The 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place may profit from another major sporting event in another era: the 1923 Dempsey-Gibbons world’s championship prize fight in Shelby, Mont.
Shelby was a small town, approximately midway between Seattle and Minneapolis – somewhat similar to University Place between Seattle and Olympia. Shelby hoped to promote itself and boxing in the West; University Place hopes to promote itself and professional golf in the Northwest.
Both promoters, however, urgently needed an arena and more hotels, restaurants, utilities and transportation facilities to accommodate the crowds, competitors’ entourages and reporters. Few developers were willing to invest in the necessary facilities for a single event.
In spite of the massive construction chaos, Shelby provided the required infrastructure. The fight was a huge success, with Dempsey retaining his championship in a 15-round split decision. But for Shelby, the developers, suppliers and lenders, the event was a financial disaster; all suffered huge losses. Shelby never fully recovered.
University Place should study Shelby’s mistakes and do more planning than it has demonstrated so far in order to sponsor a great golf match but avoid suffering great financial and reputational losses.