UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) – The return of major championship golf to the Pacific Northwest may depend on the fate of the greens at Chambers Bay.
The maligned putting surfaces on the links-style layout by Puget Sound became as much a story at the 2015 U.S. Open as Jordan Speith’s victory. Now the greens are getting a makeover.
“We know the putting greens are an area of concern not just for future championships but for our customers and that’s why we’re working so hard to make the progress that we are,” said Matt Allen, general manager of the course.
The changing of the greens from fine fescue grass to poa annua is a dramatic adjustment from the original design by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his team. The process will take several years. When complete, officials believe they will have solved the biggest problem to emerge from the U.S. Open.
And that will not only help the daily public use of Chambers Bay but make the first course to host the U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest more appealing for future events.
While the final day of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay provided enough drama to supersede problems with the course, most of the week was a broken record of complaints about the greens. When Dustin Johnson three-putted on the 18th green to lose the tournament, questions followed about whether the shaky greens of Chambers Bay were the reason.
Officials at the course had spent months trying to hold off the poa annua grass – an invasive grass that thrives in the Pacific Northwest – from overtaking the greens. But above average temperatures leading to the tournament forced the grounds crew to water more than intended. That intensified the growth of the poa, even as workers hand-picked the infectious grass from the greens. Rather than a smooth, brownish putting surface, many of the greens appeared dead, and the bumpy poa stood out as an eyesore.
“If we had normal weather in May and June and we would have irrigated a whole heck of a lot less and probably reduced the mowing height to the point where you probably would have taken the bumpiness out,” Allen said.
WHY THE CHANGE
The complaints from the U.S. Open were harsh but valid, and the future for Chambers Bay as a championship course rested on finding a permanent solution. Poa annua loves temperate, moist climates. It’s why most courses in the Pacific Northwest use poa as their primary grass for putting greens.
Chambers Bay wanted to be unique with its fine fescue greens. The realities of the Pacific Northwest climate required change.
“If poa is an inevitability, then why go backward in any way?” Allen said. “Just see how we can move forward and try and encourage that natural progression, evolution.”
With the USGA’s blessing, the poa is being allowed to take over. The fescue that’s matured for the decade the course has been open is being used as a base, but eventually the small, dotted patches of poa that are currently on the transitioning greens will be wide swathes. The goal is to create poa greens that can still be firm and fast under tournament conditions.
“Probably the best way to put it is we want to keep the surface playing like a links surface so we’re not going to do a typical irrigation like most courses do where typically poa comes in,” said Eric Johnson, the course’s director of agronomy.
Local officials expect Chambers Bay to be in the rotation for major championship golf. The course will host the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championship in 2019 and there is talk of Chambers Bay as a possible future site for a U.S. Women’s Open, which is currently scheduled out through 2021 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
But hosting another U.S. Open? That gets a little more complicated. The championship is scheduled through 2026 and doesn’t include mainstays like Olympic, Merion and Congressional. It could be 2030 before the rotation of courses gives Chambers Bay another opportunity, but the changes made to the greens – as long as they work – should give it another chance.
“I think we’ll be able to deliver on people’s expectations,” Allen said.