For much of the spring, the driving range at Indian Canyon Golf Course was more suitable for paddling a canoe than practicing for a round of golf.
The range was covered in water – 3 feet deep or more in places. The standing water is mostly gone now, but there’s still some mud and a nasty odor when it rains, golf officials say.
The city of Spokane-owned course is losing tens of thousands of balls in the muck, which has become a perennial mess.
City officials suspect storm water runoff from a nearby Spokane County road may be causing the problem; county officials aren’t so sure.
While the situation was made worse by this year’s intense rainfall, the course’s head professional, Gary Lindeblad, said the range has suffered similar problems most of the past six springs.
Indian Canyon is easily the most touted golf course within the county, but some city park officials fear the reputation of the driving range could suffer because of the water, foul smell and mosquitoes.
“If you don’t wear a long-sleeve shirt and spray, you’re going to get chewed up,” said Dan Workland, who comes to Indian Canyon a few times each week. He said he still prefers Indian Canyon’s range because he likes to hit from grass and prefers the balls the range uses.
Lindeblad said the problem this year will cost the course more than $30,000 in extra labor, lost revenue and lost balls.
Park Board member Randy Cameron criticizes the park department’s golf division for not fixing the problem sooner.
“I don’t know that there’s a sense of urgency and that this is a high-level priority,” he said.
Others on the Park Board, however, say the golf division has taken numerous steps, including adding a pump a couple of years ago to remove water gathering on the range. This year’s wetter-than-normal spring made the problem much worse than usual, they said.
“It’s frustrating to everybody,” said Park Board member Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, who leads the board’s golf committee. “We are trying to address this. We’re taking it very seriously.”
Lindeblad estimates that the range could lose 40,000 balls or more this year – most buried in the muck. That’s as much as three times the number lost in a year before the water problems started, he said.
With all the water and mud, balls have largely been picked up by hand, sometimes by workers in waders. This year, the city even brought in an inmate crew to help gather them.
“A job that should take two hours takes 10 to 12 man hours,” Lindeblad said.
Theories abound about the causes of the problem, but city officials agree that it started about six years ago after the city redesigned the entrance to the range. At that time, the city agreed to dig a culvert to allow storm water from a portion of county-owned Assembly Road to drain under and through the parking lot into the driving range.
Lindeblad said there’s often a torrent of water flowing from the pipe.
Spokane County officials doubt that storm water from about two-tenths of a mile of roadway, which is two lanes, could be the main culprit. They note that the range is the lowest point in the area and that there is a large apartment complex bordering the range on the south.
“Obviously, we will work with the city,” said Pat Harper, Spokane County engineering administrator. “It’s just not something that’s real clear.”
Lindeblad said he’s noticed water coming from the pipe when the weather’s dry but the apartment complex is watering its lawn.
Park Director Leroy Eadie said as best he can tell from plans, storm water from the apartment complex is handled by swales on the complex’s property and not by draining onto the range.
“What we can see on the street plans, it’s not coming from the apartments,” Eadie said.
The apartments, called the Courts at Indian Canyon, were built in the last 10 years. Records show that the city accepted a storm drainage review fee from the developer in 2001, an indication that the city approved the project’s storm water system.
Eadie said the city has been unable to find the agreement that led the city to accept storm water from Assembly onto the range.
“The No. 1 step is to look at the alternative ways for handling the storm water that’s coming off of Assembly,” Eadie said.
In the short term, the city is pursuing other options. Wastewater Management Director Dale Arnold said the city will install a second pump in the range before next spring.
With the weather warming up, the range is getting relief. This week, the range was able to operate its normal ball-collection system in most of the range for the first time. Lindeblad is hopeful a solution can be found before next spring.
“I’m frustrated because I know management has sought out answers, but they just don’t seem to be able to find them,” Lindeblad said.