Countdown to Chambers Bay: Officials take last, costly chance to see US Open

Nearly 20 public officials from Pierce County are traveling 2,900 miles to the U.S. Open this week to prepare for the major golf championship’s arrival next June at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place.

The estimated cost to taxpayers for the trip: $53,599.

County, city and fire department leaders and a Sound Transit administrator will examine public safety, transportation and other facets of staging this year’s U.S. Open at the Pinehurst Resort in the Sandhills region of North Carolina.

University Place Mayor Denise McCluskey wants to learn all she can from leaders putting on the event at Pinehurst No. 2, from emergency preparedness to engaging the public.

“I’d just like to know the best way to support the event in our community,” McCluskey said.

She is one of seven University Place officials traveling to North Carolina at a cost to the city of about $19,563.

It will be McCluskey’s first time at a U.S. Open, one of men’s golf’s four major professional championships. The learning curve might be steeper for her than for others in the group.

“I’m not a golfer,” McCluskey said. “And I really don’t watch the sport.”

Besides a behind-the-scenes look at preparations, McCluskey wants to see how the village of Pinehurst welcomes the tournament into its community.

University Place already has discussed showing a live, big-screen broadcast of next year’s U.S. Open at the city’s Town Center.

“We’d like to get the 12th Man spirit going in University Place during the event,” said McCluskey, applying the Seahawks fans to golf. “You only live life once. So let’s have fun with it.”

The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course next June is expected to have an attendance of 235,000 over seven days. That will make it the largest sporting event ever held in Pierce County, if not the state.

University Place has meetings set with leaders from Pinehurst and other groups to learn about planning for the weeklong event, which culminates on Father’s Day each year.

The host city is sending a larger group than it did last year, while Pierce’s County delegation will be smaller.

Nine officials from Pierce County government are going to Pinehurst, including deputy county executive Kevin Phelps, Sheriff Paul Pastor and three other Sheriff’s Department officials.

The total estimated cost to Pierce County is $23,446.

Pierce County has sent a delegation to the U.S. Open since 2008, when it was announced that county-owned Chambers Bay Golf Course would host the 2015 U.S. Open.

County Executive Pat McCarthy, who has been to four U.S. Opens since then, said the trips are critical to grasping the magnitude of the event.

“You just don’t get the same understanding of what this event can and will be,” said McCarthy, who’s not going this year because of family health issues.

Attending the championship also is a way to forge relationships with the United States Golf Association, which puts on the event, she said.

Each U.S. Open provides a different opportunity to take something back home to explore, McCarthy said.

That doesn’t mean the Pinehurst experience will be directly applicable to Chambers Bay. They are very different venues with different histories.

Pinehurst No. 2, which opened in 1907, is part of a privately owned complex of eight golf courses, three hotels and other leisure amenities. This will be its third U.S. Open, in addition to many other prestigious golf tournaments.

Chambers Bay opened in 2007 with one Scottish Links style golf course and no hotels, though the county has been talking to a California developer about building a second 18-hole golf course and a 220-room hotel on the property.

Local officials hope what they learn at Pinehurst will help make next year’s U.S. Open a success and lead to a return of the championship to University Place.

“It’s on us to make sure we do our part to make sure this is a successful event,” McCarthy said.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647


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