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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jim Meehan: Changes aplenty as The Plains Golf Course swings forward with nine holes

A scorecard might come in handy to track the changes – some anticipated, some not – at the Fairways, starting with, well, the Fairways.

That’s no longer the golf course’s name. It’s been changed to the Plains.

As expected, the course has downsized from 18 holes to nine this season. Most of the front side is in the early stages of a conversion into approximately 270 home sites. Golfers can still play 18 by touring the back nine two times. For $10, they can also play Nos. 8 and 9 off the front side twice for four practice holes.

A fire last November caused more than $100,000 damage to the restaurant and merchandise – smoke ruined golf shirts, hats, etc. – in the pro shop. An extensive remodel is nearly complete and the restaurant should be open again soon.

The restaurant also sports a new name: the Plains Public House.

The pro shop has moved from the main entry room into the space where the bar had been located.

That about covers it. It isn’t a change necessarily but the course’s legal dispute with the city over water rates is seven-plus years old and counting.

“Year eight for me (at the course),” head pro Dakota White said. “I have (run the gamut). I just turned 28. I’m going to have gray hair before I’m 30.”

White’s comment is equal parts good-natured and pragmatic. He’s capably rolled with the punches, including a few haymakers, and he’s still on his feet and hopeful about the course’s future.

Discussions started in September about a new name for the course.

“Honestly as soon as we went to nine holes, the thought was on my mind,” he said. “And then we had the fire in the restaurant so we had to tear a bunch of stuff out and empty the building. So it kind of makes sense. We’re not really the same place we’ve been with the nine holes. It’s all different.

“We settled on the Plains because our long-term future, we don’t know outside of 5, 10 years. There’s been lots of talks with the owner about keeping some semblance of the golf course. If you go through a name change, leave it open-ended so that way whatever stays here fits a lot of things, whether it becomes a shorter course or a driving range or it could stay a golf course. Who knows what’s going to happen.”

What’s happening right now is the course is doing pretty well as a nine-hole track. Part of the reason is that golf courses nationwide thrived for the most part during the COVID-19 pandemic, boosted by beginners taking up the game.

The Plains has maintained a fair share of its regulars and newcomers that were looking for something to do during pandemic. The course’s new set-up is ideal for instruction with the existing range and putting green, the two practice holes and a 70-yard area on the old No. 4 for fine-tuning wedges and chipping.

Weekends have been busy, so much so that there’s a marshal working Saturdays and there are plans to add a marshal on Sundays.

“So far so good,” White said. “We’re actually up in overall rounds. We used to run 80-20 for 18 holes (versus nine) before. Now it’s 55-45.”

That creates a juggling act as groups making the turn to replay the back nine intermix with existing tee times. If groups adhere to a two-hour pace, there’s few issues. For example, if you book for 18 holes at 10 a.m., you’re automatically rebooked (for the second nine) at 12:10 p.m. The flip side is one slow foursome falling 20-30 minutes behind delays groups on the course and messes with the upcoming tee times.

“Managing turn times is the big deal for us,” White noted.

The restaurant will feature an expanded menu. It figures to stay open year-round to accommodate golfers or area residents looking for a beverage and a nice meal without driving to Cheney or Airway Heights.

The Fairways, of course, was the long-time home of Lilac Open Invitational, a 72-hole event for pros and amateurs. The 57th Lilac was held in June, 2021. Last year’s event was canceled with uncertainty about the timing of the switch from 18 holes to nine.

The Plains obviously can’t host the fun-loving Lilac on a nine-hole layout and there doesn’t seem to be interest in shifting the tournament to another course.

“Nothing happening (regarding the Lilac),” White said. “With all changes it hasn’t even crossed my mind in a while.”