The 2015 U.S. Open is 787 days away but Chambers Bay is essentially ready right now.
The links-style golf course near Tacoma has undergone nearly all of the additions, revisions and tweaks recommended by the USGA after hosting the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Customers who walk to the first tee will tour roughly the same layout that awaits the world’s best players in June 2015.
That’s rare, of course. This will be the first time the U.S. Open will be held in the Pacific Northwest. It’ll be just the third time the Open has been played at a municipally-owned course, joining Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines.
“I personally feel those problems we observed (during the U.S. Amateur) are gone,” said Larry Gilhuly, Northwest director of the USGA Green Section. “Really, the parts that were obviously too much we took care of.”
Earlier this week, Gilhuly guided 80 media members through course modifications, and Danny Sink, U.S. Open championship director, outlined outside-the-ropes plans. Here’s a look at some of the more prominent changes at Chambers Bay, site of the Washington State Amateur in June.
No. 1 was played as a par 4 or a par 5 in the U.S. Amateur, but players routinely blasted drives over a ridge and had short irons into the green on the 500-yard hole. From a new tee box, the hole can measure 575 yards and the landing zone will be into a slope, eliminating much of the roll and leaving a potentially blind second shot.
The green was reshaped in the winter of 2011 to become more receptive to approach shots. A friend of Gilhuly’s watched 90 U.S. Amateur players hit balls on the green and 82 rolled off toward the 18th fairway.
The uphill 18th, which can also play as a par 4 or a par 5, wasn’t considered challenging enough for the U.S. Amateur field. It will still be a risk-reward par 5, but the drive from the back tees will be considerably tougher after the hazard was extended and the angle adjusted.
If one plays conservatively off the tee, they’d be wise on their second shot to avoid a fairway bunker that is 10-feet deep and slanted to prevent players from going for the green.
“It’s a discussion point, but you could see the U.S. Open playing to a different par every day,” said Gilhuly, referring to the No. 1 and No. 18 holes.
The distinctive par-3 ninth comes with a stunning view and an elevation drop of perhaps 100 feet from tee to green. An additional set of tees, not too far from the new box on No. 1, creates an uphill hole that can stretch to 227 yards.
The seventh green was completely rebuilt. During the Amateur, some approach shots that didn’t stay on the elevated green rolled way back into the fairway. The green was lowered and positioned away from the hill. The new contour is amenable to second shots. A new bunker protects the right side of the green.
June weather will be one of the few variables outside the USGA’s jurisdiction.
“We’re hoping for one good sunny day at least, four or five would be better, and a good windy day,” Gilhuly said. “What we’re fearful of is rain, and it does happen here, and what it will do to the firmness of the course.
“What we’re trying to do is conduct a firm and fast national championship. We’ll get the green speeds, but firmness … that’s Mother Nature.”
Sink, who has moved to Pierce County, said details are still being ironed out regarding parking and transportation for 35,000 fans daily, 4,000 volunteers and 2,000 media. The goal is to divert most of the traffic away from the site and maximize use of buses, shuttles and public transportation. Every option is on the table, including satellite parking and utilizing railroad and cruise ships.
“We pulled off the 2011 Open at Congressional,” Sink said. “If we pulled off the transportation in Washington, D.C., we’ll be fine here.”
“We want to host a successful championship inside the course and outside the course,” Sink said. “We want to test the best players in the world and we want to be invited back.”