Warning ... it's a good day for golf

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2010

Before falling asleep Monday night - the night before my first-ever round of golf in the city of Juneau - I decided to check the weather for Tuesday.

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Joel Irwin / Juneau Empire
Joel Irwin / Juneau Empire

My heart sank when I noticed the "severe weather warning" icon blinking in the bottom corner of my iPhone screen. It read, "Warning: heat wave expected across Alaska's panhandle. Temperatures expected to reach 76 degrees." I couldn't help but laugh. That's a warning?

In other words, "Warning: tomorrow is a perfect day for golf." The so-called "warning" couldn't have been more accurate.

As most Juneauites know, when the sun is out like it was Tuesday, it's a necessity to get outside and enjoy it. And on this day, the Mendenhall Golf Course was the place to be. It's native-grass fairways and creeping bentgrass greens were in perfect condition on a day without a cloud in the sky.

It had been a full year since I'd even hit a golf ball, and I made it a point to get a tee time with three friends who happened to be in the same boat, or at least close to it.

The round started out, as most do, with one member of the foursome "shotgunning" a Red Bull energy drink. Whether or not it was on purpose is neither here nor there, what's important here is that somebody actually "shotgunned" a Red Bull. Wikipedia it if you're unaware of the term "shotgun" when referring to a method of imbibing canned beverage. With that kind of increase in blood pressure and heart rate, this individual was clearly the new favorite as we walked to the first tee.

As the writer of this piece, the others decided it would be best if I took the honor of going first. As I stepped up to the first tee box of the 9-hole par 3 course, I took in my surroundings. With the Mendenhall Glacier in the background, mountains surrounding the course and wildflowers lining the fairways, I couldn't help but be inspired. But I knew this would not go well for me.

I stepped up to the first tee. All eyes were on me.

"Here we go," I told myself. "Show 'em how it's done."

The wind was in my face, so I took a mighty rip with my eight iron to make sure the ball reached the green.

But the wind had no effect on my ball because it never made it but two inches off the ground, and that "worm burner" was scorched straight into the knee-high marsh grass rough. I decided my first shot was the ball's fault, and to punish it, I just left it there so it could never torture another soul again, or at least mine.

But after a double bogey on the first hole, I realized I had forgotten something.

Golf is, without a doubt, the most frustrating game on the planet, perhaps with the exception of Tlachtli, a sport played by the Aztecs which often resulted in the winners being sacrificed to the gods. I'll stick with golf.

Ah, but how much fun it is. Whether it's the rarely occurring feeling of hitting the ball perfectly, the camaraderie between those playing, or the constant, hilarious and mostly sophomoric golf innuendos (in-your-end-os) and "That's what she said" references, a round with some friends certainly lends itself to a good time.

But, it's almost always an adventure, especially with our group. At one point, one member of the foursome hit a drive straight down the fairway on the fourth hole. The only problem was he hit from the third tee box. Still, another person in our posse hit a drive from the fourth tee box that carried all the way to the seventh tee, a good 30 yards past the fourth green.

Myself, I spent more time in the rough than a landscaper, and despite everyone finding their stroke with a couple of holes left, not one of us managed better than 12-over par.

But still, there are few ways to better spend a sunny day in Juneau, and still fewer ways to better spend $12.

The course, situated on the former Pederson dairy, was designed and built by Juneau's Tom File as a retirement project, and opened in 1986. It's fairways and greens, while different than most you'll find outside of Juneau, certainly offer a challenge unique to Alaska's capital city, something we proved without a doubt Tuesday.

But this course, more than anything else, gives golfers a great chance to accomplish a once-in-a-lifetime feat: the hole in one.

Many of the greens, while small, elevated and difficult to hit, feature sloping angles that funnel the ball toward the cup if placed right. There have been at least 32 aces in the past 15 years at the Mendenhall course, eight of which came on the seventh hole.

With the dog days of August upon us and around a month left before Juneau's weather heads south for the fall, I know I'll soon be back out there again looking for my first-ever hole in one. Whether or not I even get close remains to be seen, but I know the possibility is there.

I'll just have to keep my eye out for the next "severe weather warning."

• Contact reporter Matthew Tynan at matthew.tynan@juneauempire.com.

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