Golf

U.S. Open official: Visitors should expect NFC Championship game excitement at Chambers Bay

Reg Jones grew up in one of the meccas of American golf — North Carolina.

And now, as the United States Golf Association’s senior director of U.S. Open championships, he is in charge of formulating the plan for all “outside-the-ropes” activities (admissions, corporate hospitality, facility set-up, security, transportation, volunteers and vendor operations) at U.S. Opens.

A native of Henderson, North Carolina, Jones attended Wake Forest University. In 1994, he took on postgraduate internship with Pinehurst Championship Management to help out at the U.S. Senior Open.

Later, he was hired full-time as Pinehurst’s vice president of championships for 12 years before the USGA came calling.

The 46-year-old talked with The News Tribune on Jan. 13 during a Chambers Bay site visit in preparation for this summer’s U.S. Open in University Place:

Q: Seems like you got your money’s worth out of that Pinehurst internship.

A: I was just trying to graduate (from Ohio University) and get my master’s degree. I never thought it would end up being a career I would pursue. I had always been interested and been involved in golf, and really thought my future was probably more in facility management. I saw Pinehurst as an opportunity to get my foot in the door that way.

I was really fortunate I was at Pinehurst at a time it was really being recognized again, and coming back onto the map.

Q: As far as a future in U.S. Opens, when did you know that was going to be it?

A: I had been with Pinehurst for 12 years. We finished up the 2005 (U.S.) Open, and it went really well. I ended up getting a call from Mike Butz and Pete Bevacqua in 2006 because they were having some (USGA) staff changes.

The more I started thinking about it, and how well things went in 2005 at Pinehurst, it was just something I wanted to be a part of every year. That was it for me to go work for the USGA, and go work at the U.S. Open every year.

Q: You guys sent U.S. Open championship director Danny Sink out here more than two years ago to be on site. Would you distinguish his role and responsibilities for this U.S. Open from what you do leading up to this championship?

A: I am the one who creates the initial vision with a lot help from a lot of people. Danny certainly has a tremendous amount of input. And he is obviously our point person, and is our face of the U.S. Open and is really the one in charge of making it happen.

Last year (at Pinehurst No. 2) I was probably more in that role with it being a home game for me, and being there on site. But you have to have some good leadership in place when you are not there all the time.

Q: This is your first U.S. Open at a new course since Torrey Pines in 2008. When you put together a blueprint for everything outside the ropes, are you taking bits and pieces of things you have done at other courses that seem to make sense here, or are you doing a lot of this through visualization and feel?

A: That is a great way to put it. I learn a lot every year. That is a great thing about what I do, you are always growing, and you are always figuring out new and better ways to do things, because you are put in a position where you have to do that a lot of times.

So I think every year for me, it is taking things that have worked well at other sites, and after sort of evaluating the footprint … we apply it to that (new) site.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out the volunteer quota had been met in 36 hours? I hear that news is legendary around USGA headquarters.

A: I compare this a lot to my first U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. Back then, we had the random drawing for tickets, and we got like 80,000 requests for tickets in 24 hours. We have seen that same level of enthusiasm here.

To me, that (the volunteer quota filling up) is comparable to the general reaction to the way the championship is received here, and how it was back at Pinehurst in 1999.

Q: Chambers Bay is in a bowl along the Puget Sound. What are some of the unique outside-the-ropes challenges you’ve had to incur with this particular site?

A: The facility, in a strange kind of way, reminds me of Merion (outside Philadelphia) in that it required a little bit of different thinking, or a lot of outside-the-box (thinking) when it came down to the spectator experience.

Chambers Bay is a difficult course to navigate in a traditional way where you are following a group from hole to hole. So we are really having to focus more on viewing from what are some phenomenal grandstand locations.

Most of the courses we go to, you’ve got trees, you’ve got obstructions. But you get into some of the seats here, you can see three or four holes. That is a different kind of spectator experience than you may think of when you go to a place like Sahalee or a Pinehurst or some of the other courses we go to.

Q: Because the plan was to have so many grandstands here, I remember (USGA executive director) Mike Davis saying this U.S. Open is going to be like a British Open. Do you worry that people will confuse the two, and think they are getting a British Open experience at a U.S. Open?

A: One of the things that is so exciting about coming here is that it is different. I am not sure most people understand what the British Open experience is. What they will come to appreciate is the difference in going to our national championship. That is what they will pick up as being different.

Q: Each time your come here on a site visit, do you visualize what this place is going to look like in four or five months?

A: Yes. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been here – probably 50 to 60 times. I have been coming here with Mike since we met with (then Pierce County Executive) John Ladenburg in 2006. I made a lot of trips being out on the West Coast a fair amount at Pebble (Beach). I would come up for a day or two to help to continue the process.

Q: In general terms, for most people who have never seen a U.S. Open, how would you describe this experience?

A: The golf course and the facility are going to have the same feel, the same look and the same excitement that people experienced for the NFC Championship game — that kind of electricity.

That is what they will experience when they come here, whether it be when you see the type of stadium we construct that becomes the outside-the-ropes experience, or watching the players truly try and figure out what for them will be a very different experience.

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