USGA Director Mike Davis visited Chambers Bay this week to take a look at the course and the progress that’s been made in advance of the 2015 U.S. Open. The Open, which looms a mere 50 weeks away, is expected to be a multi-million dollar boon to the Puget Sound economy, but it has not been without concern.
Many casual players who have played the course have excoriated the turf conditions on all sorts of review sites. American golfers, who are often not used to fescue fairways (and particularly fescue greens), often seem disappointed with the patchy, thin and parched conditions of the playing surface. Yet an unfazed Davis delivered a message to those players.
“It’s a better grass to play on. It’s more thought-provoking for a championship.” Davis said, later adding “We told them to keep it exactly like this.”
Davis is right. Fescue grasses, genetically, are fantastic grasses for a golf course to be planted in. They are drought tolerant, require minimal fertilization and have a straight blade shape that promotes the “firm and fast” conditions that the USGA yearns for. However, the shortcomings of fescue are unfortunately also the most visible.
Foot traffic and cold weather dormancy are the biggest drawbacks to the grass. During the driest portions of Summer and the peak cold of Winter, fescue grass goes dormant and becomes even more susceptible to foot traffic; something Chambers Bay is not lacking in. These conditions are what cause the comparatively (to traditional bents and bermudas) shabby visuals.
Davis, however, is no amateur. His understanding of the nature of the grass actually fed into his desire to bring the U.S. Open to Chambers Bay.
“This was a little bit of out of the box thinking for the USGA,” noted Davis. He added, “we have never played the US Open on fine fescue greens. It feels like a British Open course.”
Beyond the unique turf makeup, Davis listed myriad reasons to qualify his admiration of the course.“This really is bold architecture,” he noted, before heaping superlatives on the design.
“There are a lot of traditional aspects to this, but at the same time…there is parts to it that we’ve never encountered in a U.S. Open.”
Whoa. Calm down, Mike.
Okay then, what else?
When those players get on the 9th hole drop green, they will have not encountered a shot like that.
Dude. It’s getting weird now; and as hard as I find that to believe, it really is one hell of a shot (you can see the 9th green in the bottom left of the image above).
While the Davis/Chambers affair was steamy, it wasn’t the only news to come out of the briefing. Danny Sink, the 2015 U.S. Open Championship Director (a.k.a. the head honcho for logistics and infrastructure) joined Davis to answer questions from bums like myself and legitimate journalists alike.
- Davis says the course will play to a par of 70 and his “sense” is that it will vary from 7200-7600 yards.
- Davis on changes to the course after the 2010 U.S. Amateur: “2010 was as firm as I can remember…in 2010 it was too bouncy…good shots were penalized”. “Area behind 3rd, 11th greens were tripled in width to allow people and vehicles to move.”
- The current plan is to evaluate the conditions in February-March and determine when to close the course in advance of the Championship. Most likely around Memorial Day.
- The event will sell out: “It’s been phenomenal. Getting close to selling out a couple of days of the championship”
- There was an unprecedented volunteer rush: “36 hours for USGA to recruit over 5,000 volunteers”
- There will be no local rule regarding trains passing, although players on 16th tee may be afforded a slight delay.
- There are scheduled to be 20,000 seats worth of grandstands, and 30,000 people per day are expected Thursday-Sunday
- Sink on options for the 10,000 seatless spectators: “Viewing areas were created to allow viewers to see multiple holes.” “The course is not friendly for ‘every shot’ viewing.” “People will be able to see 6 or 8 golf shots from certain spots”
- The USGA is in final stages of arranging an agreement with BNSF to run a shuttle train from King St. Station in Seattle to a special terminal right at the course.
- Mike Davis on whether he expects players to visit before the event: “You are not going to know [Chambers Bay] in one or two rounds. You have to have vision and imagination. I think the prudent player will come out early and try to learn the golf course.”