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An Open Like No Other
Talk about a U.S. Open like no other. There will need be an attitude adjustment by both the pros who will play the tumbling links course of Chambers Bay near Seattle in the 2015 Open, and the amateurs who play it everyday.
U.S. Open Trophy Arrives at Chambers Bay
Even as Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association, awaited last week to speak to media following two days of walking the course, rumors persisted that next year's Open would be moved, perhaps to Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, a previous host to two U.S. Women's Open and Tiger Woods's last U.S. Amateur win.
First was the concern that there was no clubhouse, a concern not shared by the USGA, which erected a temporary clubhouse at Torrey Pines in 2008 and would rather do it that way than try to jam into the clubhouse of some older country club facility.
But of most concern and criticism, especially from those who had been playing the course, were the slow and splotchy-looking greens at Chambers Bay that appeared bad even by muni standards.
As it is, Chambers Bay is only the third municipal course to host an Open, following Bethpage Black in New York and Torrey Pines in California.
But those courses at least looked like Open courses. Clearly, Chambers Bay, in the city of University Place near Tacoma, does not.
Instead of concern, Davis said it was time to celebrate the "out-of-the-box: site.
"Every aspect of this championship so far has been incredibly positive," Davis said. "To say we are excited to come here would be the understatement of the year.
"Fifty weeks away . . . we could not be positioned any better."
So how can the greens be so slow, and Davis so happy?
First of all, the links course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., has large tumbling putting surfaces that won't need or tolerate speeds faster than 11 on the Stimpmeter.
"Right now," said Davis, "our concern is the health of the grass." Not the speed of the greens.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy Discusses
Chambers Bay, Mike Davis on Right
(Photos by Tom Cade)
In the months before the Open, the greens at Chambers Bay will be slow by design as the fine fescue grasses compete with native poa annua. "Very comfortable about the progress we're making," said Josh Lewis, the superintendent at Chambers Bay.
Lewis explained that to help the fescue take hold mower levels are set higher and the application of water and fertilizer are minimized, to the liking of the fescue but not the poa or the everyday player.
Davis agreed that while the wiry look of the fescue is different it can produce a wonderful putting surface. "The ball bounces. It rolls," he said. "It's not a 'catchy' grass."
And it will also be closely monitored throughout the winter, Davis said, to see how it bounces back in time for the next U.S. Open. With the use of temporary greens and fewer tee times, managers of Chambers Bay hope to lessen wear and tear on the course.
Matt Allen, Chambers Bay general manager, said the course would likely be closed to the public at the end of May next year, although it could be shut down earlier if the winter were harsh and the greens particularly fragile.
The change in attitude by the pros could prove essential, said Davis. "I've been a part of 25 U.S. Opens,'' he said. "I've read a lot of history, going back to 1895, and the one thing you can say almost without failure is the players that embrace the architecture, that embrace the set-up, the agronomics, are the ones who do well."
Davis talked about players who can hit long, high shots to holes like Nos. 4 and 7, but also keep the ball low on holes that chase toward Puget Sound.
"The architecture is very unusual," Davis said. "I've seen a thousand golf courses in my life, and I've never seen one that has this aspect of backboards. There are at least a dozen holes on which you can play from point 'A' to point 'B' by playing to point 'C.' "
All the significant changes to the course have been made, said Davis. Since its opening, every hole has been tweaked, usually by adding different tees. New greens were built on hole Nos. 1, 4, 7 and 13 to keep well-hit shots from running off the putting surface, sometimes as far as 150 yards.
Davis said the course will be played as a par 70, although two holes - the first and 18th - will play to a different par each day. He also said the course will likely play from between 7,200 to 7,600 yards, although from the back tees can stretch it almost 8,000 yards.
"The course gives us tremendous flexibility," said Davis. As he spoke, a strong wind rattled the temporary pavilion built high on the rim of the property, a situation USGA officials hope repeats itself next June for the 2015 Open.
Davis said the Open has never been played on a course with as much elevation gain and loss. He talked specifically about the tee shot on No. 9, where there is a drop of a couple hundreds yards to the green.
Indeed, Chambers Bay will offer an Open like no other.
Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's par putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "America's St. Andrews," which tells the colorful back-story of how Chambers Bay was selected as the site of the 2015 U.S. Open. Due for release on October 1, 2014, the book may be pre-ordered at www.AmericasStAndrews.com. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.