The U.S. Open holds a special place in the hearts of many golf lovers because it annually tees off around Father’s Day. And while this year’s tournament (June 18 through 21) at Washington state’s Chambers Bay golf course continues the tradition, don’t be surprised if Danny Sink treats it more like a grand-opening celebration. As championship director, Sink had to settle into the town of University Place — sitting between Olympia and Seattle, it is the first Pacific Northwest city to ever host the U.S. Open — early to ensure that layouts and logistics all came together properly for the big event. Now, some two and a half years later, Sink is finally ready to reveal it to the world. Before the North Carolina native does, he’s speaking to Forbes Travel Guide about golf, breaking ground in new areas and finding great food around Puget Sound.
How excited are you to be so close to the start of the U.S. Open?
Yeah, it’s really a unique time for us. First of all, from a personal level, I’ve been onsite here for about two and a half years now, so my role is director of the championship. But my role is [also] to kind of coordinate our efforts here on the ground, be the first person onsite. In 2012, I moved here from San Francisco to start our preparations, working with the host club and getting the community involved and, from a regional aspect, getting everyone involved. So, I have the unique perspective of seeing it from nothing to the completion of the championship to getting it all taken down and the golf course refurbished and things like that. I am the first one in and last one to leave in my role. I’ve seen the excitement from day one, from signing the contract in 2008 with the county to hosting the championship here. I started getting emails and phone calls way back then, seven years before the championship. We had the U.S. Amateur here in 2010. That kind of ratcheted up the excitement level again. And then, certainly moving here in 2012, that was another benchmark for us, having someone onsite working on the championship.
But with that said, from day one, the excitement level here has almost been unprecedented. I compare it a lot to when we were at Bethpage State Park [in New York] in 2002. It was our first championship at that site, and it was a public facility, so [we had] overwhelming support from that region. I can only compare it to that. Or maybe even when we were at Pinehurst for the first time in 1999. Just the newness of it. We’ve had a lot of great USGA championships in the Pacific Northwest. But obviously, bringing the U.S. Open here for the first time, it’s really engaged people and we’ve done, I think, a great job in getting out into the community and dispelling myths about what the championship is and what is going to happen around the local community.
What was it about Chambers Bay that made it worthy of being the first U.S. Open site in the Pacific Northwest?
That’s a great question. A lot of people always ask, “Why is this the first in the U.S. Open?” It’s really about opportunity. We’re invited to host the championship. We don’t just come in and say, “Hey, we are going to have the U.S. Open here.” So, for about a decade, we knew about this property — even before it was a golf course. Some of our regional folks had made some visits out here when the county was talking about building a golf course, and one thing that the former county executive that basically got the golf course built wanted was to build a world-championship-caliber golf course. He studied other golf courses. He studied what made golf courses susceptible to having majors, to having championships, what made a golf course difficult, what made it challenging, what made it rewarding. So, I think all the homework that was done out here in advance of actually building the golf course is one of the factors we knew about. The property is a stunning place to build a golf course. We have to have not only inside the ropes [looking good] but outside the ropes. We need some space to do some of our logistical things, [such as] getting folks to the championship. Hosting 35,000 people a day on an outdoor venue that doesn’t have any existing infrastructure is difficult. We need things in place to make that happen as well, whether it be parking lots or space in and around the golf course. Ultimately, the reason we bring any of our championships to a particular venue is: A. we’re invited; and B. it has to be a tough, challenging test of golf. We are here for the golf course, first and foremost.
For the folks who’ll be visiting Seattle and Tacoma for the first time at the U.S. Open, what should they expect?
Whether it be Seattle to the north or here — we live in Pierce County — we’ve got beautiful mountains. The outdoor opportunities here are endless, whether you are a runner, in a canoe, a hiker or love skiing. I mean, the Pacific Northwest has really got it all. A lot of people talk about the rain but, ironically, it doesn’t rain here very heavy very often. There are a lot of overcast days certainly, where it is drizzling a little bit. Another funny thing is that you’ll know the out-of-towners by them carrying umbrellas. People who live here are accustomed to the sprinkling and the light rain. It is a very outdoor-type setting. The waterways here. All the local communities. All the history here. It’s just unprecedented. You’ve got Portland to the south. You’ve got Vancouver to the north. You’ve got Whistler up there in Canada with some of the best skiing in the world, so you’ve got it all here.
What are some of your favorite restaurants around Tacoma?
In Gig Harbor, Brix 25 Degrees is the best spot in GH for a nice meal. Anthony’s has great views in the harbor and good seafood. The Tides Tavern is the best hangout bar in GH. It will be the place to be during the Open. Il Lucano Ristorante Italiano is a great small Italian place in the harbor. As for Tacoma, El Gaucho is the best place in the city, in my opinion. It’s an upscale steakhouse with amazing food and service. Lobster Shop is another of my favorites in Tacoma. And I go to Southern Kitchen when I need my Southern fix a long way from home.
You’ve been stationed in Washington for the last couple of years, but when you travel, do you travel with golf clubs?
That’s probably how I spend the most amount of my time when I’m not on a family vacation. I have two small kids. If I’m not on a family vacation, typically I have my golf clubs with me and I’m on a golf trip somewhere. That’s one of the great things I like to do is go places with my friends and we all take our golf clubs and play 10 rounds in five days, whether it be Scotland or England or wherever we decide to go. My golf clubs travel quite a bit. I play more away golf than home golf for sure.
Are there any underrated places that you’ve played that you love?
I think you can’t go wrong, if you are talking from a worldwide perspective, with the golf that you find in Northern Ireland. You can play 20 different courses and see something spectacular on every golf course. I don’t think they’re under-the-radar by any stretch, but the quality of great golf courses [is tremendous]. I would suggest that everyone take a trip to Ireland and Scotland and see where the game started and those golf courses started.
In the U.S., I think it’s certainly not a secret, but Bandon Dunes out here on the Oregon coast is a golf trip that should not be missed. There are a lot of great resorts that do a lot of great things, but if you’re truly into golf and that is what you want to focus on, Bandon Dunes is second to none on this side of the country. And being from the South, I have to mention all the golf in and around Pinehurst, North Carolina. You can spend a month in Pinehurst and not play all the golf courses. I think the weather is very temperate and the Southern hospitality surely wins out.