US Open Showcases NW Beauty, Hides Golf’s Flaws


This is the 40-Something Files! (Back after a short break…)

A weekly take on the state of Seattle Sports through the lens of a guy whose four decades of fandom has earned too many scars, and seen too few celebrations.

As the focus of the golf universe lasers in on Chambers Bay, the undeniably scenic setting for this year’s US Open Golf Championship, just about every Pacific Northwest resident (whether or not they have any interest in the game of golf), has at least taken notice of the hoopla. There’s a story line worth following for each and every one of us:

1) For the Golf Enthusiast: The oddities of this rare example of a true U.S. links style course, built only a few years ago on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry, provide unique challenges towards which some offer praise, and others scoff.

2) For the Casual Duffer: Chambers Bay, being only the fifth public golf course to host the US Open in the 115 year history of the tourney, could actually be played by anyone – anyone, that is, who is willing to drop a pretty penny on the deal.  Cheapest rates posted for the course are available only to “residents” with 90 day advance reservation, and start at $149. While most expensive rates for non-residents can be as much as $299. That doesn’t include a trip to the pro shop to upgrade your attire from “not getting anywhere near the first tee” to “cleared for hack-off.”

3) For the Generic (Unduffinated) Sports Fan: With the NBA and NHL finals having concluded, the M’s sucking wind, and Hawk Talk approaching TMZ levels I wouldn’t wish on my “Real Housewives” addicted mother, up steps the US Open to provide a hyped up, nationally relevant, sporting event… add in the fact that it’s taking place in our back yard, and there’s plenty of intrigue to get you through Father’s Day weekend, satiated (beer and burgers aside).

Jun 15, 2015; University Place, WA, USA; General view of the only tree on the Chambers Bay golf course on the 16th tee during practice rounds on Monday. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

4) For every other proud NW native or current resident:  As the weather promises to remain stunning, the backdrop of Chambers Bay has proven to be the ultimate showcase of the gorgeous scenery our little corner of the world has to offer. Blue waters, bluest skies, surprisingly parched multi-colored landscape, mountainous horizons, boats at play, impressive cityscapes surrounded by greenery. Everything we’ve been trying to convey to our friends and relatives around the world, but couldn’t quite put into words, will be gloriously exposed, via an international broadcast’s highest definition. This event is sure to provide more breathtaking “we live in a better place than you” visuals, than even your most staged Facebook selfies…

We should be proud and excited to be hosting such a world-renowned event. And we should enjoy it and tune in, or even go and spectate in person, if it can be arranged.

But, as this sport and its traditions, its rituals, its players, its fans, its organizers, its behind the scenes structure, its “old boys club,” its expense, its elitism, and its track record of exclusionary practices, descends upon our region known for tolerance, progression, open-mindedness, and cutting edge technology, I can’t help but wonder why there haven’t been any signs of young, diverse, organized citizens collectively shouting to the old, primarily white men trampling their yard, “GET OFF OUR LAWN!”

An old friend of mine from High School, McRedmond (Micky) Morelli, is a more progressive-minded northwest native, like me. And as luck would have it, he’s a major golf enthusiast… so much so that he dropped everything a few years back to pursue a career in the world of golf.  A technology professional by trade, he melded his passion for golf, with his belief that the sport was “behind the times” in terms of it’s traditions and pervasive elitism. And with that, a local golf entrepreneur was born, and was launched.

Boxgroove allows the “every-man” golfer an opportunity to play a round at what would otherwise be private, exclusive, cost-prohibitive courses. And while cost, geography, and capacity are factors at play in the world of member’s only courses (typically the best courses in the country), it would be naive to say that those are the only factors.

Morelli’s company, while not solely altruistic by any means, will live or die on his plans to escort golf out of the dark ages of private club exclusivity and exclusionary practices, and into the new millennium of welcoming service, and updated functionality. This is not just a matter of survival for, but as Micky tells it, it’s a matter of survival for the game of golf in general, where the number of annual rounds played have seen a steep drop of 60 million in just the last 5 years, from its peak.

Jun 17, 2015; University Place, WA, USA; Jordan Spieth tosses a golf ball on the 17th hole during practice rounds on Wednesday at Chambers Bay. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY SportThis is not just a matter of survival for, but as Micky sees it, it’s a matter of survival for the game of golf in general, where the number of annual rounds played have dropped approximately 60 million in just the last five years. As I wrestle with my own desires to enjoy all that the US Open has to offer, while also questioning how our truly progressive region seems far too willing to turn a blind eye to the inherent politics of the golf industry, I couldn’t think of a better person to chat with than Micky.

As we sat down for coffee to discuss the coming US Open, and golf’s juxtaposition by nature to the lifestyle trends of the area that would host it, the fast talking Morelli launched quickly into his theories about the ways and future of golf as a business entity, and how it could be on the verge of sinking in its self-made, stodgy quicksand. There would be no time for ordering coffee, let alone sipping it, and in the end, it was obvious Micky had no need for the caffeine. This was a man who expressed a true passion for a sport that was leaving the players of its future in the dust, and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get out of its own way to do anything about it.

While treading lightly on the topics of racism, elitism, “old boys” and the like, that can foster in a private club community, Morelli confirms that in some cases, these stodgy, unattractive ideals still exist. By the nature of his business, he has a front row seat.

While treading lightly on the topics of racism, elitism, “old boys” and the like, that can foster in a private club community, Morelli confirms that these stodgy, unattractive ideals still exist. By the nature of his business, he has a front row seat.

It’s fair to say that most people would agree that golf should be held accountable for these practices until they are eradicated… particularly as they make the Northwest, a region on the leading edge of open-mindedness, their immediate playground of choice.

If you ask Morelli, there are numerous economic reasons for golf to come out from under its rock, as well. And as is often the case, it’s these economic factors that will take precedent over all others, when and if an entrenched industry will fully change its ways.

Fact: More golfers are leaving the sport every year, than are joining.

Fact: There are over 4,200 private clubs in this country, over a quarter of total US courses, when you factor in public, municipal, and semi-private facilities.

Fact: The Northwest is welcoming an industry with open arms to turn the entire world’s attention on our spectacular region, but through the lenses of its own cameras and somehow with little or no attention being paid to its historically unsettling establishment., founded and run by a local entrepreneur with a passion for playing the sport of golf, and a desire to see the world’s greatest golf venues shared with all comers, is an innovative service attempting to break tradition. It survives only if the old guard can grasp that it must seek new revenue streams for their sport that (in spite of the billion dollar showcase its about to put on in our backyard), clearly needs it, if it cares to stem the outgoing tide of its “every-man” players.

Simultaneously, the US Open is being held at local, public, Chambers Bay, and will put our region on spectacular display for envious viewers from around the world. As we bare witness to the participants’ near-perfect shots, upon an equally perfect backdrop of majestic landscape, will we be too distracted by beauty to remember golf’s flaws?

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