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Chambers Bay takes cues from Pinehurst

Sports writer Jim Meehan (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The countdown clock is at 362 days.

When Martin Kaymer completed his victory stroll in the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 last Sunday, Chambers Bay officially took its place as next on the tee.

The seven-year-old course near Tacoma will become the center of the golf world when it hosts the 2015 U.S. Open. Chambers Bay was awarded the championship within a year of opening. Preparations began years ago with numerous improvements implemented following the 2010 U.S. Amateur.

Last week in North Carolina, a 29-member delegation from Chambers Bay and Pierce County spent six days observing, meeting, learning and trading notes with their Pinehurst counterparts. Chambers Bay pros served as starters for the practice rounds and fielded questions from inquisitive pros wanting to know what’s in store for 2015.

“It’ll be a blink of the eye before it’s here,” Chambers Bay general manager Matt Allen said.

Allen has attended five U.S. Opens.

“You take the USGA to a site as well suited as Pinehurst is, and they’ve been there three times in the last 15 years … it was really smooth, well done and the spectator experience was the best I’ve seen anywhere,” Allen said.

Now it’s Chambers Bay’s turn and the anticipation of Northwest golf fans is obvious. More than 5,000 applied to be volunteers within the first 36 hours. Ticket sales have been strong.

Chambers Bay will be a unique venue for a U.S. Open for several reasons: it’s a municipally owned, links style, public course located in the Northwest. The closest U.S. Opens were contested in the Bay Area and Colorado.

“One of the biggest challenges is preparing the course while having to be open all the time,” Allen said.

Chambers Bay is already taking steps to make sure it is in championship form next June. By design, Allen expects the number of rounds played in October to drop by roughly 25 percent and by a third through the winter months. Play will be reduced by 30-40 percent March-May leading up to the tournament.

The goal is to have Chambers Bay in exquisite shape with the specific challenge tending to the fine fescue greens that go dormant in winter. Greens on Nos. 7, 10 and 13 were re-seeded and temporary greens are periodically in use.

“November to early March is a critical window for us,” Allen said. “When fescue is dormant, that’s when you can do the most damage with too much foot traffic. We’ll put covers on the greens.”

The rough has been allowed to grow in advance of next week’s visit from USGA executive director Mike Davis, who will begin determining rough height for the U.S. Open.

Chambers Bay was the site of the Washington Class 2A Tournament in late May. Sammamish High’s Matt Maresse shot 65 and 68 and won by 11 shots, but the course set-up will be much tougher for the world’s best players next June.

“That always prompts the question: Is it going to be up to the challenge?” Allen said. “They’re playing it 7,000 yards and 8 on the Stimpmeter and not much rough. Add 800 yards, 2-3 feet on the Stimpmeter and raking the rough every day. I think it’ll be plenty up for the challenge.”

Allen added that weather will be a “wildcard. If we happen to get a bunch of rain leading up to it it’s going to be softer and we can’t really do anything about that. That being said, it’s going to be one of, if not the firmest layouts a U.S. Open has been conducted on.”

It’ll be fascinating to hear the pros’ reactions to playing a U.S. Open on a links course. Pros are likely to begin visiting the site closer to June, when conditions are more in line with the tournament set-up. When the 2012 Open was held at The Olympic Club, players made time for practice rounds around the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am schedule. Few bothered to putt because the greens weren’t close to U.S. Open speeds.

“What will be most interesting to me is having the U.S. Open on a newer golf course which most players haven’t played prior to the event or until they’re able to show up to practice,” Allen said. “Links golf, in some respects, has to be a little harder and tougher to digest given the limited experience with it. If they’re all on sort of an even playing field, who emerges as the player that can sort it out?”

An answer we’ll begin discovering in 362 days.