Eagles, wildflowers, a glacier, towering mountains and the occasional bear are elements that can enhance any outdoor experience. These same elements provide a unique atmosphere and majestic touch to the golf courses of Southeast Alaska for locals and visitors alike.
Although not as prevalent as many of the recreational opportunities in the region, numerous Alaskans have worked tirelessly over the last couple of decades to provide golf enthusiasts and absolute beginners with the proper facilities to improve their game and enjoy the sport.
Mendenhall Golf in Juneau, Mt. Fairweather Golf Course in Gustavus, Muskeg Meadows in Wrangell, and Weeping Trout Sports Resort outside of Haines are the only nine-hole courses in Southeast, each having unique qualities that draw the curious and the committed every season. Several other communities in Southeast, including Sitka and Ketchikan, are working on developing a variety of golfing facilities.
"You got all sorts of things going on that is competition for a golf course," said Tom File, who owns Mendenhall Golf with his wife, Koggie. File said they have a steady clientele of locals and the occasional tourists off the cruise ships.
The Files built the nine-hole course in 1987 on dairy land that Koggie's grandparents had settled in 1907 at the bottom of what is now Industrial Boulevard. In spring and early summer golfers drive down fairways through wildflowers with the Mendenhall Glacier looming in the background.
"It's got a fabulous view, and the scenery at the different times of the year, with the flowers, it looks pretty nice," said File.
Golfing in Gustavus also provides breathtaking views. The panoramic view consists of the course's namesake, 15,320-foot Mount Fairweather, and the Chilkat Range.
"We see eagles, you'll see moose, an occasional bear. You see a lot of hawks and owls," said owner Morgan DeBoer, who opened the 2,900 yard par 36 course in 1998.
"It's just becoming more and more a popular sport and I'm thrilled to be a part of it," he said. "People, both locals and visitors, are quite thrilled that we took this area and turned it into a golf course instead of a subdivision."
DeBoer's family has owned the land for decades and instead of building a subdivision and reaping the financial rewards of the land, which is across from the town dock, he decided to make something locals and visitors could enjoy.
"It's just really thrilling that we're participating in a project that not only preserves this beautiful beach land but it also adds to the overall economy of Gustavus and adds to the overall recreation," said DeBoer.
Another aspect of the Mount Fairweather Golf Course that makes it pure Alaskan is the "clubhouse" is an open-air, covered shack that has a row of rental clubs, individual packets of balls and tees, and a coffee can as a makeshift cash register for green fees.
"We have a complete honor system that allows the patron to check themselves in and through," said DeBoer. "Everybody seems to abide by it and it's just a wonderful system that we appreciate and people appreciate being trusted and it works out really well."
The most remote golf course in Southeast is the Weeping Trout Sports Resort off of Chilkat Lake. After a 26-mile drive out of Haines, followed by another five miles on a spare road, visitors of the resort must then take a jet boat up the Tsirku River and then switch to a prop-boat on Chilkat Lake before they can get settled into golf.
"The acres that we golf is one of the jewels of Alaska, is the jewel of Alaska," said Debra Schnabel, who owns the resort with her husband, Greg Brask. "It's an extraordinary atmosphere."
Schnabel said the course was started in 1985 by their family as a weekend project. She said they later acquired additional property in 1989 and now the nine-hole par-28 course covers approximately 15 acres. The resort does not cater solely to golfers, it also provides them with intermittent breaks for fishing.
"We don't have a lot of golfers, but those who golf, golf a lot," said Schnabel.
The more advanced golfers visiting or living in Southeast might enjoy Muskeg Meadows in Wrangell, the only United States Golf Association rated course in the region. The 2,950-yard nine-hole course began construction in 1995 as a group effort between local industry, city government and individuals.
"It's just getting better and better every year with more tournaments and sponsors," said Glynn Landmesser, manager of the pro shop. "So we're coming up in the world anyway, a little bit at a time."
Muskeg Meadows also recognizes a very Alaskan rule, which they have dubbed the "Raven Rule."
"They put up this Raven Rule, that if the raven comes down and takes your ball you have to have a witness and it doesn't count as a stroke," said Landmesser, who added that the rule has morphed into a T-shirt that is available at the pro shop. "It's not your fault if the raven takes your ball."
Landmesser said conditions are not always ideal for golfing in Southeast Alaska, but she said that's not going to stop the average nine-iron wielding zealot.
"You know that golf in not a sport, it's a passion, it's an addiction," she said. "It doesn't matter if you golf good or bad, once your there its got you and you'll always come back for more."
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