Why Is the Biggest Golf Tournament in the World Coming to Tacoma This Weekend?

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The US Open, one of the biggest events in golf, is coming to Tacoma this weekend (okay, technically not Tacoma, but University Place, which is right by Tacoma). Based on a number of conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues here in Seattle, almost no one knows this is happening.

But it is.

The best golfers in the world—and Tiger Woods, who is no longer the best golfer in the world—are descending on Tacoma this week. And I’m here to answer all of your questions about it.

Why?

Why not?

No, seriously, why University Place?

Pierce County built a new public golf course, Chambers Bay, on public land specifically to attract the US Open. And they succeeded.

No, but seriously, why?

Chambers Bay is some people’s idea of a really great course, but it’s deeply controversial for the US Open and Pierce County, which owns the course. In terms of upkeep, the course has been something of a disaster since it opened. The groundskeeper resigned under pressure in 2012. The USGA had to step in and finance $1 million in improvements to the course, as a slew of changes were required to ensure that the greens were workable for a US Open.

Some suggest that Chambers Bay has been a boondoggle for Pierce County, with annual losses totaling in the millions since the course opened, and the state has stepped in to provide substantial funding for tournament operations to make sure this whole thing comes off. And that’s with a massive army of volunteers.

Pierce County, which has invested heavily in the public course, recently invited 45 legislators to a free round of golf. Though ostensibly an opportunity to show the legislators how valuable their support has been (and, in marathon budget sessions, a good reason to ensure it isn’t pulled off the table late in the game), these rounds of golf and the ensuing meetings will be held without any media supervision. Even the Seattle Times thought that was out of line.

That said, the tournament itself is the fruition of decades of work by public officials to bring a marquee event to a former gravel pit. And while some European golfers have complained about the run of the course, others are quick to voice their enthusiasm about how it will play. And if the tournament comes off, it will be a huge boon to the area as the US Open tourism circuit is a real thing that exists.

Where is it, exactly?

Chambers Bay, right on the coast of University Place.

I thought the US Open happened in Georgia every year.

No, that’s the Masters—the most problematic major televised sporting event, which happens annually at Augusta National Golf Club. The US Open rotates venues. There are also two other majors: the British Open (which happens in England or Scotland…or somewhere in Britain) and the PGA Championship (which no one much cares about; it’s like the Australian Open in tennis or the Emmy in EGOT).

So, the US Open is less problematic than the Masters?

I mean, it’s still professional golf, but yes, by virtue of the fact that the founder of the US Open wasn’t a man who said publicly, “as long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.” The founder of the Masters, Cliff Roberts, said that, and then spent his life making sure that stuck. The year after the first African-American man played in the Masters, Roberts shot himself on the course.

Don’t worry, though. Roberts is still treated like a hero during Masters telecasts. Also the event is called “The Masters.” I mean, come on. You can read all of Shane Ryan’s recent Deadspin piece if you want to hate Augusta National more. The Masters is the worst.

Okay, well why is it called the US Open?

It happens in the US, and it’s actually an open tournament.

There are qualifying tournaments allowing anyone who is really good at golf to maybe get a chance to play their way in. The USGA then sets the tournament up to be the toughest challenge in golf. The courses usually reward precision with fast greens and narrow fairways, and occasionally greens that slope into a water hazard. The US Open is the only major that frequently ends with winners putting up scores at or above par.

Remember the Kevin Costner classic Tin Cup? That was a (fictional) US Open.

So this is at least a standard US Open-style course, right? That’s why they brought this thing to Tacoma?

No! Chambers Bay has been deemed more of a “British Open-style” course, with wide fairways and weird hills providing much of the challenge. Rather than rewarding precision, this US Open will challenge players to be creative in how they approach holes. Phil Mickelson went as far as to say it’s not a US Open course at all.

Can I go?

No. Tickets are long since sold out. Sunday tickets sold out a year ago.

Really?

Yeah, golf fans care about this sort of thing.

What if I live very close to the course? Can I go then?

Do you rent? If so, you’re likely already evicted. And now your home is a vacation rental going for astronomical rates, and will continue to do so as “US Open tourism” takes off in the wake of the tournament. Sorry!

Who is going to win?

Because this course is a bit of a wild card (British Open-style US Open on a new course is about as “wild card” as golf can get), the best bets are the two best golfers in the world right now: Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. McIlroy is a 26-year-old Brit who already won four major championships, including the 2011 US Open. Spieth is a soft-spoken Texan coming off a dominant win at the Masters. He’s also 21 years old. Spieth is the Russell Wilson of golf in terms of preternatural poise.

There are other good young golfers out there, and the likes of Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are still contending at the majors. I would take the field over Spieth and McIlroy if I were forced to bet. That said, they’re both good enough that just knowing their names will get you through awkward conversations with corporate lawyers for the next 15 years, and they likely will be in contention on Sunday.

Wait, when is this happening?

This weekend. The tournament runs Thursday through Sunday. And we’ll be there providing coverage. From Tacoma.

Seriously, why is this happening in Tacoma?

In the immortal words of Master Shake: “Why is anything anything?”

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