Having a U.S. Open really puts a golf course on the map, and there might not be a better example than Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., near Seattle.
Chambers Bay, a municipal course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. as a unique links layout on Puget Sound, was somewhat of a controversial pick as the first course in the Pacific Northwest to host the U.S. Open because of its nontraditional style, difficult sightlines for spectators and conditioning challenges. That only added to the intrigue for golfers from throughout the United States and other parts of the world.
And then you throw in 40 hours of TV coverage to 35 million viewers in which Jordan Spieth won in dramatic fashion over Dustin Johnson, as well as hours of live daily coverage before and after each round by the Golf Channel, and well, you get the idea.
The result is that Chambers Bay experienced a significant shift in the geographic origin of its customers. In the months following the U.S. Open, the percentage of rounds played by golfers from outside the state of Washington reached 41 percent, more than double the historical average, Chambers Bay officials reported.
Compared to 2014, in which the golf course welcomed visitors from 12 states and Canada, Chambers Bay dramatically expanded its geographic reach in 2015 by playing host to golfers from 45 states and 13 countries, cementing this Pierce County asset as a tourism destination. This news came on the heels of the United States Golf Association's announcement of the economic impact from the 2015 U.S. Open, which brought a $134 million infusion to the region.
"The overarching theme when developing Chambers Bay was to build a course that would attract tourism and benefit the fiscal health of the county," Pierce County executive Pat McCarthy said. "All economic reports validate that the 2015 U.S. Open was a tremendous success and should remain a source of pride for the entire Pacific Northwest."
Matt Allen, general manager and communications director for the KemperSports-managed Chambers Bay, said you can't put a price tag on the kind of exposure Chambers Bay got from the TV coverage.
"The beauty of Chambers Bay and Pierce County were on display for the world to see," Allen said. "We look forward to maintaining the momentum in the upcoming golf season."
In case you're wondering, Chambers Bay in prime season (June through September, 2015) was $225 to play for nonresidents. That wasn't a deterrent to visitors looking to play a U.S. Open venue.
"Green fees increased somewhat dramatically in advance of the U.S. Open to offset the reductions in capacity that were imposed in order to protect the turf," Allen said. "Green fees actually declined slightly following the U.S. Open."
Rates in 2016 actually reflect the rates prior to the U.S. Open, when Chambers Bay's tee sheets were full in anticipation of the event. This year's peak season (June-September) rates are: $139 for golf club members; $169 for Pierce County residents; $215 for Washington state residents; and $275 for nonresidents.
The rates are more expensive than Bethpage Black ($165 for out-of-staters), the Long Island, N.Y. muni that has hosted multiple U.S. Opens as well as PGA Tour events, but slightly less than another muni, Torrey Pines South, which gets upwards of $300 in prime season.
If you play Chambers Bay in the off-season, though, it can be a bargain. Right now for example, it's $100; You just need to find a decent day to play.