Chambers Bay gets the 2015 US Open

In its first year, Pierce County’s Chambers Bay Golf Course (Tacoma, WA) earned smashing reviews as it ascended to the top ranks of the golf world. One writer called it “America’s next great golf course.” Another said it’s “golf’s latest prodigy.” A third praised the waterfront views that offer “a sense of entrance that few golf courses anywhere can match.”

And that’s just in the last few weeks.

Throw in a passel of awards and the biggest prize of all – the 2015 U.S. Open – and it’s clear the county-owned course already has become the national showcase envisioned by County Executive John Ladenburg.

“We have seen Chambers Bay get an international reputation in six months,” Ladenburg said recently. “Nobody would have predicted we could have done that well.”

But not everything has gone as planned this first year.

After opening to booming business last summer, the course has struggled to make budget. Bad weather this winter and spring has meant fewer golfers than expected, and Chambers Bay has discounted its steep prices to attract business.

There’s also reason to suspect the economic impact of the U.S. Open – the course’s signature achievement – might be far less than the $122 million the county claims.

Ladenburg remains confident. He said Chambers Bay is in a better position to withstand poor weather and tough economic times than many courses. And he said it’s already having an economic impact.

County Council Chairman Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor, also is optimistic. He said landing the U.S. Open so quickly has taken Chambers Bay to “unthought-of heights.”

Built on a former gravel mine, the $21 million golf course is part of a 932-acre waterfront property that Pierce County is converting to a major regional park.

Plans for the University Place park have long included a golf course. But it was Ladenburg’s idea to build one that would cater to affluent golfers and attract national tournaments.

Chambers Bay golfers pay a steep price. Depending on the day and the season, Pierce County residents pay up to $115 a round. Nonresidents pay up to $170.

Ladenburg’s vision generated a fair amount of controversy. Some questioned building a public course that many taxpayers can’t afford to play. And the County Council sparred with Ladenburg over funding issues.

That faded when the course opened June 23, 2007, with fanfare to match its ambition.

“I remember standing out there on opening day,” said Mark Luthman, regional director of operations for KemperSports, which runs the course for the county. “We knew it was such a special place. But it was nice to finally take the veil off.”

Since then, golfers have played nearly 32,000 rounds through May.

The course also has hosted tournaments, including the BMW Northwest Skins Charity Game, hosted by PGA member Ryan Moore. And it’s collected numerous honors. Among them: Golfweek magazine ranked Chambers Bay No. 2 on its “Best New Courses” list, and Golf Magazine named it “Best New Course of the Year.”

All of that was a prelude to February’s announcement that Chambers Bay would host the 2015 U.S. Open and the 2010 U.S. Amateur championships.

Chambers Bay will be the newest course to host the U.S. Open since 1970. It will be the first Northwest course to host the Open. And it will be just the third municipal course to host the U.S. Golf Association event.

“John’s goal and the county’s goal all the way along was to create a golf course that could host a major championship,” Luthman said. “Many other people have that goal, and it hasn’t come to fruition.”

By DAVID WICKERT: thenewstribune