WALLA WALLA — A couple of weeks ago, Mike Rostollan was worried that he might have to move today’s opening round of the NWAACC Championships golf tournament to a different venue.
Veterans Memorial Golf Course, where the 36-hole tournament commences this morning, was in deplorable condition. Fairways and greens were shaggy, and roughs were overgrown and almost impossible to escape with any kind of decent ball advance.
“It was a terrible mess,” said Rostollan, who is the professional golf management instructor at Walla Walla Community College and the school’s men’s and women’s head golf coach. “It was the worst I had ever seen the golf course.
“I thought I might have to call the Walla Walla Country Club board of directors,” he added. “I knew Sunday wasn’t available out there, but maybe they would agree to let us play there Monday and Tuesday. I knew Wine Valley couldn’t do it, but maybe Wildhorse was a possibility.”
But that was two weeks ago.
When the first players step to the No. 1 tee box this morning at 10, they will be greeted by a Memorial track that has undergone an amazing transformation. And Rostollan, WWCC turf management instructor Bill Griffith and a small army of their students can stand tall and take a bow.
The WWCC crew, along with Walla Walla Parks and Recreation Department employees, attacked the course from every direction over a two-day period and put it back into proper playing condition.
“It’s been an unbelievable transformation,” Rostollan said. “The city came with their crew and equipment, plus my men, and we put in two 12-hour shifts Saturday and Sunday. And every day since, with all the manpower and resources, we’ve gotten the irrigation system back up and running and are doing everything else we can possibly do.
“I think the course is in the best shape it has been in in years, maybe ever.”
It all became possible when the City of Walla Walla, which owns the golf course, and We-Man Vets Golf Inc., which leased it, reached a financial settlement that terminated what had become an unsatisfactory 18-year partnership. We-Man’s Nick Manolopoulos, who in essence operated the course in absentia, has been largely blamed for allowing the course to fall into disarray.
“The city really stepped up,” Rostollan said. “The city could see that this couldn’t go on. They needed to get in there and protect and preserve their asset. It has just been remarkable.”
Rostollan, Griffith and their team of students will continue to operate the course throughout the summer until a new operator has been identified. Rostollan will take charge of the “inside” operation and Griffith will oversee “outside” responsibilities.
“Bill and I, with our expertise and separate specialties, are available as individuals outside the college,” Rostollan said. “Our (student) workforce overlaps with college time and they are receiving college credits. They could do it anywhere, they just happen to be doing it here.”
And it’s the kind of experience that money can’t buy, Rostollan believes.
“Its the chance to see the before and after,” Rostollan said. “It’s very rare to see this kind of changeover from negligent operator to conscientious operator.”
Some of the 15 WWCC students will be assigned exclusively to a temporary pro shop while some will spend all of their time caring for the golf course.
“And some will split their time according to what they want to do and what we need done,” Rostollan said.
“They will be available all summer and through the fall, getting ready for the transition when we pass the baton to the new operator. We are just making sure it will be something special when we hand it off.”
One of Rostollan’s few concerns is that the golf course’s phone number is no longer unavailable. A new land line has been established and anyone wishing to contact the course can call 509-522-7059.
“We are hopeful of getting the old number back,” Rostollan said. “It’s been the golf course number for years and year.”
If not, Veterans Memorial golfers can still be grateful that they’ve got their golf course back.
“I’ve already heard comments from a lot of them,” Rostollan said. “And they’ve all been positive. They are ecstatic with the changes they see.
“I’m just proud to be a part of it. And I look forward to being able to show all our of visiting coaches this weekend how fine a shape and what a great challenge this course is.”