The 416 Fire has affected Durango and the surrounding area for more than a week, but the raging forest fire north of town won’t stop the 57th installment of the Navajo Trail Open golf tournament this weekend despite San Juan Basin Public Health issuing an air quality health advisory because of conditions rated as hazardous.
Despite air levels reaching the lowest point on the air-quality index, the tournament will go on as scheduled Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Durango’s Hillcrest Golf Club. A pro-am will be played Thursday before the three-round tournament that will feature a professional field and five amateur flights.
“We’re going to go as planned with what we’ve always done in the past,” Hillcrest Golf Club’s head professional John Vickers said. “We realize that it’s an issue, but we do not have enough time in the day to push the tee times back and complete the rounds for all the participants. So, we’re going to have to play in the morning, all three mornings.”
The air quality advisory stated people should, “Consider limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present.” And that if visibility reaches less than five miles, “smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.” Even when skies aren’t hazy, time spent outside should be limited, according to the advisory.
Dense smoke from the fire has settled in Durango each night and has blanketed the town in the morning hours. The smoky conditions in the morning will affect the players, but Vickers said Hillcrest won’t change plans because of the fire.
“There’s not much we can do; it’s probably more of a nuisance than anything else,” he said. “You get a bit of an odor in the morning ... but some time around 11, 11:30 or 12 o’clock, the breeze pushes (the smoke) back out of here.”
In an effort to make it a level playing field for the golfers concerning the smoke, tee times on Friday and Saturday will alternate, meaning players who hit the course in the morning wave of tee times Friday will play in the afternoon Saturday, and vice versa. Tee times for Sunday’s final round will be determined after the second round Saturday.
During Friday’s first round, amateur players will get started with tee times beginning at 7 a.m. – when smoke in Durango is so thick it is difficult to breathe – while the professional field will tee off No. 1 beginning at 12:30 p.m. On Saturday, the pros will tee off from No. 10 beginning at 7:24 a.m.
This year’s tournament will feature about 200 golfers in total, with 40 professionals registered for the pro tournament. Last year’s tournament had a similar number of players, with 39 professionals and about 180 amateurs.
Vickers said Hillcrest has received some calls from players inquiring about the impact the fire and smoke will have on the tournament.
“We’ve had a few people call to check and make sure the tournament is a go, which it is,” Vickers said.
“Setting aside the concerns the community has for what’s going on, we’re just going to try to have a great NTO with all the people who come into town to participate.”