UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The brown, lumpy patches that dotted nearly every putting surface at Chambers Bay and became the story of the 2015 U.S. Open are now lush, smooth and a Northwest-appropriate shade of green.
Four years removed from a championship that was largely derided because of its putting green problems, Chambers Bay may have salvaged its future hopes of being part of golf’s championship rotation with a massive effort to replace every green on the course.
“I wouldn’t overstate this but it did kind of exceed my expectations,” said USGA senior managing director John Bodenhamer, who got a tour of the changes in late March. “I expected to see a few more seams and things but I think it grew in beautifully. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I kind of was.”
Rather than continuing to try to fight off the invasive poa annua grass that caused so many problems on the greens during the U.S. Open, the course took the drastic step of closing down for six months to replace 15 of 18 greens; three had already been replaced in 2017. The fescue grass was torn out and replaced with new poa annua greens. Some of the grass had been grown onsite for about six months, while another batch was delivered from a sod farm in British Columbia. Chambers Bay reopened in April.
“It’s going to be better for Chambers Bay long term, for their clientele and their everyday play,” USGA director of championship agronomy Darin Bevard said. “They’re going to have better conditions and I think ultimately that is probably the most important thing.”
When Chambers Bay originally decided to change the greens, the intent was to let the poa annua take over in an environment where it thrives. The Pacific Northwest is fertile ground for the grass and many golf courses in the region eventually morph into having poa annua greens.
Chambers Bay was trying to buck the trend with all fescue greens, but the problems at the U.S. Open amplified the need to make changes.
“There is a certain number of things we could do to encourage the poa coming on, taking over faster. That was ungraceful to put it mildly,” KemperSports Vice President Matt Allen said. “The question was how long would you have to hold your nose and some greens would get there faster than others. You would sort of be plagued with this undetermined and frankly unpalatably long amount of time of inconsistency green to green.”
The process started in 2017 when Chambers Bay did a full replacement of three greens – Nos. 7, 10 and 13 –in order to keep the surfaces from dying. Allen and his staff then decided the best move would be to fully replace every putting surface on the golf course with brand new greens rather than slowly let the poa annua take over naturally.
A change this drastic brings into question what the championship future will be for Chambers Bay. The USGA Four-Ball championship was moved to 2021 after the decision to change the greens.
Those associated with the course don’t expect future opportunities until it becomes clear how the course plays during the four-ball. Chambers Bay has made it known it would like to host a U.S. Women’s Open, which could be the next step before potentially landing another U.S. Open. But the earliest Chambers Bay could find itself again in the championship rotation would be around 2030.
Bodenhamer is admittedly a bit biased since he went to high school just a few miles from the course.
“It’s a special place to me. It was my stomping grounds growing up. I want to see it succeed on every front,” he said. “I would love to see nothing more than Chambers continue to host championships as well as other courses in the Puget Sound region.”
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