The overcast skies and light rain we encountered on our first day in Alaska broke for my round of golf on Tuesday. My destination was the Eaglegen Golf Course located on the Elmendorf Air Force base in Anchorage. The Robert Trent Jones designed course opened in 1971. I was surprised to be in the first group of the day with a tee time of 9:37 AM. The late starting time provided extra time for the grounds crew to aerate and top-dress the greens. The conditions made for difficult putting conditions, so the pro shop reduced the greens fee to the twilight rate for anyone willing to play. The crew top-dressing the greens looked like an advertisement for John Deere.
The grounds crew working on JD equipment
Location: Anchorage, AK
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #1
Date: 31 Jul, tee off at 9:36 AM
Conditions: sunny, calm winds, 58 degrees
Lost balls: 1
Lost balls: 1
Score: 82 on a par 72
My playing partners were from very diverse backgrounds. Chris is a FedX pilot who was looking for something to occupy his time in between flights. At the conclusion of our round, he took off in a hurry saying that he “had to fly” (which was literally correct with a 3:45 PM wheels up return flight to Memphis, Tennessee). He is married with five children ranging in age from 18 to 30 years old. Chris was a former Air Force pilot with cockpit time in both tanker planes and AWACS.
The 2nd member of the group was Mike. He has been providing systems support to the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company for the past 20-years. He tested my knowledge of South American geography: Guyana is a small country to the east of Venezuela and north of Brazil. He provides technical support over the internet, enabling him to live in Anchorage during the summer and Mexico during the winter. Mike previously worked as a dive instructor in the Caribbean. He met his wife in St. Thomas where she was working as a lawyer. They have lived in St. Thomas, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands and San Diego prior to her retirement. She owns a vacation rental property in Akumal, a town near Playa del Carma where they reside in Mexico. They do not have any children.
The 3rd member was Kevin, who retired as a photo-journalist from the Air Force after a 21-year career. Kevin was also married with no children. His wife is a lawyer who works on regulatory issues for the Alaska pipeline.
Mike, Kevin, & Chris
After we checked in, the starter made it clear that we could walk onto the tee box but would not be allowed to tee off prior to our 9:37 AM tee time. I guess that is the rigor you might expect from a course located on a military base. Although I did not see any young recruits cleaning the latrines with tooth brushes the sight and sound of numerous low-flying F-15 jets were an obvious sign that we were on an Air Force base. The base also posted rules for the players to follow, several of which caught my eye. This was the first course I have played where a warning about bear encounters was in order. Bear sightings are quite common, although we did not see any during our round. Sightings of moose, fox and wolves also occur. The fox have been driven off by the presence wolves. The absence of fox is a good thing for the golfers based upon a picture for sale in the pro shop featuring a fox running away with a golf ball in it’s mouth. The incident occurred on the course; apparently the fox thought he had an egg to eat (hard boiled!).
The starter's station at the first tee
If you could hit a straight ball down the fairway Eagleglen was not a difficult course to play. I avoided the trees all day long with only one tee shot finding the rough. I also managed to avoid sand traps, until hole #12 when my 70-yard approach shot from the fairway fell short.
308-yard par 4 hole #12 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway)
The boys I was playing with thought I hit long tee shots (not the case - some of you can stop laughing now!). The course played 6,024 yards from the 2nd set of tees so I had little trouble reaching the greens by comparison to their games. The short distance worked against me on hole #14; my tee shot rolled far enough into the right hand corner of the fairway where trees blocked an approach shot to the green. Kevin’s approach shot on the same hole landed on a gravel sand bar in the middle of the stream. I tried to convince him to take his shoes off and wade out to hit it. He declined my advice. I learned later that the fast flowing water had claimed the life of a man who tried to kayak down the stream. His body was never found. Kevin was a smart man to not listen to me!
483-yard par 5 hole #5
401-yard par 4 hole #7
356-yard par 4 hole #14 (showing the sand bar in the middle of the stream)
Eagleglen saved the best for last with two great finishing holes. Hole #17 required a straight shot over the stream and through the trees. I bogeyed the hole after landing on the green but 3-putting the freshly top-dressed green. The dog-leg left hole #18 required a good tee shot with a lay-up shot to the front edge of the stream before an approach shot to the green. My shots all hit their marks to finish with a par on the hole.
157-yard par 3 hole #17
455-yard par 5 hole #18
View of lay-up shot on hole #18
View from hole #18 green looking back up the fairway
Julie took trolley tour of Anchorage while I was playing golf. The tour highlighted several interesting aspects of Alaska. With last winter depositing twice their annual 70” snowfall, parking lots in downtown Anchorage still have piles of last winter’s snow melting away. In a state that carries the highest male/female ratio in the nation, the female tour guide also pointed out the obvious fact with an interesting twist: “when it comes to finding a husband in Alaska, a woman’s odds are good, but the goods are odd”.
The trolley tour also made me aware of a challenging Alaskan golf tournament that is not widely publicized in the lower 48 states: the Pillar Mountain Golf Classic. It is said that even Tiger Woods would have a difficult time on the par-70 one-hole course. Players must climb 1,400 feet to hole-out into a five-gallon bucket situated in green-dyed snow at the top of the mountain.
Playing through ice, snow, brush and often miserable weather conditions, the tournament is not for the faint of heart. ''We really emphasize warm gear and appropriate footwear,'' said Micky Crawford, tournament organizer. ''We don't need any cases of hypothermia.''
Each player has a caddie and a spotter. This is a critical job in the harsh terrain of Pillar Mountain. Often armed with shovels, saws and hatchets, the helpers locate errant balls and give golfers playable shots if possible. No power tools are allowed and PGA rules apply with certain additions, such as a five-stroke penalty for waking up slumbering bears.
The event, which began as a bar bet between two off-season fishermen, turned into a fund raiser for local charities, including the hypothermia unit at Providence Hospital in Anchorage.