The golf of Alaska

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2004

Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire.

My history with golf has only a handful of chapters, but it's getting to be a long and troubled history.

It started in 1991 with a road trip to Phoenix to visit my grandparents-in-law. They'd moved to one of those walled-off retirement tracts built around golf courses. After two days on the road with no air conditioning, we spent the first half-hour in the home being handed golf balls autographed by all the pros the grandparents had met while volunteering at tournaments. We smiled and nodded. We did not recognize a single name. I don't watch golf, televised or otherwise. Perhaps this explains what happened next.

The men separated from the women for a round of golf, my first. I don't know why that happened, and I wasn't eager to spend vacation time away from my wife. I quite liked her at the time. If the old guy sought high-quality play, he should've stuck with the girls. My first tee shot hooked left and hit a wind chime on one of his neighbors' patios. He forbade me to retrieve the ball, and hustled me along from hole to hole without letting me finish. It was not the most endearing introduction to a game.

Phoenix is as good an illustration as any about why I've looked askance at the game. At various points in my reporting career I've covered urban development or sprawl, transportation and natural resources including Western rivers. I once wrote a story about a Utah city so short of water that it sprayed its treated sewage on the golf course. This seemed appropriate to me. And Phoenix magnifies the issue. A decade ago I flew there and was stunned to look down on all the green golf courses way out in the desert with fenced-off lots waiting for homes and garages to be built around them. Golf, it seemed, would eat and drink the Southwest.

I understand those who neither get nor support golf, and on the few occasions I've done it I've felt like whispering about where I'm headed.

Then on Wednesday I couldn't resist the sun and joined a colleague in the Valley. I golfed, or tried, for one round, and knew I was in Alaska. The course is reached by dirt road. The hazards are not sand pits but muck holes. Some of the greens are like pitcher's mounds topped with crab grass. There's an outhouse, slightly smaller than the shack that I suppose you'd call the pro shop. You can see the glacier. There are no homes, no wind chimes. Where else can you come up behind a state legislator who doesn't know you, looking as if you're chopping wood instead of driving with one, and get invited into the group, just because? Where, indeed, would a state legislator wade through the weeds to find your ball?

And now my son tells me he's bought a set of clubs and is golfing with a chum in Idaho, and expects me to golf while he's in Juneau this summer. I need to practice or I'm going to get schooled.

Gov. Frank Murkowski at times muses about building a golf course - the posh kind, with 18 holes - on Douglas Island. The city is considering the plan. My boss, also, daydreams of such an addition, and might want to editorialize in support of the concept. I told him a few weeks ago that I might provide his swing vote on the editorial board if he'd back me in supporting more city money for Eaglecrest Ski Area. It's all about tradeoffs.

Blasphemy, you say? How could I support the felling of trees or filling of muskeg and building of a clubhouse for a manicured course where people might wear spikes on soft grass instead of boots or sneakers on a gravelly fairway? And what if it means supporting a colIars-only dress code? I don't know. We'll see. But I'm reminded of a forestry course I once took, in which anti-hunters started a class discussion about the barbarity of shooting trophy animals on a game farm. All I could add to the debate was that if game farms could keep the gentleman killers out of my hunting grounds, I was all for them.

I'll stick to where the chip shots actually chip the irons.

• Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire and can be reached at

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