On a sunny late July day, 10 months before the golf course at Chambers Bay opened for play, a tanker truck armed with a high-pressure hose sprayed green fescue hydroseed mulch along the sixth fairway.
On the asphalt trail that parallels Grandview Drive high above the course, I set up a card table and chairs with a handwritten sign inviting folks who stroll, jog and bike there to stop and share their opinions on the development below.
The carved-and-still-rugged dunes, on that day, still looked more like the 930-acre gravel pit that operated there for a century than a Scottish links-style golf mecca that would win lavish golf reviews – and the 2015 U.S. Open – 10 months later.
What did you say about it back then? Mostly things like this: Shoulda made it all into a public park like Point Defiance. An economic failure in the making. A big waste of taxpayer money and marvelous shoreline. With the high greens fees and our bad weather, it’s not going to work as an attraction for out-of-towners. No benefit to the average citizen. A foolish gamble by then-County Executive John Ladenburg.
I set up the same card table, chairs and handwritten sign again last week. After nearly two years, I wanted to find out if anything had changed your minds. This time I took along an observer: John Ladenburg.
“If you ever did anything right, you did this,” Donna Berg, who drove in from her home near the Tacoma Mall for her regular walk, told the former county executive.
“We all had our gripes and complaints with how we thought our tax money was being used. But as a taxpayer, I feel like I own a piece of this,” she said with a sweeping wave of her hand. “I feel like it’s mine. I feel blessed. You did a wonderful thing.”
And so it went.
“It’s awesome,” said a retiree from The News Tribune who asked that I not use her name. “I’m here all the time. Before this, I used to walk the Ruston Way waterfront (in Tacoma). It’s brilliant.”
She described one day on her walk when she met a doctor from Maryland visiting for a round of golf. He asked if she lived nearby, which she does. And the doctor provided his contact information so he could rent her home for the U.S. Open, still six years away.
Damon Morsett, a former University Place resident who moved to Fife, still comes to Chambers Bay on weekends and his days off to walk the challenging loop trail.
“I love it. It’s great,” said Morsett, who can’t imagine the place being anything but what it is.
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to University Place,” said Maggie McGuire, who paused on a walk with her dog, Nola.
“It’s had a subtle effect on public health. So many people come out here, walk, get healthy and smile. I don’t know why people call it a boondoggle,” she said.
“Because no one had ever done anything like this before,” Ladenburg suggested.
Maybe so. Maybe most of us, like a bunch of biblical Doubting Thomases, can’t quite believe in the unknown until we see it in the finished flesh for ourselves.
“A cloudy day is a beautiful day here,” said Connie, who declined to offer her last name. “I don’t know why anyone would call this a boondoggle.”
She marveled at the diversity of people and activities – kite flying, skateboarding, picnicking, jogging, walking – on the trail and the two parks already developed.
You can imagine how much more diversity Chambers Bay will draw once a footbridge to the beach opens next year.
Dave Wait walked the trail with his wife, Barbara. His date with bariatric surgery approaches and the trail around Chambers Bay figures into his rehabilitation ritual.
“This is a success,” said Wait of Tacoma, who has 14 family members who make regular trips here. “This gives you nature. It’s a beautiful idea. Whatever we’re paying in taxes, it’s well worth it.”
Ladenburg smirked that little smirk of his. He knew this would happen. “That’s why we built the trail through the golf course,” said Ladenburg, who overcame plenty of skepticism from the public and some County Council members.
“I knew if people would get down into this place and walk through this, they would feel like they owned it,” he said. “That worked exactly the way we thought it would.”
Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785