It’s championship Sunday at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and, barring a playoff, one of the world’s best golfers will lift an engraved silver trophy in triumph at the 18th green this afternoon.
It will be a crowning achievement, the result of years of preparation, hard work and perseverance.
And the South Sound region will be able to bask in the glory, too.
Years of hard work, preparation and perseverance paid off over the past week with a U.S. Open experience that left fans and organizers alike gushing with praise.
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“The community, as I knew it would, for the last two-plus years has been supportive,” said Danny Sink, championship director for the United States Golf Association. “This week, they’ve been more than supportive. We’ve had great crowds all week. We’ve had so many smiling faces.”
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy was ebullient Saturday. The county, which owns Chambers Bay golf course, was the lead agency in recruiting the U.S. Open to University Place and coordinating with the USGA to make the championship happen.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s all paid off,” McCarthy said. “It has exceeded my expectations.”
Gig Harbor resident Marilyn Carr, who volunteered at the Merchandise Pavilion, agreed.
“Nobody’s complaining,” Carr said last week. “People are just happy to be here.”
NW BUZZ ‘INCREDIBLE’
All week, organizers of the nation’s golf championship, which marked its 115th playing with its first visit to the Northwest, remarked on the enthusiasm they discovered in Pierce County and the rest of Western Washington.
“Everywhere we go in this community they are charged up, they are excited,” USGA president Tom O’Toole Jr. said at a midweek press conference. “And these are people, by their own admission, who aren’t even golfers.”
The USGA filled up its 4,500 volunteer spots in 36 hours earlier this year. Championship round tickets sold out quickly.
Sink said Friday that pre-event merchandise sales were the best the association ever recorded.
“Let me just say that the buzz in the Pacific Northwest has been incredible,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said Wednesday.
And that was before the championship golf even began.
Crowds swelled Thursday when scores actually began to count.
People from all over the world descended on University Place, including the Sheedy siblings from Tipperary, Ireland, who walked the course Thursday sporting leprechaun costumes and shamrock decals.
“We wanted the Irish players to know they had the support here,” said Mary Sheedy as her brother, Senan, shouted a greeting at Irish golfer Shane Lowry.
Blair Doherty of Olalla and Warren Smith of Tacoma also were among the throngs.
Both remarked at how organized the event was, including their shuttle ride into the course.
“It’s unbelievably slick. It’s like the USGA has done it before,” Doherty said.
McCarthy said that’s the result of years of planning.
“It’s been, really, all hands on deck as far as the county’s concerned, well, at least as long as I’ve been involved, for the last seven years,” she said.
People across the world got to see what makes Pierce County special by watching the Fox Sports broadcast, which included aerial shots by the Goodyear blimp. Cameras panned over Mount Rainier, the Narrows bridges and other local landmarks.
“It was cool. It was awesome. I watched coverage this morning, looked pretty cool on TV,” said University Place golfer Michael Putnam, who, alas, did not make the cut into the weekend’s final rounds.
Hole volunteer Mark Yamashita drove to University Place every day from his home in Kirkland. The long commute was worth it to participate in the Northwest’s inaugural U.S. Open, Yamashita said.
“It’s the only first U.S. Open,” he said.
BUMPS IN THE ROAD
Throw a party for 250,000 people, and some dishes will get broken.
Traffic was bad in some areas, including the town of Steilacoom where 30-year resident Charles Peiffer described a daily “barrage of buses” from a satellite shuttle lot fouling his residential street with noise and diesel fumes.
“People will say, ‘Hey, it’s only for seven days,’ but we live here,” Peiffer said. “I’m happy that it’s here and all that kind of stuff, but I think they had options other than routing buses through a residential area.”
On the course, some spectators complained about limited sight lines and the inability to follow their favorite golfer from hole to hole. Some took it upon themselves to sneak past the security ropes for a better view, prompting USGA officials to issue a warning Friday.
“It’s all we can do to keep them off the grassy knolls,” volunteer Yamashita said midweek.
The USGA adjusted, opening up some additional areas where fans could stand.
Chris Protti of Calgary, Alberta, wasn’t perturbed by the limited sight lines.
“It’s a different viewing experience. You’ve got to pick your spots,” Protti said Friday. “But that doesn’t put it in the bad category.”
Two caddies were hurt after slipping on the notoriously slippery fine fescue grass Chambers Bay is known for, but serious injuries among spectators were few, USGA’s Sink said.
“The biggest complaint we’ve had is blisters,” he said.
The USGA’s rollout of a permissive cellphone policy — it was the first year the association allowed spectators to take mobile devices out onto the course — was a bit uneven.
Many fans ignored the prohibition against taking photos and videos of players on the course once championship play began.
Still, Sink called the roll-out successful.
“Everyone’s been able to communicate effectively,” he said.
So, did things go well enough for a repeat act, say 10 years or so from now?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Sink said.
USGA officials will embark on a process starting not long after the last putt is sunk this afternoon to evaluate “how it worked onsite, how parking and traffic worked, how cooperation with the county, the state, etc., went,” Davis said.
McCarthy said Pierce County would sit down with its partners, including 37 local law enforcement agencies and the cities of Lakewood, University Place, Puyallup and others, to do a similar evaluation.
“What we anticipate is that we’ll have a full-on assessment after it’s done, a postmortem if you will, to see, how did it all pencil out?” McCarthy said.
The early reviews are good.
“We’re coming into this thinking we’re going to have a great Open, and, sure, we’d love to come back,” Davis said.
McCarthy said the U.S. Open would be welcome.
“I don’t think I’m going to have too much of problem getting everyone around the table to say, ‘We want you back, and we want to do what we need to do to make sure you come back,’ ” she said.