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With no US Open in sight for Chambers, Pierce County is considering the Saudi-backed LIV Golf

The group of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Rose on the third green during the second round of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., on Friday, June 19, 2015. Spieth finished the tournament at 5 under par, making him the sixth player in history to win both the Masters and U.S. Open titles in the same year. (John David Mercer / Tribune News Service)

The US Open of professional golf will not return to Chambers Bay any time soon. Future US Open venues are booked by the United States Golf Association (USGA) through 2042, and Chambers has not been selected to host the coveted major for a second time.

With no more U.S. Opens scheduled for two decades, Pierce County, which owns the golf course at University Place, is beginning to look elsewhere. Pierce County officials are expected to begin talks with Saudi-backed LIV Golf soon, said Don Anderson, legal counsel to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier.

A representative from LIV Golf's marketing agency recently reached out to Pierce County to set up a meeting. Anderson said they are now all ears and he expects to be able to speak with LIV Golf representatives in the next few weeks.

“LIV has its own problems, though, when it comes to golf politics and world politics,” Anderson told The News Tribune this week. “You have to be careful. But they throw a great party. 54 golfers, 54 holes, shotgun start. They do about $5 million in concessions and merchandise sales. From that perspective, they're very attractive.”

“If they continue with their indirect request, we will listen.”

LIV Golf was founded in 2021 as a golf tour competitor to the PGA Tour. The controversy surrounding it comes from people who are unhappy with the Saudi monarchy's support of the organization. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has often been criticized for human rights abuses. Critics say Saudi Arabia uses its enormous oil wealth and public investment fund to “sports-wash” its negative image.

The launch of LIV Golf caused an immediate rift in the professional golf world, with some popular golfers leaving the PGA Tour because of LIV's huge salaries and guaranteed money, including Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm. Other golfers stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, most notably Tiger Woods, who turned down a deal rumored to be in the “high nine figures.”

Anderson said Pierce County is open to other partnerships, including the PGA of America, but hosting the PGA Championship – one of the four major annual tournaments in men's professional golf – would require an expensive title sponsor.

“That would be tough,” Anderson said. “It's a question of money. The PGA needs a title sponsor who will cover 150 percent of the prize money. That would be a sponsorship of $15 to $30 million.”

Pierce County officials have long said they do not want to do anything that could interfere with their relationship with the USGA. Chambers has hosted six USGA championships since its inception in 2007 and will next host the USGA's U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2028.

However, there are growing concerns that the relationship is becoming increasingly one-sided and the smaller tournaments are now merely a showcase for the USGA, especially after Chambers Bay replaced all greens with native Poa annua after the fescue surfaces at the 2015 US Open drew sharp criticism. From 2017 to 2019, the course replaced the greens to address the course's only perceived weakness.

USGA officials have praised the new greens. Mark Hill, the USGA's executive championship director, told the News Tribune in 2022 that the greens were “outstanding.” But apparently not good enough to give Chambers another U.S. Open.

“I would say while we're disappointed that this opportunity isn't happening, we have an excellent relationship with the USGA that is mutually beneficial,” Anderson said. “We don't want to lose sight of that.”

The USGA has decided to add several “anchor courses” to its regular rotation, making open spots hard to come by. Pebble Beach in California, for example, will host four future US Open tournaments between 2027 and 2044. Preferential treatment of certain courses has resulted in Chambers being left out.

“As far as the U.S. Open goes, I think our best bet is to be the attractive cousin who is available as a backup date if the date can't make it to prom,” Anderson said. “That's what happened the first time. The 2015 U.S. Open was given to Winged Foot (golf club in New York). The decision fell to Chambers after they said they had to move it.”

On a positive note, Anderson says the course is selling well and is regularly booked by both Washington residents and visitors from other cities.

“We've played more rounds than we used to and we're getting more revenue per round,” he said. “We have to stay flexible to stay in the minds of elite golfers. … The economics of this course are not determined by the regular golfers who live in Pierce County. They're determined by people who come here from out of town and pay a higher fee.”

And that is precisely the challenge for Pierce County's leadership: to keep Chambers Bay relevant as a golf destination in the years to come. After all, the course is intended to be a tourism engine for Pierce County. Without major golf tournaments on the course, its value will be reduced.

“You can't run a golf course for one tournament every 25 years,” Anderson said. “We'll continue to run USGA tournaments on a fairly regular basis. Anything that's televised is great. … Like any business, you have to adapt to the market. Other things may come into play, too.”

Whether LIV Golf, the PGA Tour, the PGA of America or another company wants to come to Chambers, one thing is clear: Pierce County is open for business.