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Meehan: When the heat is on, golfers evaporate

Work accomplished one recent afternoon, I ventured out to the Coeur d’Alene Golf Club to squeeze in nine holes.

I called ahead and was told it was “wide open.” Lathered on some sunscreen, filled a water bottle. The course was in fine condition.

Turns out I was the only one on the entire front nine. I kept checking nearby holes to make sure and saw a few groups finishing up the back side on 16, 17 and 18.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and that helped explain the lack of golfers. It was probably 95 degrees. It was hot, but not what I’d consider miserable, stay-inside hot.

The record-setting June heat made for an interesting month for the region’s golf industry. Tee sheets filled up from 6 a.m.-noonish but afternoon times weren’t hard to find.

“It starts to taper right around the 12 o’clock hour and then it’s scattered play until 5 or 5:30 when it starts to cool down,” Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke said. “We feel like an Arizona golf course.”

We’re at 16 90-degree days and counting. A typical summer brings 16-19. It was Spokane’s hottest June and the third-driest on record. Coeur d’Alene set a new standard for “highest low” temperature (74 on June 29).

Spokane hit 105 one day, Lewiston reached 111, Walla Walla 113.

“Yes and no,” said Circling Raven pro Tony Cuchessi, when asked about the impact on business. “I guess it hurts a little bit, but our rounds are pretty much right on pace this year. Maybe instead of playing 18, they’ll play nine and not be out in the heat as long.

“It’s been good for sales. We’re selling a lot of hats, towels, bottled water, Gatorade.”

There’s relief on the way with temperatures predicted to drop into the 80s beginning today and into next week.

“I watch it like a hawk, the seven-day, 10-day and I try to look at 20-day forecasts just so I can sleep at night,” said Mark Poirier, pro at The Highlands in Post Falls. “I watch it every day.”

As is often the case in the Inland Northwest, Mother Nature gives and takes when it comes to golf. Most courses got an early start thanks to a mild winter and a nicer-than- normal spring. Hangman Valley opened Feb. 15. The Highlands opened about Feb. 20, “by far the earliest” in Poirier’s four years. “It’s always good to get a kick-start on the season, bringing in some extra revenue that you don’t expect.”

“We did get a couple rainy (spring) days on the weekend,” Nelke said, “but most of the numbers are up because we got started earlier.”

Most regional courses came out of winter in good shape, but the challenge of an early summer has been the unrelenting heat that usually arrives in July and August, the two warmest months by nearly 10 degrees. It actually sprinkled for a few minutes Friday during the second round of the Lilac City Invitational at The Fairways as players with earlier tee times enjoyed pleasant temperatures.

“Our crews are working really hard trying not to lose anything,” Nelke said. “You accept that it’s going to be a little bit brown. All you have to do is look at your own yard.”

Added Poirier: “What people don’t realize is just because a course is green doesn’t mean it’s great. I like firm and fast conditions. I want the ball to roll, to bounce, I don’t want it to plug. I can’t thank our maintenance staff and (superintendent) Ben Nelson enough for all the hours they’ve put in.”

The warmer weather has prompted courses to take extra precautions.

“They’re doing a lot of additional watering, a lot of hand watering, spot watering, because some areas where the sprinkler can get to but because of undulation the water doesn’t hold,” said Cuchessi, noting that Circling Raven’s irrigation system uses reclaimed water from the property. “We’re lucky we have enough water.”

Pros reported no serious weather-related health issues involving customers.

“I don’t want sound nitpicky,” Nelke said. “We appreciate all the sunny days.”


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