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Familiar favorites, newcomers chase Lilac City Invitational title

Russell Grove, golf coach at North Idaho College, is among the favorites at the Lilac City Invitational. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Russell Grove, golf coach at North Idaho College, is among the favorites at the Lilac City Invitational. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Favorites aren’t hard to find at this week’s Lilac City Invitational.

The list begins with familiar names: Spokane’s Corey Prugh and former Lilac champions Russell Grove and Derek Barron.

Grove, golf coach at North Idaho College and the 2017 Pacific Northwest PGA section player of the year, won the Lilac in 2013. Prugh, a three-time section player of the year who directs Community Colleges of Spokane’s golf program, has finished in the top six in the past five Lilacs.

Barron won the 2016 Lilac and was section player of the year in 2015. He’s playing primarily on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour, with one start on the Web.com Tour.

The familiar faces could have some company on the leaderboard from 13 pros teeing it up for the first time at the Lilac, the region’s only 72-hole tournament, which begins a four-day run Thursday at the Fairways.

“There’s a guy from southern Idaho, Portland, Seattle, a couple from the desert,” Fairways pro Kris Kallem said. “It’s kind of exciting. It remains to be seen what level they’re at, but they’re spending money to travel here to try to win $10,000 (for first place), so I’m guessing they’re pretty good players.”

The Fairways has a few new wrinkles for the field, which numbered 31 pros and 46 amateurs as of Monday. Entries are nearly identical to last year, despite the tournament starting the day after the Fourth of July holiday.

The par-5 fifth has a new tee box that stretches the hole from 527 yards to roughly 585. The par-3 seventh also has a new back tee that lengthens the hole by 15 yards. Mounds have been added between the fifth and sixth fairways.

A few years ago, length was added on Nos. 1 and 8 with new back tees. The course now measures nearly 6,600 yards, with the front side about 155 yards longer with the four new back tees.

“The greens are as fast as they’ve been for probably 20 years. The fairways are healthy – you don’t get a bad lie,” Kallem said. “The weather has helped, with it being a cooler spring and a good amount of rainfall. The native grass is pretty thick and nasty.”

Kallem said greens have been running 10 to 10.5 on the stimpmeter, with the goal of “approaching 12” for the tournament. Anything higher than that eliminates pin locations on numerous holes.

The Lilac is known for low scores and that figures to continue, even with the additional yardage and speedy greens. Andrew Vijarro won last year’s tourney at 24 under, followed by Jesse Schutte at 23 under and Prugh at 20 under. Vijarro, a former University of Oregon player, isn’t entered in this year’s field.

Barron, from Tacoma, won two years ago with a 19-under 269. Grove shot 18 under to win in 2013.

Lilac mainstays – a long drive competition, live music and the 50/50 putting contest – return, as well a first-time event: a par-3 Muni Madness shootout on Thursday.

Spectator tickets are $10 for all four days, with proceeds supporting the Shriners Hospital for Children-Spokane. The tournament has raised $70,000 for the hospital since 2012.

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