Northwest News

What’s the biggest sporting event in South Sound history?


The June 18-21 U.S. Open signals a colossal upgrade in the caliber of sporting events hosted in the South Sound. Here’s a look at some of the biggest events:


Lakewood, 1913

Attendance: 40,000 for three races.

The Tacoma Carnival Association staged races on the streets of Lakewood in the early 1900s. In 1913, large crowds turned out for three races: the 100-mile Intercity Trophy Race, the 200-mile Potlatch Trophy Race and the 250-mile Montamarathon Trophy Race.


Stadium Bowl, 1914

Attendance: 7,000.

In an effort to raise money for war-torn Belgium, the Tacoma Commercial Club lured the University of Southern California and Oregon State to the South Sound for a game. The Beavers won 38-6, but the OSU school paper wrote, “the Belgians will continue to starve.”


Mount Rainier, 1935

Attendance: Unknown.

Races on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier, above Paradise, determined who would be members of the first U.S. Olympic Alpine ski team. None of those who advanced to the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, won medals.


Stadium Bowl, 1941

Attendance: 26,000.

The world changed forever the morning after Washington state hosted Texas A&M in the Stadium Bowl on Dec. 6, 1941. The event was dubbed the Evergeen Bowl, a parade was held, and a standing-room-only crowd watched the Aggies win 7-0. The next morning, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and many of the men on both teams were off to war. The Cougs played several games in Tacoma, including a 0-0 tie against Camp Lewis 362nd Infantry officers in 1917. The game drew 15,000. Their most recent appearance in Tacoma was a 7-0 loss to Penn State in front of 18,000 at Stadium Bowl in 1948.


Fircrest Golf Club, 1948

Attendance: 1,500

Byron Nelson was in the field, but finished tied for ninth. Ed “Porky” Oliver picked up the sixth of his eight PGA victories by beating Cary Middlecoff in the PGA Tour’s first 18-hole playoff. Oliver, referred to as the “popular fat man” and the “rotund rapper,” eagled the 19th hole for the win. While the crowd was estimated 1,500, only about 700 tickets were sold.


Lincoln Bowl, 1956

Attendance: 11,000.

In July, 1956, Tacoma boxer Pat McMurtry defeated former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles in a 10-round decision at Lincoln Bowl. Two months later, he returned to the ring at Lincoln Bowl, where he lost a 10-round decision to Willie Pastrano.


Fircrest Golf Club, 1960

Attendance: 11,000 for final day.

Arnold Palmer was in the field as the PGA made a rare visit to the Northwest. But it was Ernie Vossler who took the tournament ahead of Paul Harney. The tournament drew an estimated 25,000 spectators over four days. The tournament was held in Canada, the United States and England during its 14-year run and folded after the 1967 season.


Tacoma Country and Golf Club, 1961

Attendance: Unknown.

Everett’s Anne Quast Sander won the second of her three U.S. Women’s Amateur titles by taking 14 of the first 23 holes against Phyllis Preuss. The winning margin (14 up with 13 holes to play) remains the tournament record.


Cheney Stadium, 1980

Attendance: 6,000 or more per day.

A nine-day tournament brought men’s softball teams from 14 countries to Tacoma to play for the world championship. Team USA beat Canada 3-0 for the championship.


Olympia, 1984

Attendance: Estimated 50,000

Olympia was the first city to host the Olympic Trials for the women’s marathon. ABC televised the race nationally, and South Sound residents lined the course that was used by the first two Capital City Marathons. Joan Benoit finished first in the 238-woman field and went on to win gold at the Los Angeles Olympics.


Tacoma, 1986

Attendance: 15,000 on final day.

An estimated 36,500 turned out over three days to watch Winston West stock car races on streets and parking lots around the Tacoma Dome. The largest crowd showed up on the final day to watch Oregon’s Hershel McGriff, a future member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame, beat Spanaway’s Derrike Cope for the title.


Tacoma Dome, 1987

Attendance: 20,000 for final day.

Brian Boitano and Jill Trenary won national titles in the Tacoma Dome, and the South Sound loved every minute. Beyond the packed house for the final night, the weeklong event drew 53,577 spectators, a record at the time.


Narrows Plaza Bowl, 1987

Attendance: Estimated at more than 1,000.

Tacoma bowling legend Earl Anthony came out of retirement to participate in the tournament, but Del Ballard Jr. beat Pete Weber, 247-209, to win $100,000 and the title. Weber collected $55,000. The event was televised nationally by ABC. Fans packed Narrows Plaza and a line snaked out the door. The event moved to Atlantic City the next year, marking the first time since 1971 the Open wasn’t held in the same city in consecutive years.


Tacoma Dome, 1987

Attendance: 21,728.

The South Sound was smitten with the Tacoma Stars in 1987 as they made a run for the Major Indoor Soccer League title. The seven-game championship series against Dallas came down to the final match. A crowd of 21,728, an indoor soccer record, went home disappointed as the Sidekicks won 4-3 in overtime.


Tacoma Dome

Attendance: 17,167 (for both days).

The fledgling NCAA women’s tournament played its seventh Final Four in Tacoma in 1988. Long Beach State, Auburn, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech made it to the dome with Louisiana Tech winning its second title with a 56-54 win over Auburn. At the time, the crowd was the second largest in Women’s Final Four history.


Tacoma Dome

Attendance: 18,788 (for both days).

The NCAA brought the Final Four back to Tacoma in 1989, and once again Auburn didn’t like the outcome, losing 76-70 to Tennessee in the title game. (Auburn went on to lose the title game again in 1990, this time to Stanford.) Louisiana Tech and Maryland rounded out the field. This was the last time the men’s or women’s Final Four was held at the same venue in consecutive years. At the time, the crowd was the second largest in Women’s Final Four history.


Tacoma Dome, Cheney Stadium, 1990

Attendance: 17,442 for gold medal hockey game.

The Goodwill Games may have been a bust for Ted Turner, but for more than two weeks, world class athletes competed in the South Sound. Large crowds flocked to the Tacoma Dome to watch the Soviet Union beat USA in the gold medal game and Kristi Yamaguchi win figure skating gold, two years before she won her Olympic medal. At Cheney Stadium, Cuba won gold, and the Americans took bronze. The dome also hosted gymnastics, in which the Soviet Union increased its medal haul.


Tacoma Dome, 1994-95

Attendance: 15,457 per game.

A year after their infamous first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Sonics played a season in the Tacoma Dome while KeyArena was remodeled. The Sonics finished fourth in the Western Conference and played the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the playoffs. The playoff series started with two games in the Dome. The Sonics won the first 96-71, but two nights later lost 84-82. The series moved to Los Angeles, where the Lakers clinched. The NBA hasn’t returned to Tacoma.


Chambers Bay, 2010

Attendance: 5,250 for final day.

Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State University and David Chung of Stanford emerged from the 312-man field to play in the 36-hole final televised nationally by NBC. Uihlein won, up four holes with two to go. The USGA, which had staged its oldest championship at Chambers Bay as a test run for the U.S. Open, deemed the event a success. After watching the championship, USGA director Mike Davis said the 2015 U.S. Open was “probably going to be a little like a British Open at St. Andrews.”