The group of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Rose on the third green in the second round of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., on Friday, June 19, 2015. Spieth finished 5 under par for the tournament, making him the sixth player in history to claim both the Masters and U.S. Open titles the same year. (John David Mercer / Tribune News Service)

The group of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Rose on the third green in the second round of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., on Friday, June 19, 2015. Spieth finished 5 under par for the tournament, making him the sixth player in history to claim both the Masters and U.S. Open titles the same year. (John David Mercer / Tribune News Service)

With no U.S. Open in sight at Chambers, Pierce County ponders Saudi-backed LIV Golf

Various U.S. Open venues are scheduled through 2042, but the 2015 host is not on the list.

Professional golf’s U.S. Open isn’t coming back to Chambers Bay anytime soon. Future U.S. Open sites are now booked by the United States Golf Association (USGA) through 2042 and Chambers hasn’t been selected to host the coveted major for a second time.

Without another U.S. Open on the calendar for at least the next two decades, Pierce County, which owns the course in University Place, is starting to look elsewhere. Pierce County leaders are expected to begin discussions soon with Saudi-backed LIV Golf, according to Don Anderson, executive counsel to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier.

A representative from LIV Golf’s marketing agency recently reached out to Pierce County to set up a discussion. At this point, Anderson said they’re all ears and said he expects he’ll talk with LIV Golf’s representatives within the next couple of weeks.

“LIV has its own issues though, golf politics, world politics-wise,” Anderson told The News Tribune this week. “You have to be careful there. They throw a great party, though. 54 golfers, 54 holes, shotgun start. You generate $5 million or so in concession and merchandise sales. From that aspect, they’re very attractive.

“If they follow up with their indirect inquiry, we’ll listen.”

LIV Golf was founded in 2021 as a golf tour rival to the PGA Tour. Controversy associated with it comes from people who are unhappy with the organization’s Saudi monarchy backing. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has often been criticized for human rights abuses. Critics feel Saudi Arabia is using its massive oil wealth and Public Investment Fund to “sportswash” its negative image.

LIV Golf’s introduction caused an immediate rift in the professional golf world, with some popular golfers leaving the PGA Tour for the massive LIV paychecks and guaranteed money, including Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm. Other golfers stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, most notably Tiger Woods, who turned down a deal that was rumored to be in the “high nine digits.”

Anderson said Pierce County is also open to other partnerships, including the PGA of America, although hosting the PGA Championship — one of men’s professional golf’s four annual major tournaments — would require an expensive title sponsor.

“That would be tough,” Anderson said. “It’s a money issue. The PGA needs a title sponsor that comes up with 150 percent of the purse. That would be a 15 to 30 million dollar sponsorship.”

Pierce County leaders have long maintained that they’d prefer not to do anything to harm the working relationship with the USGA. Chambers has hosted six USGA championships since its 2007 inception and will host the USGA’s 2028 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championship next.

But there are growing concerns that the relationship is becoming increasingly one-sided and the smaller tournaments are mere scraps from the USGA, especially after Chambers Bay did the work of replacing all of its greens with native poa annua after the fescue surfaces drew sharp criticism during the 2015 U.S. Open. From 2017 to 2019, the course replaced the greens in an effort to shore up the course’s one perceived weakness.

USGA officials have been complimentary of the new greens. Mark Hill, the USGA’s managing director of championships, told The News Tribune in 2022 that the greens were “outstanding.” But not good enough to award Chambers another U.S. Open, apparently.

“I would say while we’re disappointed the opportunity won’t be here, we have an excellent relationship with the USGA that’s mutually beneficial,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to discount that.”

The USGA has moved toward making several “anchor” courses part of its regular rotation, leaving vacant spots hard to come by. Pebble Beach in California, for example, will host four future U.S. Open tournaments between 2027 and 2044. The preferential treatment to certain courses has left Chambers on the outside looking in.

“With respect to the U.S. Open, I think our best shot is being the attractive cousin who’s a backup date when your prom date can’t go,” Anderson said. “That’s what happened the first time. The 2015 U.S. Open was awarded to Winged Foot (Golf Club, in New York). It came to Chambers after they said they needed to put this off.”

On a positive note, Anderson said the course is doing good business and is being booked regularly by Washington residents and out-of-towners alike.

“We’re at a higher level of rounds (played) than we were historically and a higher level of revenue per round,” he said. “We need to be agile to stay in the mind’s eye of the elite golfer. … The economics of this course are not driven by regular golfers who live in Pierce County. It’s driven by people who come here from out of town and pay a higher fee.”

And therein lies the challenge for Pierce County leadership: keeping Chambers Bay relevant as a golf bucket list destination for years to come. The course, after all, is intended to be a tourism driver for Pierce County. Without major golf tournaments at the course, its value is diminished.

“You can’t run a golf course on a tournament every 25 years,” Anderson said. “We’ll stay on having fairly regular USGA tournaments. Anything that gets on TV is great. … With any business, you have to adapt to the marketplace. There may be other things involved.”

Whether it’s LIV Golf, the PGA Tour, PGA of America or another entity that wants to come to Chambers, this much is clear: Pierce County is open for business.

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