Out-of-town golf fans looking for a place to stay during next month’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay still have options, but only if they’re willing to pay country-club prices.
Hotel and motel rooms in the greater Pierce County area are getting hard to find, and those yet available cost a pretty penny: upwards of $499 per night for a no-frills room in Tacoma that usually goes for a third as much.
Folks willing to spend tens of thousands have more lodging choices, including an 84-foot luxury yacht replete with personal chef and six-person hot tub, but the people offering such accommodations are losing hope they’ll be able to cash in as the event nears.
“I think a lot of people made reservations way in advance, like a year ago,” said Maryann Schuler, an Anderson Island-based property manager who’s marketing 11 houses for rent during the U.S. Open. “It’s hard to say if there will be a last-minute rush.”
Jo Thompson is manager of the Shilo Inn & Suites in Tacoma and president of the Pierce County Lodging Association.
Thompson said last week the rush actually took place almost three years ago, not long after the USGA announced it would hold the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the links-style course owned by Pierce County in University Place.
USGA officials, members of the sports media, professional golfers, caddies and VIPs quickly began snapping up rooms, Thompson said. County officials estimated those folks would need as many as 4,300 rooms themselves.
“We’ve been booked for almost three years,” Thompson said.
USGA officials said another 5,000 or so rooms would be needed for the estimated 235,000 spectators expected to descend on University Place during the U.S. Open’s June run, many from out of town.
A January survey conducted by the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau showed that hotels and motels in the Pierce County region were reporting that 74 percent to 87 percent of their rooms already were reserved for June 15-21, the week of the U.S. Open.
Occupancy rates over the same week last year were 56 percent to 79 percent.
“’My projection is they will be much higher now,” said Bennish Brown, the bureau’s president and CEO. “We will see some tremendous impacts on the hotels.”
Revenues from lodging, retail sales and business-and-operations taxes associated with the U.S. Open are expected to raise about $600,000 for Pierce County, $440,000 for the City of Tacoma and a combined $153,000 for DuPont, Lakewood, Puyallup, Fife and Gig Harbor, according to the county’s Department of Economic Development.
“King County will see over $2 million in additional tax revenue because they have so many hotel rooms,” according to a July 2014 report prepared by the department.
An online check of availability last week showed that many of the region’s top hotels and motels — the Murano and Silver Cloud Inn, among them — are booked up during U.S. Open week.
Thompson said the same is true for most accommodations in Pierce, south King and north Thurston counties.
“From what I’m hearing, you have to go south of Olympia, like down into the Chehalis area, or north of Seattle to find something,” she said.
The News Tribune found a handful of rooms still available in Pierce County, but the prices are high.
For example, a room in Sumner with two queen beds that usually rents for $139.50 a night was going for $309 a night. A similar room at a chain motel in downtown Tacoma was advertised for $499 a night, up from the usual $126.
Peter Lavallee, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said there are no laws prohibiting hoteliers from drastically increasing their room rates during an event like the U.S. Open.
The law prevents hotels and motels from engaging in “price gouging” during emergencies, like natural disasters, but the U.S. Open does not qualify as an emergency, Lavallee said.
“We do not have any complaints at this point about that,” Lavallee said earlier this month.
Thompson said she wishes her fellow hoteliers would exercise restraint with pricing. Consumers expect to pay a higher rate when renting a room for events like the U.S. Open, she said, but jacking up the cost by three or four times is short-sighted.
“This event could return here, maybe every 10 years or so. It’s a huge, huge opportunity for tourism,” Thompson said. “But if it’s not handled properly, they won’t come back.”
Thompson declined to say what the Shilo was charging people during U.S. Open week.
“That’s confidential,” she said. “But I’m at no means at that level.”
Regular people looking to make a buck or 50,000 during the championship are trying to take the lodging scene to a whole other level.
Homeowners in University Place, Tacoma, Fircrest, Gig Harbor, Fox Island, Lakewood, even Kent, are advertising houses, apartments and rooms for rent.
More than 140 homes in the greater Pierce County area were listed on the website eventhomes.com earlier this month, with still more listed on Craigslist and other sites.
The offerings run the gamut, from a 125-square-foot room in a University Place house for $295 per night, to the Perfect Lady, an 84-foot yacht going for $50,000 for the full week.
Someone in University Place was hoping to rent her carport to someone looking for a place to park his or her RV during the tournament. Cost: $500 per day.
Thomas Jacobs owns the Perfect Lady, which he recently bought in Florida and hopes to have shipped west in time for the championship.
The plan is to moor the yacht on Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway next to the Museum of Glass, a location Jacobs called “a perfect place.”
In addition to an on-board chef and housekeeper, Jacobs said he’ll provide transportation to and from the airport plus rides to the championship.
“We want to make it a first-class deal for somebody,” he said. “We’ve had some interest, but nothing serious. We’re really looking for a tour player and his family.”
Schuler, the property manager from Anderson Island, said the homeowners she’s working with plan to take a vacation should someone rent their homes.
She also said her clients are willing to wheel-and-deal if necessary.
“Everything’s negotiable,” Schuler said.