Daniels has Wine Valley tip-top for this week’s NW Open

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The heat’s been on for Tyler Daniels these days.

Daniels is the greens superintendent at the Wine Valley Golf Club, and his duties have been twofold this summer as he and his crew have contended with scorching temperatures while at the same time preparing the 18-hole links-style course for several major tournaments.

The McCurley Integrity Toyota-sponsored Wine Valley Best-Ball was held the last weekend in July. The Washington State Amateur was spotlighted two weeks ago. And Monday through Wednesday Wine Valley will host another PGA event, the Pacific Northwest Open.

Toss in the 36-hole Basel Cellars Pro-Am — a precursor to the Northwest Open — that began Saturday and concludes today and you get an idea of what Daniels has been up against.

Not that he’s complaining.

“It’s been a challenge,” Daniels said, “but nothing we are not used to.

“It has been a little hotter than normal,” he added. “But this new grass strain that we had a chance to plant when we built the place helps a lot. And the Byerleys have given me all the water I need, and that has been a great help.”

Russ and Scott Byerley, who originally owned the wheat land that is now the golf course, still own all of the surrounding land. And one of their wells is used to complement the two wells on the course for watering purposes during extreme hot weather conditions.

As for the major tournaments at Wine Valley, Daniels prepares the course according to PGA specifications.

“I cut the cups after the hole locations have been chosen,” Daniels said. “I get everything mowed and get the greens the way they want them. They will probably want them a little softer for this one this week. It got pretty baked out for the state am.”

Course conditions for this week’s tournament will differ from what golfers faced in the Washington State Amateur, Daniels said. On a scale of 1-to-10, he rated the state amateur course difficulty at 10 compared to 8 1/2 for this week’s Northwest Open.

Daniels, a former professional who also plays in many of these tournaments, prefers the more difficult layouts.

“Twelve-and-under usually wins this week’s tournament,” he said. By comparison, Tyler Salsbury of Enumclaw, Wash., won the state amateur with a 54-hole score of seven-under-par.

“I am not much of a 67-to-70 shooter,” Daniels said. “But I play the harder courses better.”

The greens crew usually arrives earlier than usual on tournament days, Daniels said.

“The guys will be getting here about 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “When they throw those No. 1 and No. 10 starts at us, you have to work around that a little bit. Eight o’clock start times are easy, but 6:30 and 7 have a chance at bugging us more.

“But we’ve had the same crew now for six years and they are dialed in pretty good.”

And the pleasure is worth the pain, Daniels said.

“Having all of these tournaments has been great,” he said. “It is what we have been used to out here, getting the big events. It’s what we want.”

Wine Valley head pro John Thorsnes concurs.

“My partner and I love to host tournaments,” Thorsnes said of himself and Jim Pliska of Portland. “We both like to play in them and host them. And there’s no question it has helped build our name and reputation around the Northwest.”

This will mark the fifth consecutive year that the Northwest Open has been staged at Wine Valley. The course was also the site of the Senior Players Championship in April, another PGA event that Wine Valley will host again in 2015, according to Thorsnes.

“We also host our own pro-am tournament, usually the third weekend in April,” Thorsnes said. “And we are contemplating a couples event, although we haven’t determined a weekend or a format. There are a lot of them around. The country club has two of them, and having a third one in the area might be tough.”

The Northwest Open field is full at 156 players, led by defending champion Shane Prante of Olympia, 2011 winner Corey Prugh of Spokane and 2010 champ Brian Thornton of Kent, Wash. All three are professionals, although the field includes amateur players as well as a few women.

Players will tee off between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. off both the No. 1 and No. 10 tees each day and again between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.

A number of local players are entered, including Thorsnes, Veterans Memorial co-head professionals Chris Repass and Mike Early, and Walla Walla Country Club assistant pro Brady Sharp. Walla Walla native Drew Reinland, who now resides in Clarkston, is another professional entry, as is former country club head pro Steve Stull, who will represents Richland’s Meadow Springs Country Club.

Michael Ciez of Memorial, winner of last weekend’s Walla Walla All-City Championships, is among local amateurs in the field. Others are Tim Hinger and Mason Palmer of Wine Valley.

Daniels hopes to play, but he’s on a waiting list, he said, after getting his entry form in late. That’s the price, perhaps, of spending so much time keeping Wine Valley in top notch condition.

“This course has matured a lot over six years,” said the 35-year-old native of Vancouver, Wash., who spent seven years as a professional before regaining his amateur status. “It has softened up over the years, and the rain we have had in the last few days has really helped. It’s looking good.”

Daniels discovered that it was just as satisfying to work a golf course as it was to play it during his years as a professional at the Emerald Valley Golf Club in Cresswell, Ore., just outside of Eugene.

“I had been working in the golf shop there, and they gave me a job on the greens crew during the winter rather than lay me off,” he said. “And I’m still doing it.”

It happens that Pliska also has ownership in the Emerald Valley course. And that’s how Daniels wound up at Wine Valley as the greens superintendent who also happens to be a plus-1 handicapper with amateur status.

“I love it,” he says of working at Wine Valley. “This is a great place to work. And I enjoy amateur golf, the state ams and the PNGA events, and also the sectional majors.

“I am really looking forward to this week’s tournament,” he added, “although I am also looking forward to it being over.”

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