Physical changes done at host of ‘15 US Open

UNIVERSITY PLACE, WASH. (AP) - For the first time since before Chambers Bay hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2010, Matt Allen isn’t explaining to golfers why a temporary green is being used or why a path is blocked off for construction equipment.

All the physical changes are essentially complete at the waterside links course that will become the first Pacific Northwest golf course to host the U.S. Open when it comes here in 2015. That fact brings feelings of relief and accomplishment for Allen, the general manager at Chambers Bay, knowing that for the next two years those explanations are no longer needed.

“Any change to the course or disruption to the experience, like a temporary green, things that we’ve had off and on over the last three years, we’re done with,” Allen said. “There is some segment of the golfing population knowing that we’re doing work has probably just said, `I’ll wait until it’s done.’ We definitely want to send the message that it’s done.”

From the time that the course first opened in 2007 to how it looks now, two years away from hosting the U.S. Open, might not be considered radically different from a broad perspective. It’s still an all fescue grass, links-style course that sits on the shore of Puget Sound with massive dunes and elevation changes giving it a dramatic setting overlooking the water.

But tucked inside those dunes are significant changes, some inspired by the way the course hosted the Amateur and some that came from daily feedback from recreational golfers. It was the goal of USGA Executive Director Mike Davis to have all the physical changes completed to the playing surfaces _ whether they be fairways or greens _ at least two years before the Open so there was plenty of time for the fescue grass to grow and thrive.

That goal has been accomplished, leaving in place the framework of how the course will look for the Open.

“Fescue grasses just take much longer to get the right look the right density, the right color versus other grasses. If we were dealing with Bermuda grass, bent grass, bluegrass it’s amazing how quickly you can do things and they’re ready to go. But for fescue is does take a few years to get fescue just right,” Davis said. “That was the big reason for wanting to do things well in advance just so we could let those grasses really mature.”

The most drastic changes are on a trio of greens, two that proved problematic during the Amateur and a third that needed to receive shots with longer clubs. The most expensive and intensive change came on the seventh green, where it was moved forward, lowered about 5 feet and shifted south. The green struggled to hold shots during the Amateur because of large slopes in the putting surface.

“We won’t know until we get the green speed up a little bit whether we accomplished everything there. It appears we did,” Allen said.

Less intensive were changes to the greens on Nos. 1 and 13. The first hole had the front right area softened so shots landing there would not bounce hard to the left roll down a steep embankment. The 13th will be played as a par 4 during the Open and was made larger to handle long iron shots. It was playing as a par 5.

Most of the changes had to do with adding teeing areas in an attempt to add more flexibility to a course that could be setup as the longest in U.S. Open history. Nos. 1, 3, 6, 9, 10, 12 and 14 have all had new tees added since the Amateur. Some create new, challenging angles. Some add length.

The par-3 ninth hole, which in its current layout provides a dramatic downhill tee shot toward Puget Sound, has added a lower teeing area that would actually create an uphill shot if used. Then there is the 14th hole, a downhill par-4 that features a large bunker in the middle of the fairway and a large waste area that must be cleared to reach the preferred landing area. A new tee has been added 20 yards back from where it was played during the Amateur after officials found the tee shot was easy for the top amateur players and took the danger of the waste area out of the equation.

“We wanted it to be more of a risk on the drive where you really had to hit a solid drive to make it,” Davis said. “And we quickly saw in the U.S. Amateur those players, you needed another 15 to 20 yards in length before going left really made them kind of ponder on the tee where if I do that I’m really going to have to hit a solid drive or I won’t make it.”

There are a few minor changes still to be made, including the addition of a tee toward train tracks that hug the water on the 16th hole. Most of the focus for the next two years will be getting logistics ready for the tournament. The course itself is ready to go.

“I do think some of our decision making got down to what’s better for the U.S. Open and what would be better for day-to-day golf,” Davis said. “I would like to think almost all the changes either will enhance the day-to-day golf.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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