isa Hyland and Chris Repass have never had to turn anyone away from playing in the All-City Championships during their years as golf professionals in Walla Walla.
But there’s the possibility that could change today on the eve of the 70th edition of the annual tournament that tees off Saturday morning at 7:30 at the Walla Walla Country Club.
As of Thursday morning, there were 116 players signed up for the 36-hole event that concludes Sunday at Veterans Memorial Golf Course. And according to both Hyland and Repass, the field will be capped at 120 — as advertised.
“We’ll take four more players and that’s it,” said Repass, who along with Mike Early is the head pro at Memorial. “Anyone who wants in after that will be an alternate.”
“I think 120 is a good number and we are going to try and stick with that,” added Hyland, the country club’s top pro. “We could stretch it, but you have to pick a number. And besides, we are limited by the number of (electric) carts we have, and there’s also the food that will be served after each round to be considered.”
A field of 120 doesn’t seem like much compared to All-City fields that bulged to in excess of 200 players back in the late 1970s and early ’80s when golf was at its zenith of popularity across the country. But as Repass said in an earlier interview, “those days are gone.”
Besides, 200-plus fields usually meant five-and-a-half-hour rounds that were often played in unbearable August heat. Which was not a pleasant experience.
Furthermore, by limiting the field and commencing play at 7:30 a.m. each day, the pros figure they can turn their courses back over to non-tournament play by about 12:30 p.m. each day.
And as far as the weather is concerned, tourney participants might catch a break this weekend.
The high temperatures were expected to dip into the high 70s and low 80s over the weekend, although Hyland did note the slight chance of a thunderstorm Saturday morning.
“We just hope that stays away,” she said.
This year’s field, by far exceeds last year’s field of about 90 players and is the first 100-plus field in recent memory.
As recently as 2013, participation dwindled to 65 players and the tournament’s future was in doubt.
But the pros have worked hard to reinvigorate it.
“I think there’s just renewed interest in the thing, and the chance to play both golf courses is such a bargain,” Repass said. “I also think there has been enough information out there by both clubs, our email lists and reminders, that just sort of helped.
“I’m not sure what the difference maker is, but the tournament has been very well received,” Hyland added. “And Chris and I both believe that online registration has been very helpful.”
The official entry deadline was at the end of the work day on Thursday, and Hyland and Repass spent Thursday night drawing up pairings and assigning tee times.
There will be four separate divisions — championship division, open division, senior division and women’s division — and each division will play the courses at different yardages. The championship division players will compete at between 6,500 and 6,700 yards, the open division at 6,200 yards, the senior division at 5,880 yards and the women’s division at 5,315 yards.
As of Thursday, there were 24 players entered in the championship division, and the player with the best gross score over 36 holes in that division will be crowned the all-city champion. Thirty more are entered in the senior division for players 50 years of age and older, 52 will compete in the open division and there is a field of 10 women entered.
Because of the large open division, it will be divided into two flights, Repass said, and each flight will be paid equally. There will be gross and net payouts in each division.
Defending champion Michael Wog is no longer in the area and will not defend his title. However, there are two former champions — Eric Kimball (2003) and Devin Kaylor (2002) — who are among the 24 players who will compete for this year’s title.
However, there are four other former champs who will compete this year as seniors. They are Gregg Corn (2005, 1999), Ronnie Smith (2001), John LeFriec (1997, 1993) and Bill Fleenor (1977).
John Schille, the defending women’s champion, is back to defend her title.
The tournament sponsors this year are Banner Bank, D.A. Davidson and the Walla Walla Exchange Club. Additionally, several area businesses — Graze ‘a Place to Eat’, Public House 124, Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Stone Hut Bar & Grill, Red Monkey Lounge and Whiskey Canyon Sports Bar & Grill — are sponsoring closest-to-the-pin prizes.
And according to the pros, both golf courses will be in top-notch condition this weekend.
“Our course conditions, considering how hot it has been, are very good,” Hyland said of the country club. “The roughs are mowed down and the greens are rolling.”
“I’ve had many people tell me that our golf course is the best it has ever been,” Repass said of the 18-hole Memorial track. “This time of year it’s running out a little bit and the ball is getting a little bit of roll. And the greens are excellent.
“I think there will be some pretty good scores,” he added. “Guys are lucky to be playing this weekend.”