Call it the Baby Huey of local golf tournaments.
The Rosauers Open Invitational turns 10 years old next month, and already it has grown into the largest of the six major events staged annually by the Pacific Northwest Section of the Professional Golfers’ Association.
In the nine years since section officials called Gary Lindeblad’s “bluff” about putting on a major tournament in Spokane, the Rosauers has matured from a crawling, crying infant begging for sponsors and players into a booming baby giant boasting a turn-away field of 164 professionals.
The Rosauers now has the largest purse on the PNPGA circuit and a waiting list of sponsors looking for spots in the two-day pro-am event that precedes the tournament proper.
“Incredible” is how Lindeblad, head professional at Indian Canyon Golf Course and the host pro for the tournament, describes the growth of the event, which has raised nearly $500,000 for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.
The inaugural Rosauers of 1988 was won by Mike Davis, playing out of Bend, Ore., who collected $5,000 for his efforts. Proceeds from the event barely covered expenses that year, and Lindeblad, after promising the crisis nursery at least $10,000 from the profits, wrote a personal check for that amount to make good on his word.
“Basically, we had no tournament monies left,” Lindeblad recalled. “We went tap city, so I personally wrote a check to the nursery. I really couldn’t afford it, but I knew this thing was going to be a great tournament.”
His hunch was right. The purse for this year’s event, which will be held July 16-20 at Indian Canyon, has not been finalized, but it will again be in six figures. And the winner will take home in excess of $12,500, according to Lindeblad, who can’t help but chuckle when he looks back on the origin of the event.
“I was on the section’s tournament committee at the time,” Lindeblad recalled, “and I was always promising the other members that we would put together a tournament for Spokane.”
Realizing the time and headaches involved with staging such an event, Lindeblad kept the issue on the back burner as long as he could. But one of the other committee members finally turned up the heat and asked Lindeblad when he was going to step up and stage the event he promised.
“Basically, they called my bluff,” Lindeblad said.
And when backed into a corner, he responded boldly by saying, “Give us the dates and we’ll do it this year.”
That was in January and the first Rosauers was played the following July, just six short months later.
Fortunately, Lindeblad had previously struck up a golfing friendship with Spokane’s Craig T. Nelson, the star of TV’s “Coach,” and Nelson had volunteered his name and services in case Lindeblad wanted to put on a tournament that would benefit a local charity related to alcohol or drug abuse.
Nelson and several Hollywood friends played in the first few events, and Lindeblad was able to convince Rosauers vice president Bill Haraldson, another golfing acquaintance, to spring for primary sponsorship money.
“Then the issue became, ‘Gee, now how to we do it?”’ Lindeblad said.
He enlisted the services of fellow professionals Mark Gardner and Bob Scott and started rounding up additional tee-box and greens sponsors, taking entries from section pros from a widespread five-state area, signing up volunteers, setting up the golf course and promoting the event.
It was a huge task and there were a few hitches.
“That first year, boy, it was really unorganized,” Lindeblad admitted. “But a couple of days before the event, everything kind of fell into place and we were able to pull it off.
“The next year, 100 percent of our sponsors re-upped and things got a little easier. We actually made money, so I didn’t have to pony up another check. And every year since, the tournament has just gotten better and better and better.”
Six years ago, Ellen McNair volunteered to serve as tournament coordinator.
“Then things really took off,” Lindeblad said. “Ellen is just a tireless worker who has done everything imaginable to help the event succeed. She was able to deal with all the niceties things like behind-the-scene pats on the back and follow-up thank-you letters to sponsors and competitors that we had neglected in the past. We’ve grown by leaps and bounds since she came on board.”
Lindeblad was able to wade through organizational problems and win his own tournament in 1990.
“I’m not so sure it didn’t work to my advantage, having so many other things to worry about,” Lindeblad said of the unexpected victory that netted him $12,000. “There wasn’t room for all that other mental stuff that can creep into your head and ruin your golf swing.”
Since McNair became involved, Lindeblad’s responsibilities have lessened. The tournament, though a long way from running itself, is no longer a problem-child.
It has grown into a man-child.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PAST ROSAUERS CHAMPIONS Following is a list of past Rosauers Open champions, along with their first-place earnings and round-by-round scores: 1988 *Mike Davis $5,000 65-71-68 - 204 1989 Chris Mitchell $6,000 66-68-70 - 204 1990 Gary Lindeblad $12,000 71-65-65 - 201 1991 Rob Gibbons $12,500 64-66-68 - 198 1992 Chris Mitchell $10,125 66-65-64 - 195 1993 Walt Porterfield, Jr. $12,000 67-71-64 - 202 1994 Greg Whisman $12,000 65-71-70 - 206 1995 Greg Whisman $12,000 68-68-70 - 206 1996 Michael Combs $12,000 66-67-68 - 201 * Won playoff against Walt Porterfield Jr. on third extra hole.Note: 1991 tournament was played at MeadowWood Golf Course.