Bob Brue, during a clinic at last year’s inaugural Senior PGA Pro Classic at MeadowWood, demonstrated how the popularity of the Senior Tour has grown.
Brue said he could remember when seniors checked the wind direction by plucking grass and tossing it in the air.
“Now we do it like this,” he said, lofting a handful of dollar bills into the breeze.
Another, less profligate, way to gauge the popularity was last year when nearly 5,000 golf fans showed up at MeadowWood - probably double the expected turnout - to see the event’s debut.
“We think it will be much bigger this year; we’re expecting 10,000 fans this time,” said promoter Toby Steward.
Steward and organizers have made a number of changes and additions.
The most important may be the move to Labor Day, which allows golfers to stop off between Senior Tour events in Salt Lake City and Seattle.
The additions include a free clinic for youths and a morning shoot-out worth $10,000.
Brue will once again conduct a clinic for spectators - a very entertaining and popular feature last year - and the AT&T; Pro/ Am will take place in the afternoon.
But the real draw - the Senior Tour players themselves - may be even more attractive this time around.
Sixteen of those to play in the first event are scheduled to return, but additions include gallery favorites Robert Landers and the cigar-chomping Larry Laoretti.
Landers, a Texas dairy farmer who qualified for the Senior Tour, gained national recognition for playing in his jeans and tennis shoes.
Laoretti, who motors between events in a mobile home, came to prominence by winning the 1992 Senior U.S. Open.
Neither Landers nor Laoretti played on the PGA Tour.
Many of the others lined up for the event did, however.
Orville Moody captured the 1969 U.S. Open title, and Bob Rosburg was the 1959 PGA champ.
Others in the field, Bruce Devlin and J.C. Snead, have won Senior events this season.
Also scheduled to take part are: Butch Baird, Don Bies, Homero Blancas, Dave Eichelberger, Bob Goalby, Dick Goetz, Dick Hendrickson, Jerry McGee, Jimmy Powell, Dick Rhyan, host pro Ken Still of Tacoma, Harry Toscano, DeWitt Weaver and Larry Ziegler.
Ten of the 21 players on the docket are in the top 30 in money won this season.
Steward’s initial goal was to attract a Senior Tour tournament to Spokane. But the tour had a full schedule of 44 events.
“When Toby Steward approached us on what he would have to do to get an event there, we told him we had no openings available and a couple new event proposals already waiting in the wings,” said Ric Clarson, Senior Tour vice president. “So our suggestion was to start a one- or two-day pro-am event to get the community indoctrinated, to develop a volunteer base and develop a rapport with the players. And to their credit, they’ve done that.”
Steward promised more hospitality tents and more electronic leaderboards around the course.
Amateurs will once again play on Sept. 3, at MeadowWood. With the bulk of the activities taking place on Labor Day.
Amateur spots still remain - with a $1,000 price tag. However, Steward said a lottery will be needed to select players since demand exceeds the number of spots available. Those interested in participating should call 448-6829.
Gallery tickets, at $10 each (youths are admitted free), are currently available at G&B; Select-A-Seat. Starting July 10, gallery tickets may also be purchased at area golf courses.
“We think it’s going to be even better this year,” Steward said. “Ken Still said last year that we started with a baby step, but with almost 5,000 people showing up, it was really a major baby step.”
From seniors to juniors
In another three decades or so, some area players might be eligible for that Senior Tour.
Right now, they’re burning up junior action.
In qualifying action this week at Riverside Golf Course in Chehalis, Spokane’s Andy Hastings, Hillary Prugh, Jennifer Hatley and Sara Northcutt earned spots in the Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines in San Diego, July 17-21.
Also, Spokane’s Kyle Kelly and Britney Holt received berths to the Optimist International Golf Championship in Miami at Doral Country Club, July 17-21.
Hastings, 17, smoked the field with a record 36-hole score of 134. His 68-66 performance left him eight strokes under par and eight strokes ahead of the next competitor.
Kelly took sixth with a 74-75-149.
Holt tied for the win in the girls’ competition with a 74-76-150. Prugh was 10 strokes back at 160.
Jacqueline Huff of Lewiston left an impression on the crowd, scoring an 86-93-179. Despite playing on a prosthetic leg, Huff took 17th in heat that soared into the 90s.
The 36th Washington Trust Bank Lilac Invitational starts Thursday at The Fairways. This year, all 72 holes will be competed at that site.
John Durgan of The Fairways said this week that he expects 75 pros to compete, including six-time champ Chris Mitchell and returning champ Gary Lindeblad.
Durgan said he is still accepting entries.
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