Local business leaders meet to learn more about U.S. Open’s potential

As of Wednesday, there were 780 days until the golfers arrive to begin their practice rounds.

“Not that we’re counting,” said Danny Sink, United States Golf Association championship director for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place.

It’s been on the schedule for five years, since 2008, and two years remain until tournament play begins on June 18, 2015.

On a spectacularly sunny Wednesday, Sink addressed a gathering of more than 100 business, tourism and community leaders on a bluff above the waterside course that will host the best golfers in the world. And the world will watch.

“We’re going to be the center of the sports world in June 2015,” Sink said.

He predicts that 200 million people will view the tournament on television. He predicts that 5,000 volunteers will help, and that 2,000 members of the media will file reports from Pierce County. He further predicts that the USGA will sell 35,000 tickets per day.

“It’s building a city on a golf course every year,” he said.

But he cautions that all local businesses should not expect a windfall.

The hospitality industry, yes. “Hotels will be full and restaurants packed,” he said. “We’ve got to set realistic expectations.”

Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps shared the caution about the effect on businesses.

“What we’ve been concerned about – a local candle store stocking up, and then not getting business and telling people the Open was a bust,” he said.

That candle store – or a furniture store, or a real estate broker – may find that increase in business in months to come. “These people are coming here for what’s going on on the (course),” Sink said. “In general, they’re golf people.”

A study conducted following a recent tournament found that 75 percent of visitors were male, and the average age was 43. The average stay was four days, and 60 percent of visitors came from no more than 50 miles away.

But it’s not just the immediate money.

“The exposure that we will get from this, the impact, we can’t even imagine it,” said Bennish Brown, president and CEO of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau. “This is our face to the world,” he said. “This has never happened in this state. A worldwide audience of more than 100 million people? This could be the gift that keeps on giving. If we’re successful in presenting this, the sky is the limit.”

Sink said the USGA is continuing to plan, and beginning to address details in partnership with the county and other governments and agencies. Security? “We’ll continue to ramp that up.” All visitors will pass through a magnetometer. All volunteers will face a background check.Transportation? “We haven’t ruled out trains, water or parking. We don’t have the answers today.” Volunteers? Recruitment begins early next year. Onsite corporate hospitality? Expect to pay anywhere between $3,500 and $300,000. Tickets? Will go on sale exactly a year before the tournament begins. The championship round, Sink said, has sold out for the past 27 years.

University of Washington Tacoma is among the local institutions already planning to salute the tournament, said Josh Knudson, vice chancellor for advancement at the school. Expect two Chambers Bay Husky tournaments, beginning next September, with the first featuring course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. with tips on how to play the links. Expect also a series of lectures at UWT, still being planned, and including one on “The Physics of Golf.”

And the overall goal? Not money or exposure, Sink said.

“We want to provide the toughest test in golf to identify the best player.”

So he said he wouldn’t even mind if it rained, just a little.