When The Fairways general manager Kris Kallem hatched the idea of bringing back the Lilac City Invitational, he got approval from course owner Buster Heitman and approached John Durgan.
“My memories of it are deep and fond,” said Kallem, tournament director for 10 years before the Lilac ended following a course ownership change in 2007. “John’s are double that. His dad founded the tournament. I think it felt right to him and I know he missed it, too.”
The unique tournament, a fixture on the golf calendar for 48 years, returns in July after a five-year absence. It’s the region’s only 72-hole event, but that was just one of the reasons the tournament was a hit with so many pros and amateurs.
From Durgan announcing every player’s name and hometown for four days on the first tee box to the long-drive contest, the tournament thrived on a mix of fun, friendship and competition.
“Like Kris said once, ‘I went to a party and a golf tournament broke out,’ ” Durgan said.
Durgan’s father, Joe, founded the Lilac in 1960 when he was the pro at Downriver. The tournament moved to The Fairways in 1986 and John supervised the event through 2006. He lost his job as general manager when Heitman purchased the course in 2007.
An attempt to continue the tournament under a different name was quickly scrapped. Kallem had organized a charity scramble the last few years to benefit Shriners Hospital and found willing sponsors, but it was a challenge filling out the field.
His solution: Change the format, bring back the Lilac and continue raising money for the hospital. Miller 64 will be the Lilac’s title sponsor.
Durgan is on board. He probably won’t play because of his work commitments at Allied Fire and Security, but he might assume his role as the starter on the first tee on the weekend.
“When I wasn’t retained at the course I was initially a little bitter, but I am certainly over that and Buster is a terrific guy,” said Durgan, who lives near the 15th hole. “When Kris mentioned it, I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to see it come back.’ I’d love to see it reach 50 years.
“One of the things Kris mentioned is the trophy would be the Joe Durgan Memorial Trophy. That won us over.”
Kallem is hoping for a field of 40 pros and 100 amateurs (more info at www.golfthefairways.com or by calling 509-747-8418). If there’s a full field, the plan is for a $6,000 winner’s check. Kallem has reached out to pros from past Lilac fields, some of whom played mini-tours on the West Coast and in Canada, and the feedback has been strong.
Low scores were customary at the tournament. Colby Myers won the 2006 Lilac by shooting 61 and 66 on the weekend to finish at 25-under. Myers’ 61 equaled the course record set by Kirk Triplett in 1989. It was broken by former Eastern Washington University player Peter Sisich, who fired a 59 – with nine 3s on the scorecard – a few years ago.
Irrigation improvements, including 170 new sprinkler heads, help keep the course green, even during hot summer months, and water hazards no longer dry up. Kallem said he’s never seen the course in better shape in his 23 years of working at the facility.
“Everywhere I went I’d bump into old buddies, pros and amateurs, and that was the first question: ‘When are you bringing the Lilac back?’ ” Kallem said. “It meant a lot to the amateurs. It was their major championship, their opportunity to step on the first tee Sunday leading their flight and have their name called. That’s pretty exciting.
“It was like a big family reunion for all of us. That’s the challenge, recapturing what we had, but I think we can do it.”