Why oppose wholesome activity like golfing?

Posted: Wednesday, December 08, 2004


The Alaska Observer

I couldn't be more pleased that the West Douglas Golf Course project is ready to move ahead. I raise my driver in salute to Totem Creek, the nonprofit business entity whose patience and perseverance deserve the credit for this project's promising future. I only wish other worthy local development projects (the road and performing arts center) were poised to succeed as much as the golf course now is.

There are many reasons to be excited about the golf course. The first of these may result in my being called selfish, but I've been called worse: I am a golfer. I'm not very good, but I love to play, and I make my way around quickly enough so as not to hold up the players behind me. I've played since I was a boy, when my father taught me. These are some of my best memories and the last time I played here in Juneau was last Father's Day with my dad. He's in Africa now, and I'm sure we'll play when I visit him there.

On to my next point - the current golf course. It is wonderful that Tom and Koggie File have worked selflessly to provide Juneau with the Mendenhall Golf Course. Given a glacial slough, they've shaped a course that provides respite for those seeking to play golf in the capital city. I must confess, after playing there last June (on one of those 80-degree days) I took my clubs to Anchorage, to have on hand for the rest of the summer. My job had me traveling back and forth all this past year, and it just made more sense to me to have them where I was likely to play more. And I did. I hit the links several times, even getting out to Palmer to play on its two courses.

Did you know that Palmer has two golf courses? Wasilla has the world-class Settler's Bay Golf Course, which began as a nine-hole with a few long holes, and then added its amazing back nine. The military bases in Anchorage each have nice, full courses (Eagleglen at Elmendorf and Moose Run at Fort Richardson). If fact, Moose Run was rebuilt as an entirely new 18-hole course a few years ago, on land adjacent to the old course. There are several courses on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Interior, and there's even one in Juneau's neighbor to the south, Wrangell. Muskeg Meadows was the first regulations course in Southeast. Many Alaskan courses were built with public support, but in Juneau we've waited for a private non profit to step up to tee and see how far the project could be driven. We're not on the green yet, but I'm excited to know we're headed straight down the fairway.

What concerns me is the organized opposition to this project. I have a hard time seeing how anyone could want to deny a wholesome recreational opportunity to Juneau residents. I have heard the argument that the Douglas Golf Course will be for only tourists, but that's nonsense. Many Juneau residents (a lot of them old-timers) play and have a formal organization - I guess I should join. There are more than 300 members of the Juneau Golf Club, and they even have a stretch of adopted highway.

The golf course in Palmer, where I was at high school, was built by the city, and continues to be as a municipal entity. Anchorage Golf Course and Russian Jack Springs both originated as local government projects, and the latter remains one to this day. There is a long history of governmental assistance in getting such recreational facilities up and running in Alaska. But in Juneau the Juneau Golf Club and Totem Development are getting the job done primarily on their own. They have a long-term lease, with an option to buy land to build housing, but the deal has a timeframe that will speed play. There is no giveaway of public assets, and potential returns to the community - greatly enhanced recreational opportunities, more housing to meet skyrocketing demand - will yield a net benefit to Juneau and those of us who live here.

I suspect that opposition to the golf course is borne out of fear of any change, which I find irrational. I hope that in the not-too-distant future I can see my neighbors and friends enjoying golf in the beautiful environs of Douglas Island, and perhaps some who have never tried this game will give it a chance. Trust me, if I'm teeing off in front of you, you won't look bad by comparison.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Juneau.

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