As the would be Vice President once famously said: “Who am I, and why I am here.”
What IS Chambers Bay, and WHY does the USGA think it is a worthy venue for the national championship?
Let’s accept most of Mike Davis’ reasons at face value, and then dig a bit deeper to things the USGA will NOT utter out loud.
1. They need the money. Despite the huge new TV contract from Fox, the USGA like any organization craves additional revenue, and for Far Hills, this event is their cash cow. All other USGA events either lose money, or at best break even. And there’s only so many USGA member “Bag Tag and Rule Book” packages you can sell. So the USGA has aggressively whored out the open to venues that have the biggest footprint (mo’ corporate tents, bigger merch tent) and are willing to charge the USGA the least amount of rent to use the course. Chambers Bay is perfect for both.
2. They need to open up more West Coast venues. Nothing is sweeter music to TV and the USGA than “prime time golf” (Note: I love it too!) but there’s just a few spots out west that can pull this off. Torrey, Olympic, and Pebble are pretty much it. The best course in LA, Riviera, is tucked so tightly into the West Hollywood hills, you could almost drive right past it. So if Chambers Bay “works” then they have opened a new West Coast rota venue. We’ll see.
3. It makes the USGA look eco-friendly. What plays better to the liberal/environmental crowd than a project that cleans up an abandoned industrial site, turns it into “open space” (with BIKE TRAILS! WHOOPIE!) while using TAX DOLLARS to do it? Golf has had an easy target on it’s back for a while, as a land/water waster for the 1%. It’s not fair, but it is reality.
4. It entices other municipalities to perhaps embark on their own “built it, and they will come” projects. And as a bonus, it puts pressure on the existing rota of “blue blood” country clubs to be less demanding on rental fees and other issues when they make open bids. In other words, another “two-fer.”
So I get where the USGA is coming from. Lets hope for Mike Davis’ sake, it doesn’t turn out to be a disaster. If the course looks like utter shit on TV (it will) and the best players in the world get embarrassed by slapping it all over fescue that plays like concrete, then I can’t imagine it would inspire the average Johnny Three-Putt to want to book his trip to University Place, plunk down his $300 (plus tax, plus caddy, plus who-knows-how-much-they’ll-jack-the-rate-post-open) to shoot 120 and sprain an ankle walking 8 miles in 5 1/2 hours?
And what if the ongoing problems with keeping the fescue healthy – problems that led to Chambers Bay having TEMPORARY GREENS for months and months at a time – persist once the Open has left? What if full-time, wall-to-wall fescue just doesn’t work there?
You could have such a limited number of annual rounds, combined with mounting maintenance costs, produce a string of annual budget deficits as far as the eye can see. And if the Open this week is an embarrassing loser, then the USGA deciding NOT to go back there would have a tangible and damaging vote of no-confidence in the entire concept. Like a bad Yelp! review, only on steroids.
In other words, this “muni” that somehow snatched an Open, could be like the Tropicana Field of the golf world.