An Open for the ages shines spotlight on South Sound

The South Sound survived its version of the Super Bowl, and even the doomsayers seem surprised.

Yes, the 115th U.S. Open brought traffic and temporary disruptions to the region, particularly to communities affected by the transportation plan to Chambers Bay. But it also brought economic opportunity to scores of businesses, tax revenue to local and state governments, and a heightened sense of identity to the area.

Occasionally the TV commentators would slip and say something like how great the “Seattle crowds” were. But far more often they got it right, noting that the host site was in University Place, in Pierce County or near Tacoma.

A lot more people now know about the area — and what an amazingly gorgeous place it is — thanks to the coverage and shots over Puget Sound to the mountains. They learned that Chambers Bay is no ordinary golf course, nestled as it is along the water with a single tree, trains rumbling by and sunsets to die for.

The effects are likely to linger. As one sportscaster noted, a lot of people have probably added “play a round at Chambers Bay” to their bucket list. Maybe they’ll want to judge for themselves whether the pros who grumbled about the challenging course and its temperamental greens were right — or full of sour grapes.

Much credit for how well the Open went goes to the cooperation between the U.S. Golf Association and officials representing local communities and Pierce County. The state came through, too, with the Legislature approving funds for State Patrol security.

It couldn’t have been done without the work of a small army of volunteers, most of them locals who just wanted to be part of the first U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest. When the USGA put out the call for volunteers, the roster was filled within 36 hours, a task that usually takes a few weeks.

That kind of response from the community could very well help the USGA decide to bring the Open back to Chambers Bay. And the fact that visitors here bought up a record amount of merchandise won’t hurt.

One person who deserves special credit is former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who jump-started development of the county-owned Chambers Creek Properties where Chambers Bay is located. Seeing that many traditional golf courses were declining in popularity, he pushed for a Scottish-style links course on the site. Robert Trent Jones Jr. was hired to design it.

Ladenburg took heat for what was considered a radical departure for a publicly owned course. But with today’s emphasis on environmental sustainability and lower water use, that decision proved visionary — and enticing to the USGA. It awarded the 2010 Amateur Championship and the 2015 U.S. Open to Chambers Bay in 2008, the year after the course opened.

The Open had glitches that need to be addressed for it to return: fine-tuning the transportation and making the course more spectator friendly, for instance. But overall, the tournament can be deemed a success — and it didn’t hurt that it was won by the popular Jordan Spieth, a red-hot young golfer with a local connection: His caddy is Gig Harbor resident and former University Place teacher Michael Greller.

We would welcome a return visit by the U.S. Open — after recovering sufficiently from this one.