Homeowners chased dollars during U.S. Open but mostly came up empty

Golf brought to University Place visions of quick windfalls, tens of thousands of dollars just for renting out one’s plain-boards home for a few days during the U.S. Open.

Confidentiality agreements required by big-name golfers who posted up near Chambers Bay fed a who’s-paying- how-much? rumor mill, stoked by celebrity-golfer sightings — real and conjured — from Steilacoom to Fox Island.

Then there’s what actually happened.

A lot of South Sound residents went looking, but only a lucky few managed to cash in from high-dollar rental asking prices.

Ask Larry Golden, who asked $40,000 for the week for his house across the street from the Chambers Bay clubhouse and collected zero. The best offer, $7,000 from a news organization, wasn’t enough to justify the hassle after insurance and lawyer fees, he said.

“Nobody on my block rented,” Golden, a Microsoft program manager, said before leaving town for the weekend as planned.

That block includes several homes where long-term tenants’ leases weren’t renewed before the tournament. From the street, they appeared empty dark and empty with the blinds up, while cheers resounded from the U.S. Open throngs spectating in the sunshine yards away.

“Some people put up really high prices and kept them there and ended up with empty houses during the tournament,” Windermere real estate agent Steve Sloboda said.

Sloboda’s company was one of several aiming to play online matchmaker between local would-be hosts and traveling golf tourists.

He said the numbers were off, even based on tempered expectations. He’d hoped for a third, perhaps half, of the 85 homes listed to get rented, but only 20 to 25 houses rented, he said by phone while headed out to watch golf.

“The most successful move that we made was pricing things for a price that seemed attainable,” Sloboda said.

He called the week a success for the rental market, especially considering the unprecedented arrival of a national golf tournament in town. But that also accounted, based on his agency’s feedback, for why every homeowner near University Place isn’t suddenly awash in cash.

Chambers Bay, as a new host of a golf major championship, doesn’t have the cachet that might draw golf fans nationwide flocking to see, say, Pebble Beach for one time in their lives.

And since the event is the first of its kind in the Northwest, a lot of attendees hailed from Washington and Oregon and could make golfing a daytrip instead of a book-a-weeklong-rental vacation.

Add to those the perceived availability of hotel rooms nearby.

“If you were coming from somewhere else, you just bank on the fact that it’s near Seattle and try to make the best of it,” Sloboda said.

Between off-the-books rentals and the range of ways to find a rental deal, exact figures are elusive.

An Airbnb spokeswoman couldn’t give rental figures, but did say Tacoma had 300-plus active listings last week, more than four times the number for mid-June 2014.

A Gig Harbor-based rental company listed online 149 homes within 6 miles of Chambers Bay, almost all of them seeking more than $10,000 for the week. Heading into the weekend, five were marked “rented.”

There were success stories, some lucrative.

A woman who would not give her name said her five-bedroom University Place home was rented by American Express after a Windermere listing for the week for $27,000, while her family relocated to their Mason Lake cabin.

Her friend, Stephanie Boeshar, pocketed $8,000 from Fox Sports after putting her home on Airbnb in February.

“It makes me wonder, if we put it up earlier, if the bigger companies were looking earlier,” she said from the Tri-Cities area, where she is staying with family. “But $8,000 is better than no thousand, right?”

John Cole said he’s collecting more than cash out of the $4,500 he’s collecting for moving out of his 2,300-square-foot home for the week.

In went two PGA European Tour golfers, Marcus Fraser and Oliver Farr, and their agent. Cole’s in-laws in Lakewood were vacationing, so he relocated comfortably and close.

His tenants have signed souvenirs for the family and kept up with Cole via text.

“I said, ‘Hey, nice job on shooting a 71 today,’ and he’s responded back,” Cole said. “Having players at my house has been kinda kinda cool, because it makes me feel more connected to the Open.”

Near the south end of Fox Island, retirees Chuck and Amy Dunbar are getting a personal connection to the Open every morning around 6:30, when they unlock the door to let in a Fox Sports camera operator.

Cameraman Chris Sherman of North Bend is a freelancer and veteran of five U.S. Opens. He is crashing with a college friend down the street from the Dunbars.

Smith’s spending 11 hours during tournament days on the Dunbars back porch, providing all those zoom-ins from across Puget Sound that TV viewers are watching.

In March 2014, with the Dunbars still in the middle of a move-in renovation, some Fox location scouts came knocking on their door. They’d seen the family’s expansive back balcony from Chambers Bay and asked if the view was as straight-on to the course as it appeared.

This March, they came back, took measurements, and asked if they could perch cameraman Smith in the family’s home for a few days. Sure, they said.

“How many opportunities do you get to do something like this?” Chuck Dunbar said.

So how much is Fox paying to borrow what might be called, on a sunny Friday morning with a half-dozen recreation boats gamboling across the Puget Sound below, a million-dollar view?

“We don’t have a contract,” Amy Dunbar said.

“No discussion of any money of any kind,” Chuck Dunbar said. “We got a really nice shirt and a couple of gimme hats.”

And, hey, he’s gotten to post to Facebook photographic proof how the TV view of the tournament is exactly what he can see of the golf course every clear morning, especially with binoculars.

Out on the back porch, while he held back Dandy, the family’s rambunctious 130-pound black labradoodle, Chuck Dunbar spoke quietly of how he had pushed for trees and acreage for the family’s retirement home, but his wife’s insistence for a great view won out.

At this, the visiting cameraman interjected.

“I’ve had trees and acreage,” Smith said. “This is better.”