Alaska ‘Last Frontier’ For USGA Championships
March 30, 2010
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. – And then there was one. Golf’s final frontier.
Or should we say “The Last Frontier.” That, after all, is the nickname given to our 49th state, Alaska.
The largest state in terms of land mass – it’s more than twice the size of Texas and features the longest coastline in the U.S. – also will be, by 2012, the only state to have never hosted a USGA championship.
Recent site announcements of Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, Utah (2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links), and the Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H. (2012 U.S. Junior Amateur), place Alaska in a category by itself.
“There is interest,” said Ron Read, the USGA’s director of regional affairs, West Region on Alaska hosting a national championship.
Of course, Alaska’s location makes for logistical and agronomical issues.
Consider that the golf season is the shortest of any U.S. state – May to the end of September – leaving a very small window of opportunity.
And with a dearth of championship-quality courses, the options for a USGA competition are slim.
Former USGA Green Section agronomist Matt Nelson wrote in an e-mail that “Weather is hugely iffy …The conditions would be a little more Spartan than most players would be used to.”
Larry Gilhuly, a Green Section agronomist based in the Pacific Northwest, said that August would be the only feasible month in which a national championship could be conducted. “July is too early and September too late,” he said.
Alaska hasn’t been totally shut out from the USGA experience. Local U.S. Open qualifiers are annually held there, as well as sectional qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Interestingly, the state doesn’t have a single private facility and some of the best courses are on military bases (Eagle Glen at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and Chena Bend at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks).
“Having played in several championships and currently a member of the U.S. Mid-Am [Championship] Committee, I know what a big job it would be,” said Greg Sanders, an Alaska resident, in an e-mail. “[It’s] not insurmountable though. In the past, we’ve talked about the APL as a good fit, especially since there are no private courses in the state. The Junior Amateur is interesting to me since that would mean a really cool trip to Alaska for parents and family.”
The last time the USGA ventured from the Lower 48 was the 1998 WAPL at Kapalua in Hawaii. Hawaii has hosted six USGA championships – four APLs and two WAPLs. The state has also produced a plethora of talented players, including recent USGA champions Michelle Wie, Kimberly Kim and Casey Watabu, as well as two-time USGA champion and Curtis Cup participant Lori Castillo.
Alaska can’t boast of any star golfers, but it has produced hockey standout Scott Gomez, NBA star Carlos Boozer and Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe.
Of course, should a USGA event ever come to Alaska, there’s one thing it can offer that no other state has in the summer: midnight sun.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.