The Final Countdown


Get excited, golf fans — the 2015 U.S. Open is just one year away. And you’d better believe host-to-be Chambers Bay will be ready

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 edition of Cascade Golfer. To get Cascade Golfer mailed to your home, click here.

By Bob Sherwin

After the millions of dollars spent, the thousands of man-hour sweat and multiple adjustments to the course, Chambers Bay’s fine and finicky fescue grass is on the clock.

Over the next 12 months, all those involved in the fledgling course’s preparation for the 2015 U.S. Open will be figuratively holding their breath as they watch the grass grow. As tedious a pursuit as that is, it’s all that matters — and the only thing still uncertain with the Open now just one year away, June 18-21, 2015.

Everything else — from volunteer registration to ticket sales, corporate sales, grandstands, housing, parking/transportation, etc. — is meeting, or exceeding, expectations for this point in the schedule. But without a robust growing season that provides consistent putting surfaces next June for those world-class PGA players, nothing else matters.

That’s why for tournament planners, the next 12 months are all about the grass.

Grow, Baby, Grow

The 2015 tournament will mark the first time since the Open was first contested, in 1895, that the entire playing surface on the seven-year-old golf course will be fine fescue, including — and especially — the greens.

“I think it’s neat,’’ says Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director.

Davis, the lord of all things in professional golf, has been involved in the Chambers Bay site for more than a decade, when the first shovel was turned on the degraded gravel pit on a tilt to the Puget Sound. He loves the idea of end-to-end fescue competition.

“We’ve played the U.S. Open on poa annua, new hybrid bentgrass, old hybrid, Bermuda. Different types. It’s just another variation,” he says. “Having said that, there will be a huge percentage of players playing in the U.S. Open who have not played on fescue (greens).

“They are different when you look down at them,’’ Davis continues. “They are going to have an unusual look to them. They are going to look kind of hairy. But, when prepared, the ball rolls beautifully on it.’’

But will the greens be prepared? Since the course opened in 2007, it has been a grand experiment to achieve a pure roll, a challenge given fescue’s particular characteristics. Fescue works well in this Northwest climate and is natural for a links course such as Chambers. It needs little water, little fertilizer, has deep roots and is sun- and shade-tolerant. The problem, though, is that the grass goes dormant during the winter, and with continued public play, the seedlings become trampled or chopped off, turning portions of the green into mere sand.

Some greens have been slow to establish, with persistent threadbare patches, and some greens just weren’t quite right from the beginning. It’s safe to say that in any one year, not even when the course hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur, were all 18 greens up to Open standards.

During the Amateur, the greens on the then three-year-old course were acceptable but, based on playing patterns, it was clear that four greens — No. 1, No. 4, No. 7 and No. 13 — needed reconstruction. One by one since 2010, those greens have been restructured and reseeded, a risky move so close a major championship.

Since it’s a public course and it has a fiduciary responsibility to Pierce County to pay the bills and keep the public churning through, it’s been necessary to protect the fragile growth, always with an eye on the Open. Greens have been completely closed off at times, with temporary fairway greens until the grass can properly grow in.

This spring, the No. 1, No. 7 and No. 10 holes needed temporary greens. That will continue to be a necessary pattern as the summer and fall approach.

Now it’s down to one year to go and, coming out of this winter, one chance to grow.

The course will need a veritable fescue fiesta by next June when all the players arrive, when FOX Sports debuts its golf coverage and 200 million people around the world tune in to watch the four-day competition. No temporary greens. No bare patches, just greens that are green and a roll that can be measured consistently throughout the course.

“We’ll have capacity restrictions now up until the U.S. Open,’’ says Matt Allen, the course’s general manager since it opened in 2007. “Our play in May (2015) will be roughly half the rounds (as this May) and there will be some reductions in April. We’ll close June 1.

“But that’s as important as it is in November, December and January to not put as many golfers on the course when fescue is not growing.’’

There also is a concern, on the other end, of getting roll too true. Open greens are notoriously fast, but if Chambers’ speed approaches 11 on the stimpmeter, that may be too much. Because of the greens’ undulating nature, fair approaches and putts could simply roll off the putting surface.

The course has two agronomists who are experts in the wonders of fine fescue. Eric Johnson, the course’s director of agronomy, came aboard in July 2012. He had been the grounds superintendent at fescue-abundant Bandon Dunes, specifically the Old MacDonald course. The course’s superintendent is Josh Lewis, who also worked at Bandon Dunes and more recently was the assistant superintendent at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif.

They will have starring roles in the course’s one-year-out preparation, working in cooperative fashion with two old standbys, Mother Nature and Father Time.

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