Days 1.5 & 2 in Alaska: Fun Under the Midnight Sun

Even though there are probably more interesting things I could be doing tonight in Fairbanks (it is the Summer Solstice after all), I really want to catch up a little bit on the blog posts for my friends back home who have been following here and on Facebook/Twitter all week. Thanks, everyone!

I filled you in on my first day in Alaska at Moose Run, but that wasn’t the only golf I played that day. After a little rest in my room, I headed back out for a late night round to fulfill my desire to play some midnight golf (one of my personal golf “bucket list” experiences).

Anchorage Golf Course • Anchorage, AK • 6/19/13

This course is just a bit southeast of downtown Anchorage and set in a nice area up in the hills. I got there a little after 8:00, which is usually when we’re finishing evening rounds in Southern California. I was able to get right out for $44 (which included a rental pull cart as I wanted to walk this particular round). I was in no rush playing by myself, but it’s hard for me to play at a slow pace. However, I milked it as much as I could and luckily caught up to a really slow group of guys who slowed me down plenty on the front.

Unfortunately, they left after 9 holes and I was trying to take as much time as possible on the back nine to make it to at least midnight. My goal was still to be playing golf after 12:00. I didn’t care if it was my last putt of the night, but that was the basic goal and I was able to make it. What made it tough is the mosquitoes were crazy on that course and any time I stood still or sat down for a few minutes to kill time, they would swarm! Small price to pay.

I finished out the 18th hole just after midnight, but hung around a few minutes more to snap some pictures up by the clubhouse. What’s funny here is that the best view on the entire course is from the putting green. It overlooks the large driving range, but more importantly downtown Anchorage in the distance. At midnight, the city was aglow with some great clouds and a dusky pink hue.

The course itself was a great layout and had a nice “mountain” feel, which you know I love. There aren’t any major elevation changes, but there are plenty of ups, downs and doglegs to create some fantastic contour. The front nine especially doesn’t have many flat lies as a lot of mounding surrounds the edges of the fairways and protects the greens.

The back nine flattens out some and plays in a marshy area (mosquitoes!!!), but is still fun. It plays a little longer than the front with a couple of really long and tight par-5s in the mix.

Though the best views are from the clubhouse area, the rest of the course has a very scenic quality aided by the hills and contours of the layout. It’s definitely my type of course.

The conditions were pretty similar to those at Moose Run. Pretty crappy greens and fairways that were inconsistent with patches of grass still coming in this early in the season. I won’t dwell on this.

I really enjoyed the scenery and layout of Anchorage Golf Course, and the experience of playing on the course under natural light until after midnight was surreal. It’s another one to cross off the bucket list!

Some pictures from Anchorage Golf Course (6/19/13):

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The driving range view after midnight:

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Day 2 in Alaska took me northward to play a couple of courses even more “out of the way.”

Settlers Bay Golf Course • Wasilla, AK • 6/20/13

Wasilla is about 45 minutes north of Anchorage and is situated in the stunning Mat-Su Valley, which blows away Anchorage in terms of scenery. The area is surrounded by huge mountains and waterfront areas. It’s a real beautiful place.

Settlers Bay Golf Course isn’t down by the waterfront (nothing really is right on the water as the area is all tidal marshes, fjords, or whatever you want to call that kind of landscape here). It continues the interesting trend started by Anchorage Golf Course of having the most beautiful views overlooking the driving range.

And like Anchorage, the scenery and layout of the front nine at Settlers Bay far outshines the back nine. It plays along a hillside with some nice uphill and downhill holes and a good mix of designs. There are plenty of trees in play, but for the most part the course is pretty forgiving.

The back nine opens up with a flatter layout, but there are a few memorable holes, especially the 18th. This is a long par-4 that plays uphill all the way and is capped with a great view when you are standing on the green. It’s a similar view to that above the driving range, but slightly more obscured by a cathedral of trees surrounding the green. It’s still a nice way to finish even if the rest of the back nine fails to “wow” you at any point.

Of all the courses I’ve played to this point, Settlers Bay was in the best shape. It still has a ways to go, but it’s much more consistent than the others. The greens are relatively nice and it was refreshing to be able to play putts somewhat normally again. Still bumpy, but definitely better than what I’ve gotten used to here. The fairways and rough had more definition and lies were more consistent. In talking with locals, it seems this is the course that is generally the best conditioned, so I’ll have to back that up (though it’s a relative statement).

Settlers Bay was a nice treat. It’s the course I knew least about because it seemed to be overlooked on some of the state ranking lists I researched before the trip. I’m not sure why because it deserves to be at or near the top of the list, if you ask me.

The round was relatively slow. I was paired with another single and we were in the middle of the pack in the late morning “busy time,” but it was a reasonable pace at a little over four hours. The price was $46 to ride, which was a nice deal for a quality course.

Some pictures from Settlers Bay Golf Course (6/20/13):

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And the driving range view:

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The last course for this leg of the trip offered me another late evening round…

Palmer Golf Course • Palmer, AK • 6/20/13

I know what you are thinking, but no, Arnold Palmer has nothing to do with this course. It’s simply named for the small town in which it resides. Palmer seems like a blue collar farm town. It’s a very unique setting with a lot of flat land in the valley, but then it’s surrounded by a ring of some truly spectacular mountain ranges. This course offers unobstructed views all the way around.

I had signed up for a Midnight Sun tournament here. Most every course in Alaska has their annual solstice outing this time of year. It seems they all pick different days so you could potentially play in one of these types of events every night over the course of this week. It didn’t quite work out for me that way, but it worked out here. It was a little awkward as the format was a two-man scramble and as the outsider from California, I wasn’t sure what to expect when they paired me up with somebody else.

My partner, Randy, turned out to be a great guy. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously and we had fun with the format.

The cost was regular greens fees (which I think were $36 with a cart), along with a $40 tournament entry fee (which included two mulligans). It’s more than I wanted to pay because I really wasn’t that interested in the tournament competition. I just thought it would be a fun way to experience the course.

Palmer Golf Course bills itself as “Alaska’s Most Scenic Course.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it might be. The course itself is nothing too memorable, but the surrounding mountain views are pretty awe-inspiring as you work your away around the course. And, of course, the driving range has one of the best views there!

The layout is very flat and wide open with a pretty simplified links design. There are some tricky holes and local knowledge does help a few times, but it’s mostly pretty forgiving. There are a few tight holes with trees in play, as well. However, the course is wide open for the most part. Because of the design, the layout is a bit longer to provide some added challenge. It is known to get very windy here, as well, so that can ramp up the difficulty if it’s blowing hard. It wasn’t too bad last night.

The most interesting thing about Palmer Golf Course is also the most annoying, and that is the dustiness. The course sits alongside the Matanuska River, which produces a lot of silt that makes up the foundation of the course. It’s a very fine gray powder that’s unavoidable. Golf carts kick up a lot of dust and you will pretty much be covered with it by the end of the round. On fairway shots, you get what I’m dubbing the “Palmer Poof” as a soft puff of dust explodes gently underneath your ball upon impact. All part of the fun!

Beyond the dustiness, the fairways and rough had pretty decent grass coverage. Some areas were nice and lush. Either way, we were playing “lift, clean and place” rules with a scramble format, so it was always easy to find a good lie near your ball. The greens were pretty brutal. Very sandy and bumpy, making it hard to read putts as a team. Both players could hit the same line and get a different result, so a bit of luck was involved on the greens.

Still, I had fun out there and it was a more enjoyable way to experience the course by making some new friends and playing an evening round. Though they called it the “Midnight Sun” tournament, play started at 6:00 as a shotgun, so we were all done by 10:30. There was a little free food and drink afterward and it was fun to interact with many of the regulars there. They were a very nice and welcoming crowd that made me feel like part of the gang.

Some pictures from Palmer Golf Course (6/20/13):

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Another great driving range view:

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Day 1: Moose Run Golf Course (Creek & Hill Courses)

Days 3 & 4: Chena Bend, North Star and Eagleglen

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