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Keepers of the greens

Tom and Koggie File manage Juneau's lone golf course

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

Before there were flags, greens and fairways at Mendenhall Golf course, there was the Pederson Dairy, where, among lupine and waving grasses, Koggie File was born 68 years ago in the middle of haying season.

"My grandmother was not pleased with the timing," File said, laughing from a plastic lawn chair in the course's modest players' shack.

In 1987, Koggie and her husband, Tom, a retired state accountant, decided to turn the dairy land Koggie's grandparents settled in 1907 into a scenic, if rough-edged, nine-hole golf course.

"We had to do something with the land to pay the taxes on it," Tom File said. "My son suggested a golf course."

So one day, Tom, a tan, trim man now in his mid-70s, used a push mower to clip 10 acres.

"A woman called me and said, 'What is your husband doing?' " Koggie recalled. "We decided that if we were going to have a golf course, he had to get a riding mower, so we did. He mowed, and the golfers were right behind him."

Never mind the rough, wild grasses that cover the fairway, or the tide that floods the third green once or twice in the fall and spring. For many regular golfers who spend $8 plus tax to hit the links, Juneau's lone golf course holds a certain charm and challenge, the Files said. An occasional bear ambles across the driving range, deer nibble the greens, and, at the second hole, golfers drive straight toward the striated, aquamarine expanse of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Finding a lost ball in a field of wild iris or iron-colored marsh pond is also much harder than it looks.

"We felt Juneau has always been good to us, and opening up our private land for public use was really well received," Koggie File said.

Neither Koggie nor Tom ever has been much of a golfer, but over the years the Files have seen the game of golf change.

"When we first opened there were no women playing golf," Koggie File said. "And Tiger Woods, he's sure been a great thing for the young people."

Tom File said he isn't worried about competition from a proposed golf course on Douglas Island.

"I say more power to 'em. It's an expensive deal for Juneau to have a first-class golf course, so costly to build," Tom File said.

"We are a debt-free operation," Koggie chimed in. "And that's our choice."

On the Files' golf course no one may drink or curse. A sign posted near the driving range reads, "God loves you, no strings attached."

"That's the way we live," Koggie said. "We have a deep faith in God. I don't want to alter my beliefs or my lifestyle for business."

If the weather's good, Tom and Koggie might put in a 14-hour day at the course. Aside from the two of them, their employees are their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Along with endless mowing, picking up trash and fertilizing, at the end of every day, they have to pick up hundreds of balls from the driving range by hand with a ball shagger.

"Tom and I probably have the Guinness world record for picking up balls," Koggie said.

Tom sometimes wishes for a regular retirement spent at home.

"Retirement appeals to me. Talk about mowing grass. I mow here, but the mowing at home sometimes get neglected," he said, shaking his head.

"I like the stimulation and all the people we meet," Koggie said. "On a sunny day, people come here all dressed up. It's amazing what they wear."

The Files estimate there are between 500 and 700 golfers in Juneau. About 30 people golf regularly. The record lowest score on the par-3 course is 25. The Juneau Golf Club is the courses' biggest backer, Tom File explained. Members of the golf club routinely compete in tournaments Outside.

"It's satisfying to know people can start out here and not be intimidated just going out and trying the course," Tom File said. "'Course, I'd prefer they spent a little time at the driving range first."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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