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Staff Reporter 

The 'average Joe' was Durgan's Lilac vision

Leslie Flores-Cloud has plans to turn around once top-notch Eagles' program


Lilac City Invitational founder Joe Durgan was a very good golfer, but his idea for the tournament was to be an opportunity for the average golfer to play.

All that John Durgan, son of Lilac City Invitational Tournament founder Joe Durgan recalls of the 1960 event won by Bob Duden, is "I was 8 years old."

Pat Keegan was Durgan's high school classmate and fellow golf team member at Gonzaga Prep in the late 1960s and 1970s. His teenage recollections are more vivid.

"Where were you when we landed on the moon?" Keegan has been asked. At 16, he was a caddy at the Lilac, founded and then held at Spokane's Downriver Golf Course. "I came in at the nine, looked (at the television) and thought, 'Oh my gosh, we landed on the moon.'"

But in 1970, Keegan etched his name into the forgotten history of the Lilac's companion event - the Junior Lilac for high school golfers - by shooting a two-round 151 to win the title, and a golf bag he would use for 30 years.

That was Joe Durgan's idea when he and partners Tom Tucker, Jim Shipman, Jack Bell and Perry Williams decided to stage Spokane's first open golf tournament.

But it was not just any old "open" event, John Durgan said. It was, and still is the region's only 72-hole golf tournament.

The 54th edition of what is now the Lilac tees off July 5 and concludes on July 8 at The Fairways Golf Course at West Terrace. It still carries on many of the traditions Joe Durgan established at the iconic Downriver.

"What dad wanted to do mainly, ultimately, was for the amateurs, and to give them the opportunity to play a 72-hole event, kind of like what the players on tour were playing," Durgan explained.

"That was always the biggest thing, get your guy who is working the office job or selling cars, whatever the hell (to play)," Durgan said.

According to Durgan, in the early days the amateur field was huge and featured four divisions based on, and split by handicaps from 0 to 13.

"If pros wanted to throw their money in the hat and go play for it, they were welcome," Durgan said.

The Lilac was very much the center of the golf universe for decades in Spokane. It had front page blow-by-blow coverage in the local daily newspapers, The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Chronicle.

There were not as many section events as there are today, "There was the Washington State Open, the B.C. (British Columbia) Open and Lilac," Durgan explained.

There were other amateur tournaments, but all are now distant memories - except Lilac.

"They were 54-hole events and dadwanted to give them an extra test," Durgan said. "Seventy-two holes is a grind; you're not going to be on for 72."

Joe Durgan ended his long involvement with the game at The Fairways where he oversaw its opening in 1987. In 1986, after 31 years of serving as the pro at Downriver, Joe Durgan's contract was not renewed by the city of Spokane. The noted teaching professional passed away in 1997 at 78.

And despite all the changes in the game, The Lilac has not only survived, but thrived, albeit with a hiccup.

The Lilac accompanied the Durgan family to the West Plains in 1987, and left - for five years at least - in 2006 but John Durgan was replaced as manager once the course was purchased by developer Buster Heitman.

Naturally that did not sit well.

"I talked to my mom at that time," John Durgan said. "What do you think if they are going to have an event and they call in The Lilac?"

"If there's going to be no Durgans involved, well then, no," was her reply.

As time passed and some of those wounds healed a bit, Durgan was approached again about restarting the tournament. He gave current head pro and general manager Kris Kallem the OK and it came out of mothballs in 2012.

The Lilac, as Kallem likes to point out, is billed as a party that just so happens to have a golf tournament attached.

But that's the way it's been from the beginning. "The atmosphere of The Lilac in the years at Downriver, it was festive," John Durgan said.

Durgan, who works Sundays as an announcer at the Lilac, will retire at the end of July from his present job. He is looking forward to devoting more time to it in the years to come.

"I live here on the 15th hole so it's kind of handy for me," he said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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