WALLA WALLA — A modest field of 69 players will tee off Saturday morning for the 64th Walla Walla All-City Championships golf tournament.
And it will not include defending champion Greg Prins, who is in Phoenix where he is enrolled in dental school. Prins defeated former Wa-Hi teammate Jeff Neher on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to claim last year’s All-City title.
Another notable absentee this weekend will be Gregg Corn, who claimed All-City titles in 1999 and 2005. Corn and another top player from Veterans Memorial Golf Course, Vince Jimenez, are skipping the All-City this year to play in a tournament in John Day, Ore.
But there is still a contigent of strong players signed up and ready to do battle in the 36-hole event that commences Saturday at the Walla Walla Country Club and concludes Sunday at Veterans Memorial Golf Course. Four players with plus handicaps and a fifth who is a scratch player head the field.
Cole Sajonia and Michael Ciez, both former Walla Walla Community College players, head that list. Sajonia is a plus-3 and Ciez is plus-2.
Grant Geelan, who will be a second-year player at WWCC this fall, is also plus-2 and Mason Palmer, the greens superintendent at the Wine Valley Golf Club enters as a plus-1. Cody Piper, another current WWCC player, is a zero handicap player and Tannen Potter of WWCC and Tyler Daniels, a former Warrior golfer, are 1-handicappers.
Neher, who came so close last year, enters as a 3-handicapper and a trio of former champions — Bill Fleenor, Ronnie Smith and Eric Kimball — are all 4s. Fleenor won his only championship in 1977, Smith claimed the title in 2001 and Kimball in 2003.
One other former champion, four-time winner Jim Beard, is also in the field. But as a 13-handicapper, Beard is no longer considered a championship contender.
On the women’s side, Dona Dunovant and Joan Schille enter as 5-handicap players and lead a field of 10.
The field will be divided into a championship flight, a men’s first flight and a women’s flight. There will be gross and net payoffs in each division. Play commences at 7:40 a.m. both days, and Saturday’s round will be followed by a barbecue dinner at the country club.
Mike Rostollan, acting pro at Veterans Memorial, said he was satisfied with this year’s field.
“It’s about 20 percent more than last year and a step forward,” Rostollan said. “We didn’t get to 80 players like we wanted, but I think we might have picked up another 10-to-12 players if it hadn’t been for scheduling conflicts.
“I see this as a springboard for next year.”
Lisa Hyland, the head pro at the country club, was likewise satisfied.
“Especially so,” she said, “considering we had only 45 or so signed up as of Wednesday.”
The field is equally divided between country club and Memorial players, she said, with a few Wine Valley players mixed in.
And the country club course, she said, will prove to be a test.
“The course is in great shape,” she said. “The greens are fast and the roughs have been mowed recently, which is a good thing for the players because it can be tough getting out of the long rouge. Everyone will be playing from the blue tees, and the pin placements will be medium.
“You want to make it a little bit of a challenge,” she added. “After all, it is the All-City.”