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Welcome to the Pacific Northwest for the first time ever, U.S. Open Championship. Let’s create some memories, the type that will last for decades in the minds of traveling, paying and revenue-producing golfers the world over.
That type of sentiment has everyone associated with the Chambers Bay golf course in Washington state anxious to see how their visual identity takes hold this June when FOX airs the 115th U.S. Open from the shores of Puget Sound.
To understand the power of June 2015, step back to 2004. Over a decade ago Pierce County set in motion the first step in creating a visual identity for a golf course created outside of Tacoma on the shores of Puget Sound—the only golf course with such a distinction—in a former gravel mining pit by settling on a name.
“It was a big site, a big project and with high ambitions in terms of landing a major championship,” Tony Tipton, Pierce County’s parks and recreation director, tells HOW. “We knew we needed to take a different tact than a municipal (course).
“We wanted a national and international following, so we needed to build a message that translated well across the country and all the Asian-Pacific markets and our friends up in Canada,” he says. “We knew we needed a bigger message.”
That serious design approach, led by Ron Klein, former communications manager for Pierce County, and then-freelance graphic designer Scott Bailey, was something new for the folks involved in county government. It ended up being something new for the world of golf too, as Chambers Bay, which opened in 2007, was named in 2008 as the 2015 U.S. Open host, the first time ever for a course in the Pacific Northwest.
But before Chambers Bay was named a U.S. Open course it had to get, well, a name at all. “We basically took a look at what kind of a course it was going to be and the status envisioned for it,” Bailey tells HOW. “It took a look to pull that off.”
As a true links-style golf course, a rarity in the U.S., and the type that birthed the game in Scotland and Ireland, the design team looked to history for design inspiration. “When we developed the logo, the mark and font, we wanted something as much as possible to portray that classic design,” Bailey says, “to immediately validate the kind of (course).”
To stay classic, yet focused, the design team discarded names that lost track of purpose or became a mouthful. “We were looking for things that were simplistic, but had grandeur to them,” Tipton says. “That is why in the end we moved away from names like Windswept on Puget Sound. They seemed to be too much. We wanted something to stand on its own.”
With the simple two-word, water-themed name—tying to the water with the name led the mark design—chosen, Bailey wanted a single iconic image to incorporate into the logo, creating an overall look that gets its first real solid international exposure this June.
Staying away from gimmicky images was key. With that desire to play up nature, initial ideas included bird life, marine life, mountains and the lone fir tree that sits on the former mining site.
“In the end we were all drawn back to the water,” Tipton says. “We were looking to draw the water imagery back into the golf course to signify that.”
The final mark, two sail-like sweeps above the ‘b’ in Chambers gave them the “movement of the wind,” sails and the sweeping motion of a golf swing,” Bailey says. The teal color chosen for the mark represents water, the course’s greens and the sky, all in one.
The wordmark forms from the Granjon Roman font, something “very classic and yet with just a little more contemporary feel.” Bailey added some more weight to the letters, fussed with the sizes and manipulated the ‘a’ and ‘e’ to flow.
Bailey says that once the rough design of the sails was established, he started creating the design by manipulating the font to balance the sails, their arc and the distance between them. The riser on the ‘b’ extends higher for a mast-like feel, for example. “I didn’t want it to feel too heavy and didn’t want it to fly away from the type,” he says. “I spent hours and hours reworking those curves. It wasn’t science or math, just a gut feel.”
Keeping the image simple translated well to merchandise, something Tipton says he’s glad they did now that the sails have made their way into the 2015 U.S. Open logo.
While Bailey succeeded in giving Chambers Bay a serious logo from the start and landing a U.S. Open so quickly was the legitimacy the course craved, working a Chambers Bay logo into the exacting specifications of the USGA hasn’t proven without its challenges.
“You have the USGA, which has very strict controls over their brand,” Bailey says. “Any time you are trying to merge together two brands there are always those challenges that arise. The value you gain from being associated (with the USGA) makes any little sacrifice you have to make to work with their brand well worth it.”
An example includes the thought-through decision to use both upper and lower case lettering in the original Chambers Bay logo. The USGA didn’t feel that meshed well with their design, forcing a compromise of going with the same font and color scheme for the lettering as originally designed, but in an all-cap version.
With the association with the USGA so soon in the course’s history, Tipton says that displaying the Chambers Bay branding with the U.S. Open and USGA as often as possible has proven a focus. “We want people to associate those two items together,” Tipton says. “We want to be a brand that is highly valued over time. It is still in its infancy, so we have a long way to go.”
But pairing with the USGA gets them there quicker. “When (people) see marketing materials, the association is strong to Chambers Bay,” he says.
Klein tells HOW he doesn’t expect the Chambers Bay logo to get branded into the consciousness of golfers right away. “It is the opportunity of a lifetime to show the only golf course on the water on Puget Sound,” Klein says. “If for the first time they remember it at all and identify with the sails, that is a major accomplishment.”
As the youngest U.S. Open golf course, Chambers Bay remains in build-the-brand mode, but hopes to one day have those sails—which sit high on the U.S. Open logo—become the Nike Swoosh of golf courses, able to stand alone without a wordmark.
“I think this logo has a great chance to do it,” Bailey says, while noting golf course logos aren’t typically well-known designs. “Making the curves just exactly right, the colors, I was making it as strong as possible so it has a better chance of doing that.”
The sails met their first test by incorporating prominently into the U.S. Open logo. The second test comes on a much bigger stage: The playing—and broadcasting—of the 115th U.S. Open, the first ever in the Pacific Northwest. The first to truly welcome Chambers Bay’s sails to the world.
Tim Newcomb covers sports for HOW Design. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.