As the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay (University Place in Tacoma) draws nearer, the U.S. Golf Association is ramping up preparations, although that isn’t new. The country’s pre-eminent golf organization altered 10 holes in 2012 to meet its requirements for what makes a course worthy of hosting one of golf’s four major tourneys.
The challenging part now: Logistics.
Where do thousands of visitors to a week-long event in a residential part of Pierce County park?
How will media members, 4,500 volunteers and vendors driving south daily on I-5 avoid bumper-to-bumper backups?
How does the USGA position grandstands on massive, 30-foot-high sand dunes to create a natural amphitheater?
USGA executives held a media meet-and-greet Tuesday at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle to explain what they’ve been doing to solve the potential headaches of a first-time invasion of Tacoma for one of the sports world’s signature annual events.
“You can’t create space at certain properties that you go to,” said USGA championship communications director Pete Kowalski. “You deal with it by allocating around it, but at Chambers Bay there is space for things that we need — a big media center, a big merchandise arena, lots of room for concessions.”
The USGA has been working closely with Chambers Bay since 2008, when it selected the public links to host the Open.
USGA championship director Danny Sink has been stationed in Tacoma for the last 18 months, Kowalski said, to create a “world-class” event. Sink offered assurances that the drawbacks in hosting a huge tournament on a former gravel mine won’t diminish the biggest event in Northwest golf history.
Sink is working with Sound Transit to set up a plan to transport fans from Seattle to Tacoma via passenger train on the Burlington Northern railroad line that runs adjacent to the course. For drivers, a shuttle service will operate between remote parking lots in University Place and the Chambers Bay clubhouse.
Grandstands will seat 20,000 of the 35,000 fans expected to attend each day, Sink said.
“When you’re 10 people deep trying to watch every shot, that’s not a great customer experience,” Sink said. “We could have sold more than 35,000, no doubt about it, but that’s the number we feel like we can comfortably hold, and get to and from.”
“In the U.S. Open, we get more control,” Sink said. “We’re going to tell people where to go, as opposed to, ‘Hey, walk over to this dune but be careful when you get to the top’ . . . we don’t want anybody to come to our event and sprain an ankle or break a leg.'”
Tickets go on sale June 9, 2014, though USGA members can purchase in the spring. Sink said the Open has sold out 27 consecutive years.
That likely won’t change when it is played 40 miles south of Seattle on the shores of Puget Sound. It will present a series of firsts for golf fans.
The Northwest has never hosted the Open. The Open has not been staged on the slick, fescue grass that often changes from green to brown and back, depending on the amount of rain. The Open has never been held at an authentic links venue where maritime winds can wreak havoc.
That will change at Chambers Bay.
“From a playing standpoint, this is not going to be like a normal golf course,” said Larry Gulhily, USGA director of the Northwest region. “You’re going to see shots that are out of this world.”