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Mendenhall Golf Course offers more than one kind of rough

This column may cause some problems. Especially for those of you with challenged memories. Like me. But in the end, I promise a heartwarming saga about those of us who love the game of golf.

Ah, memory. I struggle with mine. I can hardly remember the last round of golf I played. But I’m sure there were multiple birdies and several drives of 300 yards splitting the fairway.

Several years ago, I thought I remembered writing about the Pioche Golf Course and how the golf-loving residents there created a golf course in the middle of rugged desert terrain, all for the love of the game. In fact, I did write it. Check it out. Go to viewnews.com. Scroll down to columnists. Scroll down to find me. Click on my picture. Scroll down to the column dated Oct. 11, 2011. Read and enjoy.

It exceeded my expectations. No, not any golf course, but my first cruise vacation to Alaska. Took the inside passage: Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Enjoyed it a lot. And, just my luck, there was a golf course in Juneau. The only one there; in the state capital, really?

The Mendenhall Golf Course is a par-27, 1,264-yard layout “at the end of Industrial Road.” It opened in spring 1986. It sits on the site of the former Pederson Dairy and is owned and operated by a pioneer Juneau family. Tom File, as part of a retirement project, designed and constructed the course because he could and because Juneau did not have any other courses for the link lovers of the area.

On my day of visit, cold and drizzling, Tom’s grandson, Dan Baxter, was behind the counter. He serves as the greenskeeper and manager of the course.

“Yes, my grandfather opened the course,” he said. “He loves golf but had nowhere to play. First, he opened the driving range and then added the nine holes. Of course, sometimes, when the tide is in, only seven holes are available. Over there, we have plans to add three more holes; all will be par 4s,” he added, pointing.

I ask Dan to describe the course and its challenges.

“Out there is the Mendenhall Glacier; it’s beautiful. The hazards? We do have deep rough, and according to the tides, there will be water hazards. There is a salmon stream running through some holes, and occasionally, eagles dive and get some. One time, a big old black bear wandered onto one of the greens. Play was postponed for a while.”

The course is pretty rough with a lot of mud and standing water. Looks like it could use some work.

“The people here really like it,” Dan said. “We have 50 to 60 die-hard regulars that play a couple times a week. On a good weekend, we have 150 rounds. The course is only open May 1 to Sept. 30, so the golf lovers really crowd in the play time. I manage to sneak in three holes before the weather gets colder and wetter. Average day here, people play through it.”

Warming up in the clubhouse, I ask Dan where the nearest beer is.

“Down the road about a half-mile, the Sandbar and Grill; also has great fish and chips.”

I thank him for the experience and head out for the Sandbar.

Dan was right: great fish and chips and cold Alaskan brew. I meet Tom Atkinson, a local resident for 20 years, and chat him up. No, he doesn’t play golf but has other words of wisdom.

“Did you know Elvis is still alive, here in Juneau? And there are not any aliens coming; we are the aliens.”

I move down a barstool.

No, Mendenhall Golf Course is not a fancy, swanky golf resort. But just like the folks in Pioche, to the residents of Juneau, it serves as their Pebble Beach. And they love the course. God bless golfers; we are a certain breed. If only all folks were as passionate.

John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at jasay@reviewjournal.com.

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