After playing Chambers Bay back in April of this year I contacted Danny Sink who is the Championship Director for the 2015 U.S. Open that will be held at Chambers Bay. Danny has worked for the USGA for nearly 10 years and has been intimately involved in USGA Championships held at Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot, Oakmont, Bethpage Black, Merion, Pebble Beach and The Olympic Club – including holding the Championship Director title at three previous U.S. Opens (2009, 2010 and 2012). Danny took a few minutes to chat with me about some of the logistical challenges that will be faced at the 2015 U.S. Open as well as how the USGA is expecting the course to play when the best pros in the world descend on the Pacific Northwest to test their games against this challenging golf course.
GT: It’s hard to believe that we are over two years away from the 2015 U.S. Open and you’re already on site at Chambers Bay. How long have you been on site and what exactly are your responsibilities leading up to June of 2015?
DS: I arrived on-site here at Chambers Bay in October of 2012 after wrapping up our operations at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. In my role as Championship Director, I have the very unique opportunity to participate in the planning and execution of most aspects of the Championship from the very beginning to seeing the last truck leave in September of 2015. My list of responsibilities range from developing our parking and transportation plan, recruiting and training 4,500 volunteers, working with our partners at Chambers Bay and Pierce County and everything in between that it takes to host 235,000 people on a golf course for a week. We are starting with a proven U.S. Open blueprint wherever we go and we know what makes a great Championship both inside the ropes and out, so ultimately it’s my job to help get us there. It’s definitely quite stressful at times, but I have the best job in the world with no two days being the same and I’m excited to be able to make a living working in this great game.
GT: Obviously at any big event like this the logistics of getting people to and from the site are always an issue. Chambers Bay will present some interesting challenges in this regard. How is the USGA planning to get people onto the site efficiently?
DS: It’s a great question that I hear wherever we hold the Championship, and definitely something that we start working on very early in the process. The first thing that you look at is the feasibility of public transit, which at Chambers Bay could be somewhat limited compared to some of our previous sites. From there you start to identify satellite parking areas in order to keep as much spectator car traffic away from the host site as possible which helps ensure that our buses can get to and from the Championship in a timely manner. We haven’t ruled out any possibilities for Chambers Bay at this point and we will continue to develop and tweak the overall parking and transportation plan until it is released to the public in the spring of 2015. If you stop to think about it, there aren’t many golf courses built that are really easy for 35,000 people to access on a daily basis so it will remain a big challenge for us and everyone else in this business forever. It sometimes keeps us awake at night, but we always seem to figure it out.
GT: So, once the spectators are on site, where are they going to go? It doesn’t seem like there is a ton of room out there. Is it going to be mostly be grandstands or will people be able to move around?
DS: Chambers is unique in that there’s not a lot of “outside the ropes” space on the golf course to accommodate spectators and the facilities required to host a Championship. The thing that’s great about the property is that there is an abundance of space on the periphery of the property that will allow us to construct the tents that people have become accustomed to at major sporting events. We also intend to construct over 20,000 bleacher seats around the property to provide some great spectator areas for folks to watch the Championship. The majority of those seats will be in and around the 18th Hole which will be a great place to watch the Championship. There is also an extensive set of internal pedestrian paths that traverse the property for those that want to follow the action, so both options are there – great viewing areas and ability to follow your favorite players.
GT: I noticed those walking paths when I was playing the course as there was a fair bit of non-golfer traffic on them. Are you anticipating many changes between the way the course currently plays and the way it will play for the 2015 U.S. Open Championship?
DS: Not really. We recently completed some minor and a few major tweaks to the golf course that we feel will provide the toughest test of golf for the players in the Championship as well as improve everyday play for the masses that play Chambers Bay.
GT: I was amazed at how firm the course played when I was there. I know that the USGA likes to have the U.S. Open play firm and fast, so do you anticipate that it will be much firmer for the open or is the course currently playing about how you expect it will in June 2015?
DS: On a daily basis it’s the driest and firmest golf course I’ve ever seen. We had a few inches of rain earlier today and the course should play firm and fast tomorrow. Our goal every year during at the Championship is to have a firm and fast golf course and we expect to have no issues at Chambers Bay no matter the weather leading up to and during the Championship.
GT: I’m sure it’s nice not to have to worry about the weather at this site as much as you’ve had to at some of the others. What holes do you think will produce the most big numbers on the players scorecards?
DS: We have a very limited history with Championship golf at Chambers Bay to rely on for statistics so I can really only go off of what happened at the 2010 U.S. Amateur and what I’ve observed the few times I’ve played the course. The holes that I feel will provide the biggest challenges are a few of the Par 4’s, the 5th, 6th 7th on the front and 13th and 14th on the back. Those holes might not provide the biggest numbers, but the scoring averages will be high there during the week.Also, in my opinion, from the Championship tees the collection of Par 3’s at Chambers Bay is one of the toughest I’ve ever seen. There no easy shots out there.
GT: I can attest to that about the par 3’s! Since the one shot holes are not likely to give up lots of birdies, what holes do you think will provide the best scoring opportunities for the players?
DS: Hole #12 is a drivable risk/reward Par 4, so I definitely think that’s the place you start, there are also some birdie and maybe a few eagle opportunities out there on the Par 5’s. If you can figure out where to hit your drive and where it’s going to stop rolling, you should be able to go for a few of the Par 5’s in two. Overall, Chambers is a collection of great holes that should provide a lot of challenge for the world’s best players.
GT: What sort of things can be done to the course that will make it play tougher than it does for daily play?
DS: From an agronomic standpoint, there will be obvious changes implemented leading up to the U.S. Open including adjusting the speed of the greens and widths of the fairways. The course will also be played considerably longer during the Championship.
GT: Speaking of green speeds, what are you expecting the greens will be rolling for the U.S. Open?
DS: There are a lot of internal contours on these putting surfaces and greens that are lightning fast could make for a lot of three putts, even from the pros. Our team that is responsible for setting up the golf course during the Championship is headed by our Executive Director, Mike Davis and our Championship Committee Chair, Tom O’Toole. These guys would tell you that there isn’t a magic number that we would throw out there two years in advance of the Championship and say “the greens will roll at X during the Championship”. They take all of the aspects of the course and relevant weather conditions into consideration when setting up the golf course during the week of the Championship to provide the toughest test but also just as importantly provide a fair test of golf. They will arrive on site several weeks in advance of the Championship and work with the Chambers Bay agronomy team to study every inch of the golf course. Included in this process is selecting potential hole locations and testing and identifying green speeds. I can tell you that our desire is for the course to play firm and fast, including the putting surfaces.
GT: Now for my standard question that I ask everyone I talk to . . . What are your top 10 favorite golf courses in the world?
DS: Well first off I have to tell you that everywhere we go for the U.S. Open is great, so you can assume that those are in my Top 10. My second 10 would be Royal Dornoch, Los Angeles Country Club, Chicago Golf Club, Fishers Island, Port Royal – Bermuda, Spyglass Hill, Royal County Down, Cypress Point, National Golf Links of America and St. Andrews’ Old Course.
GT: Very nice list. Not surprising that a USGA Championship guy would list a tough course like Spyglass Hill amongst his favorites! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and we’ll be looking forward to watching how the pros handle Chambers Bay in 2015.