The recently formed Friends of Indian Canyon just celebrated the historic course's 80th birthday. "The Canyon," designed by architect Chandler Egan and built by the WPA, opened in August of 1935. Over the years it has hosted regional and national tournaments, appeared many times on Golf Digest's list of best public courses in America and been the course of choice for thousands of Spokane golfers, young and old.
The Friends group formed to promote the course, because over the past decade, the Park Board and the city's Parks and Recreation Department have stood by and watched it deteriorate. The slide worsened when in 2007 the city's then-golf manager allowed the county to direct runoff water from a development onto the range. Head professional Gary Lindablad predicted that the range would flood. He was ignored. And then, as Lindablad had predicted, the range flooded — every spring for six years. The city? For most of six years, it did nothing.
Lindablad, who isn't salaried, depends on the range along with lessons, cart rentals and the restaurant; the flooded range adversely affected all this — reduced play, reduced lessons, cart rentals, club sales and restaurant business.
Golfers not driven off by the flooded driving range were driven off by the course condition. The downward spiral during this time was accelerated by the incompetent greens crew, over which the head professional has no control.
It fell to Lindablad to be the messenger bearing the bad news to the Parks Department, the Park Board and the board's golf committee. And we know what happens so often to messengers bringing bad news.
By summer 2014, the course was in such bad shape that the Rosauers Open Invitational had to be moved — an embarrassment to the city and numerous sponsors.
Desperate, Lindablad phoned longtime friend Bob Scott, his former assistant and for years the head professional at MeadowWood Golf Course. Scott, one of many pros who would say, "I owe Gary a lot," somehow managed to rework his busy summer event schedule and the Rosauers Open was moved.
A word on this event: It's the largest, highest paying and arguably the most prestigious in the PGA Northwest Region, attracting the best PGA professionals from throughout the region. While the idea for a major regional tournament at the Canyon was Lindablad's, he gives much credit to Mark Gardner, Steve Prugh and Bob Scott for helping him launch the event. They needed the imprimatur of a major community business; enter Rosauers. They saw the importance of supporting a nonprofit organization. That year they formed an association with Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. Almost $3 million has been raised since the first event in 1989.
After the Rosauers near disaster in 2014, the city finally acted on Lindablad's unappreciated bad-news messages. Shortly after the first of the year the Parks Department moved highly regarded course superintendent Fred Marchant over from Qualchan. He then put together a new crew. His good work has paid off. Today the course is in its the best shape since the early '90s. The play has responded: Tournaments and corporate outings are once again being scheduled. The 2015 Rosauers Open was a splendid success.
Under siege from the messenger killers, Lindablad still found the energy and focus to go ahead and frame a vision for the future. Former Park Board member and architect Steve McNutt provided color drawings for an expanded clubhouse and grounds. Lindablad then contacted the Northern Quest Resort and Casino in search of a possible public-private partnership. The Casino, able to come up with much of the necessary money to restore and enhance the course and its facilities, expressed immediate interest. They even paid for an analysis of the course and necessary improvements by a Portland golf course architect whom Lindablad selected. That study has been completed and offers an excellent template.
All good news; assuming, that is, that things go well these next few months. Now in his 32nd year as head professional, Lindablad puts it this way: "I just want to see through the renovation and expansion — and then call it a career." ♦