For nearly a quarter of a century, the Chambers Creek Regional Park Master Site Plan has included plans to build a golf course, restaurant, hotel and other community amenities. It also included enhancements to the initial trail system.
Since that time, the Environmental Services Building was constructed, the world-class golf course was built and hosted two USGA championships (with plans to host another in 2021) and untold numbers of walkers, runners, cyclists and dogs have enjoyed the spectacular beauty of the park and views of the water.
There is no question that Chambers Bay Regional Park is a remarkable place and I take my role as a steward of it very seriously. My partner in this stewardship is the Council.
Being a steward in this case also means being accountable to those who enjoy and use the park, as well as to those who pay for it – County taxpayers and sewer utility ratepayers.
Before I go much further, I should point out that I am not a golfer. I haven’t touched a club since I was in my early twenties. I have nothing against golf – it’s just that my time is spent on other forms of recreation. However, Bosco and I frequently walk the Chambers Bay trail – after a quick romp in the dog park.
I should also point out that it’s never been my career goal to manage a golf course. Or to build a golf resort. I inherited this responsibility from my predecessors: former Executive John Ladenburg oversaw the construction of the course and now-State Auditor Pat McCarthy selected our partner to develop the planned hotel, restaurant, and new clubhouse.
As they say, you play the hand you’re dealt. And, my hand includes a golf course that loses nearly a million dollars each year.
People who use our parks shouldn’t be the only ones expected to cover the costs of operating and maintaining them. Certainly not if you’re talking about something like the Foothills Trail, which is used by thousands of people each year and requires only moderate funding to operate and maintain it.
A golf course is different. It is very expensive to maintain and operate for the relatively few people who play it.
For much of my life, I’ve been a businessperson. When I reviewed the finances of the course when I first took office, I learned that we lose money on every round of golf played by a County resident. That certainly caught my attention. As we dug deeper, I discovered that we’ve had to cover shortfalls on the course for several years, totaling millions of dollars.
So, here’s where we are right now. We have negotiated a proposed ground lease with a group of local developers for them to replace the white event tent and temporary restaurant with a hotel including a Tom Douglas restaurant, spa, event space and enhanced public spaces for those in the park. This proposed development is a long-term commitment by both the County and the development team. You can read more about the proposed agreement here.
That agreement is now with the Council for their review and potential approval. While the anticipated revenue from the resort wouldn’t fully cover the course’s losses, it’s a big step in the right direction. And, it’s the best option we have for responsibly stewarding the golf course, the park and trail, as well as protecting our taxpayers and sewer ratepayers who currently subsidize the shortfall.
I am thankful that the City of University Place (where I grew up) is fully behind this effort. And doing nothing is not an option. After more than a decade of service, the temporary building that houses our pro shop and restaurant is failing – literally. And our big white event tent has seen far better days. Wedding brides deserve better. So do all the other community events held there.
I’m blogging about this now because there’s been a flurry of public communication by some who disagree with the proposal, so I want to make sure that you are aware of my perspective on this project.
Last week, we re-opened the course with new putting greens and it was met with universal enthusiasm and applause. (Some of you may recall the comparison of the original greens to “broccoli” by some during the 2015 US Open.)
The USGA worked alongside us throughout the restoration of the greens and is pleased with the results.
The original course architect visited last week and is happy with them.
The first golfers on the course were delighted. Sports reporters have praised them. Personally, I am very pleased with the work our Parks team did to plan and execute this critically important project – working with our partner, Kemper Sports.
The replacement of the much-criticized greens is the first phase of our plan to reinvigorate Chambers Bay and put it on more financially stable footing. The resort development is the next phase, and I hope the Council votes to move forward with it.
Thanks for reading,