The 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in the state of Washington was notable for several reasons, the most obvious being that this golf destination was a radical departure for the normally conservative U.S.G.A.
This was the first time the U.S. Open had been played in the Pacific Northwest, although logic would dictate that this part of the country should always be considered a potential site for future Opens. While the weather was warm, it was far more pleasant than similar temperatures would be in the humid Midwest and East Coast in June. The tournament was extremely well attended by golf spectators from the area who are not accustomed to having a major golf tournament in their back yards.
In recent years the U.S.G.A., has attempted to show that Open venues don’t have to be elite country clubs accessible only to the wealthy. There were Opens at Torrey Pines, Beth Page Black, and Pebble Beach, courses that are technically public venues. Of course non resident weekend rates at Torrey are $292.00, non resident weekend rates at Bethpage Black are $150.00 and people sleep in their cars overnight to get tee times, and at Pebble Beach you have to stay at their hotel for 2 nights at rates beginning at $670.00 per night, then pay $495.00 green fees, so if you have $1,835.00 plus caddy or cart fees, sure, Pebble is a public venue. Chambers Bay green fees in the summer months are $275.00 to $299.00. Thank goodness there is so much inexpensive golf at these public courses and golf resorts!
Exorbitant green fees notwithstanding, having a U.S. Open on a links golf course was a big gamble for the U.S.G.A. While Shinnecock Hills in South Hampton, a past and future site of the U.S. Open is referred to as a “links style course”, Chambers Bay is the real thing, with the sand based fairways and fescue greens, a different world from the heavily watered, deep green parkland courses which have hosted Opens in the past. With water shortages forcing Course Superintendents and greenskeepers to reevaluate the amount of turf absolutely necessary for a first rate golf course, Chambers Bay is a look at the future, an example of the maxim that “brown is the new green”. There were some justifiable complaints about uneven putting surfaces where poa annua had invaded the fescue but this problem can be solved by resurfacing the offending greens, as several were, since the U.S Amateur was held there in 2010. The pure fescue greens at Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, a world famous golf destination in nearby Oregon, are consistently fabulous putting surfaces.
Finally, the U.S.G.A. faced the logistical problem of how to manage thousands of spectators on a course with dramatic elevation changes and for safety reasons, requiring much of the course to be roped off from the patrons on this 250 acre track. (Many parkland courses are built on about half as much land.) The U.S.G.A.’s solution was to build huge grandstands seating 18,000, but with stands that size, they needed to be set back from the playing surfaces somewhat more than usual, which prevented fans from having close up looks at their favorite players unless they had the foresight to bring binoculars.
This year’s PGA tournament, the last major of the year is to be held at Whistling Straits, (greens fees $385.00) bathroom fixture magnate Herb Kohler’s golf resort in Wisconsin. It will provide another opportunity to fine tune audience logistics at a major tournament on a links course. No doubt the U.S.G.A. will be watching with interest.
Article by TRG Golf contributor Stephen Friend