By JIM BUCHAN
of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
WALLA WALLA - The 52nd annual Walla Walla Senior Invitational golf tournament is slated this week at the Walla Walla Country Club under uncertain skies.
Persistent rain early in the week is supposed to give way to a mix of sun, wind and rain as the week unfolds. The 54-hole golf event begins Thursday and wraps up Saturday.
"The course has been wet the last couple of days, and that will probably play into the conditions," golf course superintendent Jeff Blanc said Tuesday as he took cover from the elements. "It's supposed to dry out through the weekend, although it is not going to be real warm."
Still, Blanc anticipated having the course in tip-top condition for the field of 130 seniors who will descend upon Walla Walla from as far away as California and Arizona. Many will be in town for today's practice round.
"The greens should be fairly normal," Blanc said. "Not lightning fast but similar to what our members experience on a regular basis.
"As for our pin placements, we have some history," he added. "This is my 17th season at the club, and we keep the pin placements fairly easy. We keep in mind that these are senior players, and we want it to be a fun time for them and that they enjoy their time here."
And Blanc is confident that his crew will find time between showers to "knock down the roughs," which can be a particularly difficult challenge for players of all stripes this time of year.
"We are basically rained out (Tuesday)," Blanc said. "And it takes about 20 man-hours to get through the roughs. But we should be able to get to them (today) and then come back in the afternoons after tournament play and hit certain areas."
Tee times are scheduled Thursday through Saturday from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and from noon to 1:30 p.m. off both the No. 1 and No. 10 holes.
The field is up slightly from last year's 113 entries but a far cry from the full fields of 192 players that was often the custom in earlier years.
"We've had full fields a number of times, but it's dropped off in the last four years," country club head professional Lisa Hyland said. "It's mostly economics. When you consider hotels and everything else, you're talking a grand when you come here for a weekend."
Food won't be a major cost factor, however, since tournament entry fees include buffet lunches and sit-down dinners for all participants during all three rounds of play.
The field will be flighted by handicap, and players will compete for gross and net prizes in three age division - seniors (50-to-64 years of age), super seniors (65-74) and legends (75-and-up) - within each flight.
Frank Mitchell of Gig Harbor, Wash., last year's overall gross champion, is not back to defend his title, Hyland noted. But net champion Gary Michelson of Scottsdale, Ariz., is returning.
Former Walla Wallan Jim O'Rourke, who has lived in Spokane for years, returns to defend his super senior gross crown as does super senior net winner Ed Shannon of Lakewood, Wash.
Dick Knipe of Walla Walla claimed last year's legends gross title but has opted not to enter this week. Robert Lande of Vashon, Wash., who won last year's legends net championship, has also decided to skip this year's tourney.
While the men battle it out on the lush, tree-lined, par-72 country club layout that will play at 6,271 yards, a field of 40 senior women will compete over 36 holes at the wide-open Wine Valley Golf Club west of town. The women will test the 5,105-yard links-style Wine Valley course on Thursday and Friday, with play commencing at 8:30 a.m. both days.
Sharon Johnston of Tacoma, last year's women's gross champion, is not entered. But Kathy Hawkins of Vashon Island returns to defend her net crown.