WALLA WALLA - The Wine Valley Golf Club's reputation as one of the finest courses anywhere to be found will add another star to its crown next week.
Beginning Monday and running through Saturday, Wine Valley will play host to the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men's Amateur Championships.
A field of 168 top amateur players - most of them from the Northwest but as many as 36 national and international invitees - will engage in two rounds of medal play before being trimmed to 64 qualifiers who will square off in single-elimination match play competition.
The first round of match play is slated for Wednesday, followed by the round of 16 and the quarterfinals on Thursday. The semifinals will be played Friday and the 36-hole championship match is set for Saturday.
Play commences at 7 a.m. each day. Wine Valley will be closed to non-tournament play on Monday and Tuesday, with a limited number of non-tourney tee times available beginning Wednesday.
"As the number (of tournament players) goes down, there will be more availability," Wine Valley head professional John Thorsnes said.
For Thorsnes, the opportunity to host the PNGA Amateur is one more step in an effort to build a course resume that the golf pro hopes will lead to even bigger things. It's Thorsnes' dream that Wine Valley might one day host the U.S. Amateur.
"Absolutely," Thorsnes said when asked about his aspirations
"One of the things when we wrote to the USGA (United States Golf Association) is that in a short time we have hosted the Washington State Mid-Amateur, the Washington State Best-Ball, co-hosted the Washington State Junior Championships and we will host our third Northwest Open in August, and we're signed on for three more years.
"Now we have the PNGA, and we have had two Public Links qualifiers. We are building a resume."
Wine Valley, which opened for business in 2009, is regarded as one of the finest links courses in the Northwest and has received national recognition. Right on target as far as Thorsnes is concerned.
"It's been a steady increase every year," he said of the business end of the operation. "You would always love to have more, but the popularity of the course is growing.
"We're getting a steady increase in players from Portland, Seattle, Spokane and Boise. And it has been a great marriage with the wine industry, which is another reason to come here.
"In this economy, we feel really good about where we are."
The Wine Valley course, Thorsnes said, is in impeccable shape.
"We have had lots of spring rain following a mild winter and the course is in as good a condition as I have seen it," he said. "The greens are in perfect shape.
"There was a writer here last week from Golf World Magazine who commented that they were tour-quality greens."
That means they're lightning fast.
"They are running 11.5 to 12 on the stimpmeter," Thorsnes said, referencing a measuring device greens superintendents use to determine green speed. Normal greens run 9-to-10, Thorsnes said.
Wine Valley greens superintendent Tyler Daniels is not only responsible for course conditions during next week's tournament, he's also one of five local players entered in the field.
"Tyler's a plus-one handicap and is playing really well right now," Thorsnes said. "And he knows the course really well, better than anyone else who will be out there."
Ryan Baumgart, who will be a senior at DeSales High School in the fall, is another Wine Valley local among the 168 entrants.
"Ryan works for me and plays a lot of golf at Wine Valley," Thorsnes said. "He's kind of a streaky player, but lately he has been playing really well. He shot a 69 out here a couple of weeks ago in the Publinks."
The other three local players entered are Drew Reinland, Kevin Michelson and Mason Palmer. Reinland is a recent Wa-Hi star who is now playing golf at Lewis-Clark State College.
"Drew had a good year at LCSC," Thorsnes said. "He was first-team all-conference, so he has that capability."
Nevertheless, the locals will be up against a strong field of players, all of whom boast handicaps of 4.4 or lower. They will come from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
Plus those special invitees. They are non-PNGA players who also entered this weekend's Sahalee Players Championship in Sammamish, Wash., and are invited to the PNGA Amateur in the association's effort to gain more national exposure for men's amateur golf in the Northwest.
Over the years, the tournament has attracted an impressive list of players who went on to productive professional careers. Not the least of which is Tiger Woods, who won the PNGA Amateur in 1994 at the Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver, Wash.
Others on the list of champions, which dates back to 1899, are H.C. Eagan, who won the title four times in the 1920s and '30s, Bud Ward (1941), Al Mengert (1950), Jack Westland (1951), Kermit Zarley Jr. (1962), Pat Welch (1970), Jeff Coston (1977), Rick Fehr (1981), Ben Crane (1997) and Jeff Quinney, who was champion in 1998 and again in 2000.
Wine Valley will be playing at its longest, about 7,600 yards, during the tournament. But length off the tee won't determine the winner, Thorsnes predicted.
"These guys all hit it so far," Thorsnes said. "They will dominate the par fives, but it will come down to who putts the best.
"But I still expect the better scores to be under par. Someone will probably shoot 5-to-10 under during the two rounds of medal play."
The PNGA will provide most of the work force that will be needed to put on the tournament. But Thorsnes is looking for volunteers to help out with scoring and fore caddy duties. A fore caddy is positioned along the fairway to spot drives that might find the rough in an effort to prevent lost balls.
"We just need a few good volunteers," he said. "Maybe 6-to-10 people each day, locals who are interested, retired folks with golf experience who like to watch high-quality golf. You don't have to be a member out here."
Anyone interested in volunteering needs to telephone PNGA representatives Kris Jungquist or Jonathan Brodin at 1-800-643-6410.
Thorsnes also said that he is looking for anyone who is interested in housing players during the tournament.
"Some of the players coming over here are just young kids who can't really afford to stay in a hotel," he said. "I know I have three players staying at my place."
The tournament is also open to the public, Thorsnes said, and is free of charge.