 – may be lost because of an ax-wielding vandal.

Someone took an ax to the fir late Tuesday or early Wednesday, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Officers also found several signs knocked over in the golf course area.

The University Place Police Department is investigating. Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information about the crime.

Tony Tipton, the county’s Chambers Bay project manager, said he doesn’t know whether the tree can be saved. An arborist will inspect it Monday.

“It’s possibly a borderline situation,” Tipton said.

It’s a big to-do about a single tree, but this is not just any tree. Since Chambers Bay Golf Course opened last June, the Douglas fir has become an iconic image.

The Scottish links-style course – which features sandy terrain and stunning views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains – opened to glowing reviews and won numerous “course of the year” honors.

The accolades culminated in February’s announcement that the United States Golf Association has picked Chambers Bay to host the 2015 U.S. Open and the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship tournaments. The announcement generated an avalanche of favorable publicity for the course and for Pierce County.

Photos of that Douglas fir have been featured prominently in many of those articles.

“It’s one of the signature aspects of the golf course,” Tipton said. “It’s not a minor deal to us at all.”

Tipton said keeping that one tree made perfect sense on a course built by reclaiming a former gravel mine. “Here was something Mother Nature had preserved herself,” he said.

The course’s 15th hole is called the “Lone Fir” hole in honor of the tree.

Aside from its importance to the golf course, the fir is a roosting spot for bald eagles. Local residents using the walking trail through the course also enjoy it.

County Executive John Ladenburg said the county will try to replace the tree if it does not live. But he said the county “may not even be able to replace a tree that size on that site.”

He said the county has a self-insurance fund that would pay for replacing the tree. Though he didn’t know the cost, “we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars,” Ladenburg said.

“It’s an expensive piece of vandalism,” he said. “It’s not a joke.”

Spokesman Ed Troyer said the Sheriff’s Department is concerned that “somebody’s got it out for the golf course,” which was controversial when Ladenburg proposed spending $21 million to build it.

On the other hand, Troyer said, the tree chopping might have been a prank, albeit an expensive one.

“If they were just being drunk and stupid, they should turn themselves in,” Troyer said.

David Wickert: 253-274-7341

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REWARDCrime Stoppers has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and charges against those responsible for the vandalism of the Douglas fir tree at Chambers Bay Golf Course. To report information, call 253-591-5959. All callers will remain anonymous.

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