I’m gonna guess one of the last things someone would associate with Alaska would be golf. I mean, with average high temps in the 60s and four months (sometimes less) of summer, it’s not really the calling card of the state. So it’s not surprising the biggest U.S. state has the fewest golf courses (8, to be exact).
What IS surprising is somehow, we ended up buying a cabin 1 mile from 1 of the 8 golf courses in the state. Healy’s Black Diamond Golf Course is public and opened in 1995. Not planned at all, but you bet your sweet zippy Justin is one happy camper.
Once we realized we’d be spending much of our summer up here in Alaska (thanks Covid), Justin decided he needed to play golf as much as he can.
First task: golf clubs. Justin’s golf clubs are in storage (of course). He spent months scouring local ads and hemming and hawing about different sets of used clubs. Everyone knows Justin has all the luck, and as fate would have it, someone posted an ad on Craigslist that he was giving away his golf clubs for FREE while we were in Fairbanks resupplying this past month. Our mantra is always: free is good enough for me. The verdict is, they are actually pretty awesome!
Next task: gathering golf balls. For a good few weeks in April and May, Justin and I took our daily walks around the perimeter of the golf course to search for stray balls among the melting snow. We were excited when we found about 14 golf balls. Then it became an obsession almost. By the time all the snow melted and the golf course opened on 5/22, we were up to 218 balls found!
Last task: become a member of Black Diamond. It made sense, and basically if he plays more than 7 times, he recoups his membership fee. Fancier courses garner higher price points—at Pebble Beach, the green fee is $575 and at Augusta National, the membership fee is $50,000 initially, with $10,000-$20,000 every year thereafter.
So Justin is one of 34 members (so far, as of opening day) and since the course’s opening on 5/22, he’s played 4 times (he tends to play twice in one day because the cart rentals are $7.50 FOR THE DAY for members). Plus, the course is only 9 holes, and most courses are 18 holes.
Throw out pretty much everything you typically expect about golfing, because Healy’s 9-hole course is perhaps the most casual place you can imagine. Here are some interesting features:
*No collared shirt required. Blue jeans and tees are more the norm.
*No need to schedule a tee time. There’s not much competition for time on the course, and there’s seldom a backjam of players waiting at holes. A far cry from Augusta National Golf Club or Cypress Point (Pebble Beach)! (To be fair, tourists do play at Black Diamond, so during the height of the tourist season, it may be “crowded.” But obviously not this year).
*If you really want to avoid “crowds,” go play at night. Remember, we have nearly 24 hours of daylight, and this course has no hours for members.
*The average yardage at a golf course is 7,300 yards. Being that there are no par 5s (just 3s and 4s), it is 5,545 yards from the black Ts. And to top it off, the 6th hole (par 3) is still completely under water from all the snowmelt.
*There’s no starter, no bunkers, no ball washers (lots of puddles you could use), no sand on the golf carts to replace divots, no drink cart going around the course, no varying levels of grass (the fairway rolls basically into the greens, with no fringe levels around the greens).
Besides the surrounding landscape being dripped with richness, including Otto Lake, green alpine tundra slopes and sharp peaks protruding above timberline, there are atypical distractions and quirky hazards.
Wildlife is extremely common on Black Diamond course. If it isn’t the beast itself, there’s fairways stamped with moose prints and poop.
Anyone who has walked on tundra knows how soggy and squishy it is. Essentially, it’s moss & lichen that covers the permafrost soil underneath.
Which brings the next hazard: mosquitoes. They have a rep in Alaska for creating a red lattice pattern on any bare skin. Luckily the first few days of golf have been breezy to keep them away.
And so, that’s our arctic adventure right now. Justin is on fire with his game. He was on the golf team for a couple years in high school and in college. But during the past 25 years, he’s only been playing intermittently (like 1-2 times a year with his dad). Who knew Alaska would reintroduce him to his game?