Ask Chambers Bay director of agronomy Eric Johnson if the course will be brown, green or a mixture of both for the U.S. Open and he’ll defer to Mother Nature.
“Ask the weatherman,” he said. “I hope it’s dry, that way we can control if we want it green or not, but June can give us anything.”
So can November through May, for that matter. Johnson was thrilled with how Chambers Bay came through winter and early spring. Temperatures were mild, course officials put together a restricted-use plan and instituted numerous protective measures, including shutting down several green complexes.
Chambers Bay emerged in great shape.
“We had about three weeks total of freezing weather, which is abnormal,” Johnson said. “We had covers on every green for the first time just as an insurance policy and they’re not fun to move, especially when you have 20 of them. We tried to plan so we didn’t have to pull them up and put them down in 24 hours.”
Added Matt Allen, general manager at Chambers Bay for seven years: “Thanks to the plan, the reduced traffic and the cherry on top was the weather, our efforts in areas on the putting greens that needed special attention were rewarded. We’re not only in the best condition we’ve ever been at this point of the year, with the exception of two greens we’re in the best condition I’ve ever seen it period.”
Chambers Bay’s fine fescue grass is ideal for links golf because it’s a thinner blade and lacks tackiness, according to USGA executive director Mike Davis. When a ball lands on fescue it tends to skid and roll out, perfect for the firm-and-fast conditions typical of links golf.
Fine fescue also has environmental benefits. It requires less water, fertilizer and chemicals compared to more common grass varieties found on traditional courses.
“All that money that can be saved by not over-greening (links courses) hopefully can go to junior golf,” said Chambers Bay designer Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Taking care of fine fescue can be a delicate proposition. The skinny blades are susceptible to damage from foot traffic, particularly when it goes dormant in colder weather. Fine fescue grows slowly so divots take longer to recover.
“We didn’t stop growing this winter,” said Johnson, who arrived at Chambers Bay in 2012 after working with fescue for nine years at Bandon Dunes. “When it’s cold the grass shuts down and is no longer growing and you throw a normal year of traffic on it that’s where you run into problems. This year was different because of the (winter maintenance) plan and the weather helping us out.”
June weather can be fickle in western Washington but officials expect to be able to adjust accordingly because Chambers Bay is built on sand and features excellent drainage.
Chambers Bay closed to the public May 26 to ensure the best possible conditions when pros arrive prior to U.S. Open. The tournament is June 18-21.
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