Just eight months after the first tee shot was struck at Chambers Bay, the United States Golf Association did the unthinkable. They selected a municipal course tucked away in the forgotten Northwest corner of the country to host the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open Championships. No course built in the past 45 years had been deemed worthy of holding our national championship, let alone one that had just opened its doors. This was a privilege usually reserved for names synonymous with exclusivity: Oakmont, Winged Foot, Merion.
Enter Ron Read, USGA Regional Affairs Director, who took the trouble to look among the rubble of a depleted sand and gravel mine along the shores of Puget Sound near Tacoma in order to see what Robert Trent Jones Jr. was creating. Jones had convinced Pierce County officials that he understood their dream of building a golf course that would rival some of the country’s finest courses – public and private – and transcend local play and players. A course that could become a catalyst for tourism and economic development, and draw unprecedented attention to the area. A course that would endure.
Mike Davis, then USGA Senior Director of Rules and Competitions, and David Fay, USGA Executive Director, reveled in the possibilities of what Jones could build and what they would reap from his efforts. “My gosh,” said Davis, “to think that we could have an Open in the Northwest on a course next to the water and built on sand and with fescue grasses. It was a staggering proposition.”
The odds against the nod going to a course that was less than a year old, however, were seemingly insurmountable. Consider of all the U.S. courses built since Hazeltine in 1962. Courses by Dye and Nicklaus and Doak and Fazio, courses like Spyglass Hill, Whistling Straits, and Kiawah Island. Only Chambers Bay, and later Erin Hills in Wisconsin (2017), were picked to hold the U.S. Open.
From the beginning, Chambers Bay – the outrageous idea of Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg – wanted the USGA. And the USGA wanted Chambers Bay. In a sense, they designed the course together, ensuring they addressed every possible reason as to why the Open should be contested there.
“I thought that we had a good chance to get a U.S. Amateur,” said Ladenburg, “and depending how that went, a U.S. Open. I never, ever dreamed we would get both of them.”
And so the story was unfolding. The story of a great reclamation project that transformed a weed-covered gravel pit into a civic treasure. A story about dreaming the impossible dream and then realizing it, and about a new way to play a game that is older than the hills and fabulous dunes of Chambers Bay.
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