UNIVERSITY PLACE — The return of major-championship golf to the Pacific Northwest might 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 of a story at the 2015 U.S. Open as Jordan Speith’s win. 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.
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 up 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.
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 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.
With the USGA’s blessing, the poa is being allowed to take over. The goal is to create poa greens that can still be firm and fast under tournament conditions.
Local officials expect Chambers Bay to be in the rotation for major championships. The course will host the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championship in 2019, and there is talk of Chambers Bay as a possible site for a U.S. Women’s Open.