South Sound hospitality industry gets taste of Chambers Bay, what to expect at U.S. Open

A rainbow interrupted play as 60 or so front-line hospitality workers putted and chipped as part of their Golf 101 lesson at Chambers Bay Golf Course late Wednesday afternoon.

Van tours of the course followed, down into the glades and gullies, across the meadows and along the serpentine pathways beside the sand (93 acres of it) and fescue grass (again, 93 acres).

The workers were at Chambers Bay for a tour and tutorial aimed at arming them with information they can impart to the tens of thousands of visitors expected at the United States Golf Association Open, coming in June.

“I wanted to see the course. The more we know about it, the better we can tell people,” said Jane Asher, volunteer coordinator at Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum.

“It’s just amazing to see what they’ve done here,” said Jim Deal, a museum volunteer. “I’m going to be able to tell people it’s like nothing but Scotland.”

That’s Scotland, the home of golf, home to the most challenging links courses on the planet.

A true links course undulates, and so it is at Chambers Bay with its knolls and knobs above fairways and traps, above the grasses of the rough that has been recently mowed and which will not be mowed again until well after the U.S. Open closes.

Such are the things these will people need to know as they greet out-of-town guests at hotels, restaurants and museums, on buses and in taxicabs, at the airport, the bus station, the cocktail bar.

What kind of grass? How big is the course? Why so much sand? Why aren’t there any trees? What’s the names of those big islands out there?

Fescue; 250 acres altogether; it used to be a sand-and-gravel mine; because it used to be a sand and gravel mine; Fox, McNeil, Anderson, Ketron.

Are those the Cascade Mountains? Where’s Mount St. Helens? Where are all those trains going? What’s that big building on that island over there? Is it true that the biggest octopuses in the world live in the water around here?

No, they’re the Olympics; south, you can’t see it from here; south or north, maybe Vancouver or maybe even Vancouver; a former federal and then a state penitentiary; yes.

“The question I have,” said Charles Clapp, a volunteer with the Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau, “is about how they’re going to deal with the transportation.”

They’re working on it. Expect shuttle parking at the Washington State Fair and around Fort Steilacoom. Other parking areas are being identified.

“I’m just hoping to learn how best we can prepare for this massive influx of tourists,” said Julie Watts, membership coordinator at the Fife Milton Edgewood Chamber.

“Two hundred thousand visitors,” she said. “I just can’t get my head around that.”

Figure 35,000 spectators each day at the course. Add 2,000 media workers, more than 5,000 volunteers plus security personnel, vendors, caterers and various staff members and officials.

How far would I walk if I walked the whole course? Can I still golf between now and June? What is that bulldozer doing over there? Can I drive my boat to the Open and avoid traffic?

Seven miles; yes, but play will be reduced to 4 days per week in November and 3 days per week in December to help protect the grass; clearing space for the construction of hospitality venues; no, but you can contact local marinas or other dock owners.

When Wednesday’s party returned to the clubhouse, host Bennish Brown, president and CEO of Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau, welcomed his guests.

“We have something magical coming,” he said. “This is the industry that will make the first impressions.”

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy “is counting on each and every one of you,” said Denise Dyer, county economic development director.

“The impression (visitors) have depends on what you do,” she said. “We really do depend on you. You’re the first face people will see. Many will have not been to the Pacific Northwest. I want you to make the golf world realize this is the best place on the planet to hold a golf tournament. We don’t want this to be a one-time event.”

“A lot of the guests don’t just want to know the facts, they want to talk with people who know what it’s really like,” said Amber Pitzler of Holiday Inn Express.

And what did she learn that afternoon?

“I learned that the course can be at different levels, for different kinds of golfers,” she said.

Although not finalized, the golf tees for some holes will be placed at a more challenging distance from the hole for U.S. Open golfers than they are for typical players.

“I want to be able to greet all of the guests coming into the airport and be able to give them information,” said Sue Hansen-Smith, Port of Seattle SeaTac Airport customer service manager.

Other meetings like this one will follow, said Brown.

“This will be part of a series to make sure the hospitality industry is educated, informed and engaged,” he said. “They need to get a feeling for the magnitude of the event. It is in our control to make people feel welcome.

“A lot of people don’t speak the golf language,” he said. “Hopefully, now they have some of that knowledge.”

They learned the difference between an eagle and a bogey, between a driver and a putter.

They learned that 156 professional and amateur golfers, along with as few hundred thousand followers, would be arriving in 245 days.