Chambers Bay hits a ‘home run’

Golf Channel announcer Steve Burkowski used a baseball phrase Sunday to grade the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay.

“I think this place hit a home run this week,” he said.

Burkowski was effusive in his praise of the first major golf tournament at the county-owned course in University Place, as were officials of the United States Golf Association, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, Gov. Chris Gregoire and legions of spectators.

“We had a wonderful crowd,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition.

An estimated 33,000 people attended the tournament over its seven-day run, county officials said. They expect the event to at least break even and perhaps turn a profit.

Sales of tickets, merchandise, food and beverages exceeded expectations, McCarthy and Deputy County Executive Kevin Phelps said.

More than 5,200 people snaked across the fairways, stood atop dunes and cheered from the edges of the greens Sunday as Oklahoma State University’s Peter Uihlein bested Stanford University junior David Chung to win the 110th U.S. Amateur championship.

It was Uihlein’s 21st birthday, and a gallery grateful for a day of riveting golf serenaded him with celebratory song after his win.

A few minutes later, spectators cheered McCarthy when she said: “This is the first national championship at Chambers Bay. We look forward to the next one – the 2015 U.S. Open.”

The Amateur wasn’t perfect, organizers admitted, but no one found many flaws. Those they did log will be scrutinized and plans will be made to smooth out the rough spots before one of golf’s marquee contests arrives here in five years.

The biggest problem, according to tournament organizers, sheriff’s deputies and spectators randomly interviewed, was people falling on their tushes while navigating steep grass-covered sand dunes.

“We need to be prepared for perhaps more twisted ankles,” sheriff’s Lt. Scott Mielcarek said.

Aside from a few spectators’ injuries and minor altercations involving fans jostling for views of the action, there weren’t any public safety issues, Mielcarek said. No arrests. No traffic tie-ups. No parking squabbles.

There was a celery crisis for a time Sunday morning, as beverage servers struggled to keep up with the Bloody Mary demand of thirsty spectators, county spokesman Hunter George said.

It will be a few weeks before a final accounting is completed by course manager KemperSports, the county and the USGA, but preliminary figures Sunday showed sales running well ahead of forecasts, McCarthy said.

Merchandise sales were expected to top $250,000, and there were around $130,000 in ticket sales as of Saturday, George said. The tournament got more than $850,000 in support from area businesses and corporations.

If net revenue exceeds the cost of putting on the tournament – estimated at about $1.4 million – the money earned will be put back into the course, Phelps said.

County officials also believe national television exposure on NBC and the Golf Channel will result in more people playing Chambers Bay and more money spent in area restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

“Anecdotally, the phones have been ringing off (the hook) in the pro shop for tee times,” Phelps said. That could be good news for the $21 million course that lost $1.3 million last year.

The county’s investment will prove a good one for the region, University Place City Councilman Eric Choiniere believes.

“I knew how big this was going to be,” he said as he stood atop a dune watching Uihlein and Chung tee up on the 14th hole Sunday afternoon.

“People who said they weren’t sold are now saying, ‘You know what, Eric, this is great.’”

Everyone involved – the county, the City of University Place, the USGA – needs to employ large-scale logistics and careful planning to accommodate crowds that could top 60,000 a day for the 2015 Open, Choiniere and others said.

The USGA’s operations staff “will have to get out here sooner than later and look at a plan to move people around this golf course,” Davis said.

USGA officials know they have work to do before 2015, the Golf Channel’s Burkowski said.

“They didn’t get everything right this week. They admitted it,” he added, pointing to some issues with how the course played.

But he was impressed, he said, with how well KemperSports, the county and the USGA worked together on the event and with the way in which the community embraced the tournament.

“I don’t recall seeing this many people” at an Amateur, he said.

“I think it says a lot about the interest in golf in the Pacific Northwest.”

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659