Lilac Invite still has a lot of spring in its 50 year-old step
If 50 is the new 30 then there’s good reason for the Lilac City Invitational Golf Tournament to have some new spring in its step.
Given a new lease on life in 2012 with its renewal at The Fairways Golf Course after a five-year hiatus, this year’s 51st edition takes place over four days, July 10-13.
The tournament was created in the early 1960s at Downriver Golf Course in Spokane by Joe Durgan, the course pro. The tournament went to the Fairways in 1986 when the Durgans were involved in the West Plains’ new course.
The Lilac is the only 72-hole tournament in the region and has been slowly growing since it was revitalized. And there’s been some notable moments in these past two short years.
Amateur Hank Frame from University High School and Washington State University won a three-hole playoff, beating Clarkston course pro Mike Roters in 2012. Frame sunk a 15-foot putt to win the Joe Durgan Memorial Trophy after Roters missed his 8-footer .
In 2013, Avondale assistant pro Russell Grove left no doubt, shooting an 8-under-par final-round 64, and 18-under for the 72 holes edging Manito assistant Corey Prugh’s 273.
With the competition intense and entertaining, the Lilac has been able to leverage that and its history into helping improve both the purse and the donation to their designated charity — The Shriners’ Hospital.
“There’s nothing extremely different other than we’re continuing to work on sponsorships,” Fairways general manager and PGA professional Kris Kallem said.
The Shriners are what Kallem called “our fundraising wing.” They are certainly motivated and have procured new sponsors Kallem said.
That works for both the course and the charity.
“There’s going to be a little more money this year, most of that’s being thrown at the hospital, but I think we might be able to increase our professional purse a little,” Kallem said.
It’s certainly a foundation that Kallem plans to build upon.
“We’ll meet right after the tournament and really hit the road hard in September and October when companies are setting their annual budgets,” Kallem said.
It will hopefully get the tournament to the point that instead of making a $6,000, $8,000 or $10,000 donation to the hospital every year, it might get up to $20,000 or $25,000, Kallem said.
“And instead of paying $5,000 or $6,000 for first place money for professionals — which is good it’s one of the better payouts in the Northwest — we want to get to a point where we’re paying $10,000 or $12,000,” Kallem said.
That would make the Lilac one of the most lucrative tournaments for professionals in the Northwest.
“It will raise the level of play — we get some really great players — Cory Prugh probably the best player in the Northwest section played last year, Russell Grove who won it (in 2013) is a very good player,” Kallem said. “The tournament is attracting some of those types.”
“We made a big jump in the number of pros that played here last year,” Kallem said. “But if you‘re offering $10,000 you’re going to start seeing tour players from all over wanting to play.
As for this year’s field, “It’s still real early to go into details as to who’s signed up,” Kallem said. A lot of the pros, especially the guys they call the “wildcats” sit on the fence until the last minute, he said.
While the golf is the major draw, it’s the fun the Lilac is known for that also makes it a popular event to play.
There’s a wedge contest and the traditional Thursday night (July 10) cocktail party. New is a putting contest with a 50-50 split between the winner and the Shriners. “The purse for that could get fairly large,” Kallem said.
Keeping it fresh and lively has been a trademark of the Lilac for a half century. And it’s part of what keeps golfers and fans coming back for more.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.