Meehan: Lilac’s return drew short field, good reviews

SATURDAY, JULY 14, 2012, 1:54 A.M.

There are numerous ways to judge the success or failure of a golf tournament and The Fairways general manager Kris Kallem is sifting through all the data to plot the future of the Lilac City Invitational.

The tournament returned last week after a five-year absence with a modest field of 17 pros and 36 amateurs, but numbers alone don’t tell the entire story.

“It was almost like starting a tournament from scratch,” said Kallem, a few days after the region’s only 72-hole event. “In many respects it was a nice start because it was a manageable size, which allowed us to focus and provide better service to everyone.”

That has always been one of the hallmarks of the Lilac, which will turn 50 next year. Players rave about the hard-to-achieve blend of fun and competition. Kallem said he’s been blown away by the positive feedback.

One out-of-towner who has played in numerous Lilacs won low net in his flight and donated the $500 in merchandise credit back to The Fairways’ junior club. Jason Humphrey, who finished runner-up to Michael Roters for low professional, described the tournament as the most fun he’s had in a letter to Kallem.

“They do a great job hosting it, that’s for sure,” Roters said.

The tournament returned with a couple of additions that could become traditions. Washington State senior-to-be Hank Frame, who won in a two-hole playoff over Roters, received the Joe Durgan Memorial championship trophy, named after the tournament founder.

And then there’s the slip and slide. After Saturday’s round in scorching 90-degree temperatures, course superintendent Rob Decker and his crew put down a 12-by-100 foot piece of plastic near the ladies tee on 18, sprinkled it with a little dish soap and turned on the water.

Kallem was hitting range balls with his two sons when folks began gravitating toward the 18th tee box.

“Next thing I know there’s a bunch of golfers, Roters is doing front flips, Humphrey must have dove 15 feet before hitting the slide,” Kallem said. “Guys in shorts, guys in golf slacks.”

The maintenance crew has its hands on a 400-foot slip-and-slide for next year and contests are being planned.

On the course, scores weren’t as low as those from previous tournaments, thanks in part to improvements with the irrigation system.

“The par 5s used to be gimmies and that was because of the firm fairways and the ball would run forever,” Kallem said. “Guys would hit driver and 7- or 8-iron. You just don’t get the roll out and you have to hit two good shots to putt for eagle.

“For years the rough, by this time of year, was dying out and getting thin, but now it’s lush and the ball sits down a little bit. It’s a little harder to control your shots out of the rough.”

The dates of the tournament (July 5-8) probably played a role in the smaller field. The Lilac faced challenges with the Fourth of July holiday, a few other tournaments in the region and the Rosauers Open, which concludes Sunday at Indian Canyon.

Kallem is studying the calendar, including a couple of possibilities in August, but it’s not easy to find a four-day span that doesn’t conflict with at least one other tournament. Kallem believes word-of-mouth recruiting by those who played last week will help boost the numbers. His eventual goal is 35-40 pros and 100 amateurs.

“There are a couple of alternative weekends in August or we may not move it at all,” Kallem said. “The amateurs are as important to us as the pros. We had guys like Roters and Humphrey say they’d try to bring eight guys next year, a couple of buddies, their pro-am teams.

“I enjoyed playing in it myself. I couldn’t be happier with the way everything played out. We have some momentum with what we did.”

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