Play long game for another U.S. Open at Chambers Bay

Jordan Spieth tees off with a sweeping view of Fox Island on the second day of the tournament at the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Spieth went on to win the championship that weekend.
Jordan Spieth tees off with a sweeping view of Fox Island on the second day of the tournament at the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Spieth went on to win the championship that weekend. New Tribune file photo, 2015

Since 2015, one doesn’t have to be a golf aficionado to pay attention to the U.S. Open. Three years after Chambers Bay golf course had its coming-out party, the national championship was held last weekend at one of its oldest courses, Shinnecock Hills, New York, under equally clear skies and similarly intense scrutiny.

Local golf fans watched and wondered: Will Pierce County ever host another major pro championship? Especially after getting some bad buzz in the golf world last time around?

Fans of the economic impact the national sports spotlight shined on our region in 2015, estimated at $134 million, surely wondered the same thing.

Being selected to host the U.S. Open is a long-term process that rewards planning and patience; venues are booked through 2027. But there’s good reason to hope the prestigious event will return to University Place — as long as county leaders don’t let up on a Chambers Bay improvement plan that will build credibility with the United States Golf Association.

Much seemed familiar last weekend as a field of elite competitors faced a stern test on Shinnecock’s fescue-grass course; with overcooked greens and formidable pin placements, it seemed they’d do just as well trying to make putts on the hood of a car. 

As in 2015, the conditions exposed the golfers at their most irritable. Ian Poulter, the petulant Englishman who ripped Chambers Bay as a “complete farce,” was at it again, taking repeated jabs at the Shinnecock layout; at one point, he tweeted: “did Bozo set the course up or are the USGA going to accept responsibility ...”?

In fact, USGA executive director Mike Davis owned up to problems, saying the overly dry, windswept greens made it “too tough” on golfers Saturday afternoon.

It goes to show that if miscues can happen at the USGA’s established venues, then perhaps first-time public courses such as Chambers Bay should be cut some slack. The private Shinnecock club has hosted the Open five times — including 2004, a championship known for epic bad green conditions in the final round — and is on the board again in 2026.

So don’t fret over those old hyperbolic quotes from Gary Player, who called the 2015 Open "the most unpleasant golf tournament I've seen in my life." Or Henrik Stenson, who compared Chambers Bay’s greens to broccoli. Such criticism seems par for the course nowadays. 

Pierce County leaders are addressing the most serious issues by ditching the fescue and replanting the greens in cool-climate turfgrass  — an undertaking that will require a five-month closure starting in October. 

 They also should work with a local private development team to move as soon as possible on a resort project that’s been simmering nearly two years. The County Council showed good faith last September by updating the master plan for a hotel and up to 190 “extended stay” golf villas. Approving a ground lease agreement with the Absher-Putnam team by the end of 2018 is the next key step.

Since taking office last year, County Executive Bruce Dammeier has been properly concerned about revenue shortfalls at Chambers Bay, caused in part by fewer rounds of golf. To plug a $750,000 gap, the council last fall OK’d his supplemental budget request and deferred some interfund loan payments. 

Despite budget constraints, the county must be ready to host a first-rate U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2021, two years later than the lesser-known event was originally scheduled to come.

Meanwhile, county leaders should do what they can to bring the U.S. Open back to our exquisite waterfront golf course. Hosting the men’s or the women’s version of this premiere tournament would show the world, as Frank Sinatra once sang, that things are lovelier the second time around.