WALLA WALLA — Mike Rostollan has high hopes for a successful All-City Championships golf tournament next month, and his is more than a passing interest.
As the temporary head professional at Veterans Memorial Golf Course — the city-owned track that will soon be turned over to new operators — Rostollan played a key role last spring in rescuing a course that had fallen into weedy disarray.
And now he wants to show it off.
“Vets is in fantastic shape,” said Rostollan, who is the head golf coach at Walla Walla Community College and the school’s golf management instructor. He and Bill Griffith, WWCC’s turf management instructor, led a small army of WWCC students (and city workers) who rolled up their sleeves one weekend in May and put the Memorial course back in top playing condition.
They have been in charge of the operation of the course on an interim basis ever since.
“I just played a round and made five birdies,” Rostollan said. “Any time I make five birdies, the course has to be in great shape.
“I’ve been working my Memorial crowd, and our goal is to get as many city players entered in the tournament as possible. I’m thinking there are a lot of country club players who haven’t been up to Vets in awhile, and I think they are going to be pleasantly surprised. The course is in great trim.”
The 63rd annual All-City tourney will be played Aug. 10-11, with the first round at the Walla Walla Country Club and the second at Memorial. The 36-hole event began in 1950 when Ed Fiddes won the first of his four All-City titles.
The tournament is open to anyone 18 years of age and older who has a USGA handicap at a recognized golf facility in Walla Walla County and who lives within 30 miles of Walla Walla. The entry fee for country club members and those holding season passes at Memorial is $75 and $100 for non-ticket holders.
The entry fee includes green fees and a barbecue dinner following Saturday’s round at the country club.
The field will be limited to the first 120 players who sign up, but Rostollan and country club head professional Lisa Hyland agree that a full field is wishful thinking. They recognize that the number of entries has dwindled to “near extinction” in recent years.
Rostollan had 30 entries as of earlier this week while Hyland had but five names on her sign-up sheet. So far none of the Wine Valley Golf Club members had signed on the dotted line, but Wine Valley pro John Thorsnes indicated there still might be some interest.
“I think it looks like we will have at least 60-to-65 players,” Rostollan said. “We’re hoping to have 80 and bring back some of the lustre of the old days.”
The All-City was once the most anticipated tournament in the valley, with fields back in the late 1970s and early ’80s often in excess of 200 players. One of the big draws in those days was the opportunity to play both courses, especially so for the public-course players.
“Maybe some of that has gone away,” Rostollan admitted. “The country club is more accessible than it was in the past.”
Another factor, Rostollan and Hyland agree, is a dwindling interest in golf tournaments in general and stroke-play tournaments in particular.
The country club’s annual Warren Bateman Memorial tournament is a prime example. The 55th edition of the event was canceled in 2012 due to a lack of participation, and attempts to resurrect it this summer as a best-ball event rather than a stroke-play tournament were unsuccessful.
“I think it’s done,” said Hyland, indicating that the tournament would not be on the club’s 2014 events schedule.
Rostollan also believes that many of today’s golfers shy away from the competitive nature of stroke play.
“You look at the number of charity events and corporate outings, they are all based on scrambles and other team events that may be more user friendly,” Rostollan said. “Golf is hard, and there are some who are not up to the task of competition.
“I don’t know if it is generational or not, but some go out on the course and want golf to be recreational while others want to grind. I know there’s still a faction out there that wants to win, to play hard and get down and dirty.”
Regardless of the reasons, neither Rostollan nor Hyland wants to see the All-City die.
“In my opinion, the All-City is part of our history in this golfing community,” Rostollan said. “It’s important because of the historic element and it’s worth preserving and bringing forward.
“You see the names of all of those great former champions on the trophy, that’s something to be proud of. I don’t want this tournament to fall through the cracks on my watch, and I know Lisa feels the same way.”
“Whatever it is, maybe it’s the longevity, but I don’t want to see it die,” Hyland said. “And we welcome any help we can get, any new ideas. We are trying to improve the All-City.”