Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Seven Years Of Planning For Golf's 2015 U.S. Open About To Pay Off

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
Chambers Bay, a public golf course in University Place, Washington, will host the 2015 U.S. Open.

Many of the world's best golfers will descend on a public course near Tacoma, Washington, this coming week for the 2015 U.S. Open.

Practice rounds begin Monday and then the four days of competition tee off on Thursday at Chambers Bay Golf Course. This is the first time golf's national championship will be staged in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the past decade, taxpayer money from Pierce County and Washington state transformed a sand and gravel pit overlooking Puget Sound into a park and world-class golf course. The justification for the public investment was to create a magnet for golf tourism and get in the rotation to host major events.

The 2015 U.S. Open presents a pivotal test of that strategy. Steve Mona, chief executive of the Florida-based World Golf Foundation, identified three measures that have bearing on whether championship golf returns the Northwest again in the future.

"The first and by far the biggest consideration is the competition itself,” Mona said. “So, did the golf course provide a significant enough test of golf for the players?”

And did it provide the desired drama? The second measure: whether it makes enough money. And third: how smoothly does the event unfold.

Mona categorized the U.S. Open as a big deal on the order of college basketball's Final Four, an Indianapolis 500 or a Kentucky Derby. The state and Pierce County concur on an estimate that hosting the U.S. Open will bring a $140 million economic impact.

Staging the tournament incurs significant costs for security and infrastructure, but will also generate additional tax revenue, profit sharing and rental income.

"The county government is on track to break even after expenses," Pierce County spokesman Hunter George wrote in an email Friday. "That does not factor in all the tax revenue (anticipated by) the state and other local governments."

Among the big names who will stalk the fairways of Chambers Bay are Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson. The only local player seen as having the potential to be in the hunt to hoist the championship trophy on June 21 is Puyallup's Ryan Moore, currently 33rd in the world rankings.

First to tee off bright and early at 7 a.m. in the first round Thursday will be Pierce County natives Michael Putnam and Troy Kelly. They are among six players with Northwest ties to earn spots in this year's U.S. Open.

Kelly, a 36-year-old golf pro, was born in Tacoma and said he can see Chambers Bay from his house in adjacent Steilacoom.

This U.S. Open will also be special for Putnam, 32, because he grew up in University Place, the suburb that is home to the Chambers Bay golf course. "Apparently I'm going to win because I played it more than anyone else," Putnam jokingly told the Associated Press on Monday after cruising through his qualifying event.

The other Northwest players in the field are former University of Washington Husky golfers Cheng-Tsung Pan and Richard Lee along with Jason Allred, an Ashland (Oregon) High School graduate who turned pro in 2002.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.