Photos and story Jason Bruno
This week we watch the best women amateurs in the world compete at the U.S Women’s Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington. The 250-acre golf course is the centerpiece of a 930-acre Pierce County park along the Puget Sound. The County bought the land which had been a sand and gravel quarry (for $33 million) in 1992, and thru the eyes of local visionary John Ladenburg – repurposed it to what it is today. The design firm of RTJ II won the bid to design the layout, and the firm’s architects – most notably, Jay Blasi and Bruce Charlton crafted the barren landscape into a memorable linksy dunescape that has gone on to host four National Championships in its relatively short existence. June 23rd, 2007 was the day Chambers Bay opened for play, so including this week’s USGA event, the public venue has hosted a U.S Amateur (2010), U.S Open (2015), U.S Four-Ball (2021), and now the Women’s Amateur – pretty impressive for a once abandoned parcel of mining land.
Back in late June, we made the cross country journey to Tacoma to see what their Summer Solstice event was all about. Nearly 100 links fanatics attempting to play sun up to sun down on one of the most challenging courses and toughest walks anywhere in America. For me personally, it was great to be back at one of our favorite venues on the west coast (where Aussie superintendent Dean Lenertz and I worked on Josh Lewis’ agronomy team during the 2015 U.S Open). I met up with the participants, sponsors, volunteers and the founders of the solstice event, which was played on June 26th.
Solstice event co-founder Michael Lynch had contacted me to come out in 2021, but Covid was making large group get togethers and certain travel difficult, so we waited for the Covid pandemic to slow down before deciding to make the trek (ironically my wife and I both contracted the Covid virus during the trip out west and were pretty ill the next 10 days after returning home).
As usual, the first significant Pacific Northwest heat wave of 2022 occurred just as the Chambers Bay Solstice event weekend was about to kickoff, but there was no need to panic, the locals and those who have been to the area this time of year have grown to expect the third week of June may be sweltering. I attended the VIP sponsor outing on the eve of the main event and walked with a the Dahl Brothers from Tommy Bahama as well as Scott Dennis, who is a prominent sponsor who has a passion for the event. I shared a few stories with them from U.S Open week back in 2015 and had a few laughs. It was a spectacular summer evening for golf, and the course was playing in its ideal condition, firm n fast as everyone had hoped it would.
The participants arrive well before daybreak to get organized, get some pregame nourishment and get the rundown from Michael Lynch, the organizer and MMFIC of the event. Brent Zepp, the jovial host PGA Professional at Chambers Bay is also on hand to help kickoff the festivities. I arrived just as the players were about to tee off at their respective holes and watched it all unfold like a well oiled machine.
The origins and organization of how this event came to be is really what brought me out to see it for myself, and inspired a Q&A with Mike Lynch. Lynch runs the solstice event, doing an incredible job of hosting the nearly 100 participants, making sure that everyone has what they need to enjoy the day and get through the nearly 17 hour links hike. We recently reconnected with Lynch to find out everything there is to know about the Chambers Bay Solstice event . . .
LinksNation: Can you tell us how the solstice event at Chambers originated?
Michael Lynch: The Solstice concept grew out of a series of unfortunate attempts to get into the Bandon Dunes Solstice. Once I even got a twosome booked but we had to back out due to a graduation conflict. After a few failed attempts I decided to try to “solstice” at Chambers Bay, even though it is a much harder physical test with all our elevation.
In ’18 I lobbied all Spring and won a concession to “go out with the mowers” to make a solo run and prove a solstice might work. In ’19 I assembled a foursome and received a one-time pass to start off just before dawn. Our attempt at 72 holes was well supported by an encouraging staff throughout the day. We finished with about 10 minutes of light left and kudos from the closing team. From there the Chambers Bay team and I knew we could run a full field model, so I started working on the official event.
LN: Please tell us about the charity component and what the event has raised for these organizations.
Lynch: The origin of the official event included the inspiration of our co-founder. Dean Davison was a golf-lifestyle podcast host, First Tee coach, and a community oriented retired executive looking to make an impact. He heard from Brent Zepp that I was organizing an event similar to his vision of a solstice fundraiser. Ten minutes into our first sit-down, we were on the same page – A solstice marathon event at Chambers Bay, great sponsors to help offset some of the costs, and a First Tee pledge drive by players supported by their friends, family, and community. We co-founded the concept, booked the course, got First Tee on board, and the momentum built quickly. The vision was strong enough to overcome early delays when Covid and golf access was being ironed out. While the pandemic took the social event off the table the Chambers Bay staff was able to sort out the safe food and beverage handling needed so we could roll with the first marathon.
Year one we were a little amazed. The “day of” pledge tally was a healthy $16k then jumped to $35k just one week post-event. With First Tee’s help we built a nice incentive package and spurred more cross-organization competition year two. This drove an amazing $100k+ pledge drive. This year we are going to match those efforts, raising our tally to nearly a quarter million in just three years.
LN: Who are your sponsors ?
Lynch: Huge kudos to Tommy Bahama for stepping forward as our Presenting Sponsor in year two. Their donation of IslandZone performance fabric polos and other accessories really raised our game in terms of player gifts. Print NW is a huge commercial printing and marketing company supporting global and national brands. They’ve met all our signage and design needs to help us build a professional event experience. Our roster includes a great many golf industry products and regional retail powerhouse Puetz Golf. All others are great patrons of our sport, First Tee supporters, and key vendors to Chambers Bay who believe in our charity vision.
One sidebar. Rentacrate, the corporate moving crate company, was a bit of an inspired phone call. Their reusable crates have been part of every corporate office shuffle, HQ move, and building renovation relocation I’ve been in since moving to Seattle. We needed a “cleaner” transition zone experience. One call to their Regional office they were instantly onboard to demonstrate the versatility of their service. Win-win as we started our drive to be more sustainable with less “single use” boxes, bottles, and other waste.
LN: How many players/participants did you have this year and has the pandemic had an effect these last few years?
Lynch: As mentioned above, we spent our inaugural year working out all the protocols necessary to even hold an event, let alone a full field golf outing. We’ve sold out each year with 100 golfers. We tested the water with some additional opportunities to play/donate last year but we’ve recommitted to staying at the 100 number going forward. Funny side note… that is the same field size that Bandon Dunes spreads out over four courses. We’ve figured out the logistics to make it all happen on just one 18-hole championship course.
LN: The course played absolutely ideal on June 26th – firm n fast, is that typically the case or was the upcoming media day for the Women’s Am the reason for the course being prepped as such?
Lynch: The course conditions were amazing this year. Ever since the resurfacing with imported Canadian poa-annua, our greens have been a thing of beauty. Every year in the Spring there is an invitational tournament hosted by Seattle University. All the regulars can feel when that event is coming because the greens wake up from playing defense against winter conditions and shift into competition mode. Eric Johnson and his awesome crew really have a massive challenge keeping Chambers playable every week of the year (less occasional frost and snow days). By June each year we’re approaching Scottish links bounce and run in the fairways and the green surfaces start testing our true reading and putt rolling capabilities. That’s when the sideboards and backboards become the best path to getting approach shots close to the flag, evidenced by Sam Ruben’s albatross / hole-in-one off the tee on the near-famous 12th hole.
The only noticeable difference this year was the U.S Open grade rough. EJ’s team stopped cutting that in April and let the fairways pinch in to the Women’s Amateur template. Again, all the weekly regulars took notice and worked very hard to keep the ball in the fairway. On Solstice day the seed tops of the fescue cast an amazing purple hue over the whole course in the pre-dawn light. Just another part of the magic here.
LN: Upon meeting with Brent Zepp and his team on the 15th anniversary of the course (earlier in the week on June 23), I got the impression that they are fully supporting your efforts can you describe the support you’ve received from Chambers Bay leadership.
Lynch: How much column space do I have for this answer. . . The First Tee generates the drive to pull off this event. The Chambers Bay staff, caddies, and a couple dozen volunteers are the engine that enables this, starting with Brent, GM Zac Keener, and F&B/event superhero Kate Berry. As soon as the “proof of concept” runs in ’18 and ’19 proved this was viable, Chambers Bay leadership have been critical to the player experience design, operations, and execution. It is a huge departure from daily operations. The Solstice comes during the peak season for wedding, corporate events, and maintenance stress (since our heatwaves normally start the third week of June). Somehow they rally with our team to prepare the course in the pitch black, open the gates at 3:15 am, and get 100 sleepy golfers (and two dozen caddies) into position, all in time for the arrival of civil twilight when safe play can begin. Then after 16+ grueling hours they help us pack it all up and roll on to our final fundraising push post-event. Huge shout out to Bryan Pierce and his on-course crew, the turf & set-up teams, and our supporters in the pro shop for hyping this event to enroll new players. We are forever in the debt of Brent Zepp for his partnership around our Solstice concept, pre-planning guidance, and tireless support.
I’d be remiss if I did not give huge kudos to Evan Johnson and Dan Wartelle of First Tee Greater Seattle, their coaches & staff, and all the local chapters we engage with. When Dean and I reached out with this concept they immediately matched our effort and enthusiasm. As we approach the event each year they match our efforts, provide great insights, and honor our drive by being the ideal benefactor. Sponsors are eager to reward and encourage the community impact First Tee creates. We’re all honored to aid their mission in creating Game Changers.
LN: What are dates and plans for the 2023 event?
We’ve booked Sunday June 25th for the 2023 event.
Readers / followers can join the mailing list via info@ChambersBaySolstice.com or IG @CBSsolstice to get updates on registration in December.