Chambers Bay bows out of 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championship

A golf course crew waters the grass late in the evening to prepare for the final day pf practice at the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Tuesday June 17, 2015.
A golf course crew waters the grass late in the evening to prepare for the final day pf practice at the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Tuesday June 17, 2015. Staff file, 2015

If you planned to watch another of the United States Golf Association’s most popular national championships in 2019 at Chambers Bay, you will need to be redirected down the road.

At Pierce County’s request, the USGA announced Tuesday that the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship has been moved to Bandon Dunes, nearly 400 miles away on the Oregon Coast.

Chambers Bay in University Place now is scheduled to host the four-ball championship in 2021, the year after it goes to the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

Much of the late reshuffling has to do with converting the grass of Chambers Bay’s greens, from fine fescue to poa annua — the predominant golf grass in the Northwest.

“It is all part of staying on course in bringing major championships back to Chambers Bay,” said Matt Allen, the general manager at Chambers Bay.

The course, which has never made a profit, also faces a $750,000 shortfall in 2017, according to county leaders.

County Executive Bruce Dammeier plans to seek a $500,000 supplemental budget adjustment to cover a portion of those costs, with an additional $250,000 coming from deferrals in interfund loans.

County Council members got their first look at those numbers Monday.

When Chambers Bay opened in 2007, it was hailed as one of the rare all-fescue courses in the country — and remained that way for the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open.

But after an unseasonably dry winter and warm spring leading up to the U.S. Open, Chambers Bay’s fescue greens came under heavy criticism from golfers. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson said the basked and bumpy surfaces were like putting on “broccoli.”

Over the past year, course officials started to allow poa to overtake the fescue as the prevailing grass on the greens.

This fall, three greens (Nos. 7, 10 and 13 hole) — the ones that remained in the best shape during the U.S. Open — were resodded with poa grass shipped in from British Columbia.

Larry Gilhuly, the USGA’s West Region agronomist, came out on a regular visit last week to inspect the three new greens.

“I was really pleased to see the condition of the No. 7 green,” he said. “It was put down Sept. 24, and eight weeks later, it had five-inch roots.”

With that feedback, officials from Pierce County and Kemper Sports, which manages the property, asked the USGA for a delay to cautiously proceed in treating the other 15 greens, as well as the putting greens.

Allen said another resodding project will happen next fall, but that course officials won’t know which greens will need to be fully redone until they see how much the poa overtakes the remaining fescue grass this spring.

“The right thing to do was back it off two years,” Gilhuly said. “After that, those greens will be ready for championship golf.”

In the years leading up to the 2021 four-ball championship, Allen said course officials will continue to work with the USGA in exploring ways to improve spectator viewing opportunities, as well as altering a few of the green contours in hopes of securing another U.S. Open.

Also, Allen said he does not expect this two-year delay on the four-ball championship to put Chambers Bay off track in hosting other major tournaments, including a second U.S. Open, or a U.S. Women’s Open.

“All of us at the USGA commend Chanbers Bay and Pierce County for re-grassing the putting greens, as it will have long-term benefits for the facility,” John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships and governance, said in a released statement Tuesday.

“We are also tremendously grateful to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort for stepping forward to host the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, which also provides the opportunity for Chambers Bay to undertake this work and then host in 2021.

“This scenario is beneficial for us all and allows the USGA to conduct exemplary Four-Ball championships at two outstanding facilities in the Pacific Northwest in the coming years.”

Staff writer Sean Robinson contributed to this report.