Alaska Trip 2013: Review & Awards

Well, I survived my trip to Alaska without a bear attack. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any encounters at all with the famed wildlife of America’s 49th state. I was so disappointed, I had to go to the zoo in the morning before my flight just to see a dang moose!

Beyond that, everything went exceedingly well. I was able to get in all the golf I wanted to, see a few local sights and even get a few hours of sleep here and there despite 24 hours of light.

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LEGEND (in order of courses played):

A: Moose Run Golf Course (Creek and Hill Courses)

B: Anchorage Golf Course

C: Settlers Bay Golf Course

D: Palmer Golf Course

E: Chena Bend Golf Course

F: North Star Golf Club

G: Eagleglen Golf Course

And now, onto the awards…

“MOST SCENIC COURSE”

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1. Palmer GC

2. Anchorage GC

3. Settlers Bay

Reluctantly, I have to back up this course’s claim to be “the most scenic course in Alaska.” Don’t confuse that with the best course or even that good a course as the layout is flat, dusty and not that exciting. It was greener than expected. That paired with sunny skies and the magnificent ring of mountains that surrounds the course resulted in some of the best on-course photos I took during the trip. Unobstructed 360-degree views throughout. Anchorage and Settlers Bay are also very scenic courses with some good changes in elevation. Ironically, the best view on both courses is above the driving ranges and not on the course itself! Moose Run’s Creek Course would earn a solid fourth on this list, so I want to give it an honorable mention here.

“MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE”

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1. Settlers Bay

2. Anchorage GC

3. Palmer GC

Settlers Bay is the course I knew least about heading into the trip, but it turned out to be one of the best courses. After talking with locals, it seems it is generally the best conditioned and the front nine layout is beautiful and fun. The back nine is less interesting, but still solid. I had a feeling I might like Anchorage Golf Course heading in, but the layout was even more dynamic, scenic, challenging and fun than I expected. I thought Palmer was going to be one of the least enjoyable courses, but though the layout isn’t anything that interesting, the scenery is awesome and the conditions from tee to green were better than anticipated. I thought this was just going to be more dirt/hardpan than grass and it wasn’t. That said, the surface underneath was very dusty and the greens were quite bad.

“BEST VALUE”

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1. Settlers Bay

2. Chena Bend

3. Moose Run (Hill Course)

Settlers Bay also wins this category. Courses were surprisingly expensive in Alaska given the quality of conditioning. I guess not much different than the munis around here in SoCal. I’m sure the prices are a little more so the courses can be profitable during such a short season that takes a lot of maintenance work just to make them playable at all after harsh winder seasons. But for under $50 with cart, Settlers Bay was a good deal considering it has a nice layout and better conditioning than the rest. Chena Bend was also a decent deal. Even for a civilian like me, it was $47 with cart. The Hill Course at Moose Run gets onto this list by default because it was only $15 as a replay rate after playing the Creek Course earlier in the day (which was $63).

“MOST DISAPPOINTING”

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1. Moose Run (Creek Course)

2. Chena Bend

3. North Star

Always a tough category because I don’t like to dwell too much on the negatives, but I’ll give this one to Moose Run. I went in thinking this was probably the best course I’d play all week and it wasn’t. The course suffered some significant storm damage and was still playing on a few temporary greens. Even the open greens were terrible. The layout is very good and it has some nice scenery, but I was still hoping for a little more. It was the first course I played, so it also tempered my expectations more for the rest of the trip. Chena Bend is a solid course, but I’d only recommend it if you are already in Fairbanks. Otherwise, it doesn’t outshine any of the Anchorage courses and isn’t worth a 6-hour drive to include it unless you are a nut like me determined to play them all. I had low expectations for North Star heading in. The layout could be decent, but the conditions are too rough. Less about grass growing in and more about smoothing out the surfaces a bit for better contour and more consistent lies. Not an easy task in such a difficult seasonal environment in Fairbanks.

“BEST CONDITIONED”

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1. Settlers Bay

2. Eagleglen

3. Palmer GC

No contest here. Settlers Bay had pretty nice greens (most important) and pretty consistent fairways/rough throughout. Plenty of bad areas, too, but much better all around than the rest of the courses. Eagleglen is looking and playing pretty good despite all the storm damage they are still recovering from. A little rough around the edges, but the greens are puttable and fairways/rough decent. I probably shouldn’t have a third place on this one, but Palmer was probably the best of the worst despite sandy greens and dusty turf. Overall grass coverage greener and lusher than expected, though.

“MOST FUN LAYOUT”

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1. Anchorage GC

2. Settlers Bay

3. Eagleglen

Anchorage was my favorite layout on the trip. Very hilly with a lot of mounding, contour and changes in elevation to create a great mix of holes and force a variety of strategic shots. Settlers Bay was a nice course overall, especially the front nine. Eagleglen is a very good layout and has a little extra pedigree as an RTJ Jr. design. Some of the par-3s are a bit bland and a few boring par-4s, too, so I can’t put it at the top.

“MOST CHALLENGING”

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1. Anchorage GC

2. Moose Run (Creek Course)

3. Eagleglen

Anchorage has the most variety in terms of layout without too many flat lies on the course. There are some narrow holes and some a bit more wide open, but you will use every club in the bag. Also, there are some really crazy green complexes here, made even tougher by the poor putting surfaces. Moose Run and Eagleglen are comparable in terms of challenge (I’d throw Chena Bend right in there, as well), but Moose Run offers a little more diversity and forces some more difficult shot angles.

“MY FAVORITE OVERALL”

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1. Anchorage GC

2. Settlers Bay

3. Eagleglen

4. Moose Run (Creek Course)

5. Chena Bend

I apologize, because this one is a bit complicated.

When I wrote my final review on the last night of the trip and Eagleglen was fresh in my mind, I made note that it may have been the best overall course on the trip. Now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I am balking on that statement. I think it might average out as one of the best when you factor in current conditions, overall layout, challenge and scenery, but as you can see it tops none of those categories here. In retrospect after looking at how I ranked all the categories, the obvious overall “winner” on this particular trip was probably Settlers Bay.

However, remember this category is titled “favorite” and not “best.” So when I think about my trip to Alaska, the course I will remember most for a variety of reasons is actually Anchorage Golf Course. It was my favorite layout of the bunch. If the greens weren’t currently in such rough shape, it would be a clearer winner. Still, the layout, scenery and setting (along with the personal experience as my first midnight golf round) left the most positive impression on me. Ultimately, it’s a sentimental pick over the logical choice.

If all things were equal in terms of conditioning, Anchorage would blow away the field in my opinion, but it narrowly edges out Settlers Bay on this final list. If Settlers’ back nine was a little more interesting, it might be the winner because the conditioning was very good and the front nine layout was great. Then, you have Eagleglen representing strong overall in every category. Lastly, Moose Run and Chena Bend are enjoyable layouts and I would surely recommend either if in those areas. I kind of knocked Moose Run around a bit earlier in the article, but it’s still one of the best layouts. Once the greens come in better (and if they are ever able to rebuild the bridge that was washed out), it will present itself as one of the better options in the state.

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