By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
The pros aren't intending to retire, far from it actually, instead partnering on a 10-year lease of the city-owned Veterans Memorial Golf Course beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
Merle Pearce who has served as Peninsula Golf Club's superintendent since 1995, will join the duo and take over maintenance of the fairways, greens, sand traps, and all the turf in between at Memorial.
“It's a bit of a perfect storm,” Repass said of the move on Monday.
“We've wanted an opportunity to work together, it's unfolded for us and it's going to be fun.”
Veterans Memorial, Walla Walla's municipal-owned course, had fallen on hard times of late, with its leaseholder operating the course from off-site.
Course conditions were unraveling but the city was in a bind, unable to take action unless the leaseholder missed a payment on the property.
A payment was missed and eventually the city gained back control of the course last spring, entrusting its care and operation to Walla Walla Community College, WWCC, professional golf management instructor and head golf coach Mike Rostollan and WWCC turf management instructor Bill Griffith.
Both instructors are friends of Repass and Early, who have encouraged promising local golfers to attend the school including current players like Port Angeles' Joey Barnes and Sequim's Ryan O'Mera and Coral Millet.
The course was returned to proper working order after a flurry of activity involving WWCC students and city Parks and Recreation staff.
Repass and Early had kept up on the happenings in Walla Walla, receiving emails from friends, spending time there every year and having Early's brother Dennis, a Walla Walla resident and frequent coursegoer, keeping them in the loop.
After a request for proposals to manage the course was released by the city, Repass and Early talked it over and decided to make the move.
“For me, it's a chance to run the place where I took my first golf lesson 49 years ago and be closer to our family in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene [Idaho],” Repass said.
“I had every intention of walking into the sunset at Peninsula,” Repass joked.
“I don't think either one of us would have gone anywhere else.”
Early added, “[Walla Walla] is the only place I ever actively researched and looked for.”
Repass, 59, is a 1972 graduate of Walla Walla High School, and Early's father Wib was the club manager at the Walla Walla Country Club on three different occasions between stints at clubs in the Tri-Cities and Yakima.
“It's not like we're a couple of guys from Port Angeles and Port Townsend who don't know a soul here. We know everybody in town,” Repass told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
The duo will lease the course from the city and pay a percentage of fees to the city each quarter.
Repass and his wife Barbara have rented a home in Walla Walla and plan to be moved in by the first week of December.
Early, 62, thinks he will be there with his partner Vicki Handyside by mid-December.
They have been working on all the small tasks that go into opening a new business, purchasing new equipment, securing a liquor license and finalizing agreements with vendors.
Meanwhile, Pearce, 60, has been to Walla Walla multiple times, becoming an expert on the course's irrigation and layout.
City on the grow
Walla Walla has done well to position itself as part of the growing Washington wine industry and tourism has helped the town take off in the past 15 years.
From my own experiences I know the city has a walkable downtown with wine-tasting rooms, art galleries, brewpubs and fine dining.
There's a good amount of agricultural wealth in the area, a private four-year college and the public community college, so there's no lack of locals to draw from during the leaner seasons.
It also has options for golfers, with the private Walla Walla Country Club, the links-style resort course at Wine Valley Golf Club and Veterans Memorial, the public course.
“Walla Walla is a wealthy community but it also has lots of middle-class people who can come out and play as well,” Repass said.
The city receives a great deal of sunny days and the climate allows for winter golf.
Repass and Early plan on teaming with Wine Valley head pro John Thorsnes to work on package golf deals for visitors.
They will use their experience in planning and promoting hundreds of golf events and savvy customer service to regrow the membership at Veterans Memorial.
Discounts are also planned for North Olympic Peninsula residents who stroll into the clubhouse wishing to play.
Changing of the guard
Repass let me know that Peninsula's Board of Directors has narrowed its search for a replacement and interviews will likely take place this week.
He believes the board will name a successor in early November.
“They [Peninsula] have some pretty qualified people who have applied. I expect a seamless transition,” Repass said.
He added that he knows everybody who is being interviewed and will be in close communication with the new hire.
“I'm just a phone call away at anytime” should any questions arise after he has departed, he said.
Repass wanted to assure those with credit in the golf shop that those funds will be transferred over and remain valid with the new pro.
“There will be no grease fire on Nov. 30 [his last day], and we won't be running the paper shredder,” Repass joked.
PT approval close
Early said that he is working with the city of Port Townsend on a transfer of the seven years left on his lease to current Port Townsend assistant pro Gabriel Tonan.
“Gabriel deserved the first shot at it; he wants it, I want it, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure it happens for him,” Early said.
Tonan is a Port Townsend native who has worked alongside Early for more than 15 years. He also serves as the Port Townsend High School Golf coach.
“The city is working hard on it, and we expect things to be approved soon,” Early added.
“PT Golf Club is in good financial shape and is positioned to do well under Gabriel for many years.”
Value their time here
Both pros praised their membership and the relationships they've been able to build during their time on the North Olympic Peninsula.
“This is my second home,” Repass said.
“They took me in and I became one of them, these are the guys I play cards with, watch football with, they are my friends.
“I'm so appreciative of the opportunity, and it was a privilege.”
Repass praised Peninsula Golf Shop staffer Sonny Carter in particular.
Carter has worked with Repass since 1999.
“He's like a brother to me and if I had the chance, I would stuff him in the trunk and take him to Walla Walla with me,” Repass said.
Early had similar sentiments on his 27 years in Port Townsend.
“When I first came [to Port Townsend in 1986], my intent was to stay four years, build this up, get it going and move along,” Early said.
“But I just fell in love withe area and our friends and acquaintances.
“There's such a broad base of people [in Port Townsend]. It's been fun and it's been a challenge.”
Send them off in style
I encourage the North Olympic Peninsula golfing community to get in touch with me with their memories of Chris Repass and Mike Early's time here on the North Olympic Peninsula
I'd like to run a column with some remembrances of their time here, some funny stories (remembering that we are a family newspaper) and well-wishes before they leave the Peninsula.
Readers can contact me through my contact info below.
Repass and Early have given a lot of themselves to the area and to the game of golf.
As someone who knows the lure a hometown can have on your heart, I understand their decision to move along and wish them the best of luck.
Golf columnist Michael Carman can be reached at 360-417-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.