How will golfers and golf fans react to Chambers Bay’ turf type?

There are so many fascinating story lines heading into the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Not only on the golf side itself, but (especially for us Turfheads) on the course maintenance side as well.

Perhaps the most interesting of all of these story lines is that of the wall-to-wall fescue. I’m sure you’ve heard by now this U.S. Open will be the first played in 115 years on wall-to-wall fescue — fescue fairways, fescue rough and, yes, fescue greens.

To be completely accurate, there was some colonial bent seeded in some low-lying areas, and of course the grass that owns the Pacific Northwest, Poa Annua, is tough to keep away.

But for the most part we can get away with stating Chambers Bay is, indeed, a haven for fescue.

Of course, wall-to-wall fescue won’t work everywhere. If it did, everybody and their uncle would be planting it. In fact, there are few climates on this planet that can actually pull it off. The Pacific Northwest is one of them, along with parts of the British Isles and coastal areas of New Zealand.

No doubt the development I’m going to most closely monitor as I walk the grounds during the week is how well the fescue is holding up. Although fescue has many qualities that make it a great turfgrass for links courses in those certain climates we mentioned (requires less water and fertilizer than most other turf grass; grows slowly and doesn’t require as frequent of mowing; has a true roll as a greens surface; and the thinner blade doesn’t grab a golf club like thicker grass plants), one quality it does lack is durability, and specifically the ability to withstand traffic. And if a U.S. Open is going to have one thing for sure, it’s a lot of foot traffic.

In addition to the trouble with traffic, fescue has trouble holding its green in hot temperatures. Although June tends to be a relatively cool month in Seattle compared to July and August, it can get warm. In fact we’re coming off a very dry May. At my course about 90 miles north of Chambers Bay, we just recorded our lowest rainfall total for May in the 25-year history of the club (.93 of an inch). And June has started out dry and warm as well.

How might an off-green course be perceived, not only by those here at the course, but the millions watching on television sets around the world?

Hopefully, we started the education process at last year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No.2 with similar brown and firm conditions. I’m hoping Chambers Bay takes us another step in that education process, letting golfers and those that run golf courses worldwide understand that brown and firm golf can be OK. In fact, one might argue it’s the way golf should be played in the first place.

So as I walk the course at Chambers Bay, my head will be looking down at the grass as much as it will be looking up at the golfers.

Just hope that I don’t get hit by a golf ball in the head.

Photo courtesy of the USGA: One quality fescue does lack is durability, and specifically the ability to withstand traffic.