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Fore! (-teen below)

Golf is a summer sport, or at least a sunshine sport enjoyed strictly in warm climes, right?

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Fore! (-teen below)

  1. 1. Ryan Schmidt FORE! (-teen below) The 12th hole at the Iditarod Classic is a long, flat par five. Off the tee be careful not to slice or you’ll end up in a deep fresh powder trap. At about 250 yards the course doglegs left around a group of ice fishing huts. A large den, sure to house a slumbering bear, protects the bailout area to the left front of the putting area setting up a great risk/reward shot for those who go for the green in two. Be sure to play your shot short of the hole because this course is notoriously slick. It’s getting into the long dark of winter and at the back of even darker closets around the globe lie thousands of sagging bags of neglected golf clubs. For those willing to brave frigid temperatures, howling winds, bears, or even 1400 ft. of mountain it’s time to show your clubs the sun again (if only for a short while). Around the beginning of each year golfers from around Alaska and sometimes beyond brave the snow, ice, and frigid cold to hit the links at Wasilla Lake. That is, on Wasilla Lake. Normally a golfer’s worst nightmare, the summertime water hazard, frozen solid, is transformed into a par-71 18-hole course for the Iditarod Ice Golf Classic. Twenty-five years ago Don Keuler, owner of the Mat-Su lodge overlooking Wasilla Lake, perhaps a bit stir crazy nearing the end of the long Alaskan winter had somewhat of an epiphany. “I get so antsy during the winter,” Keuler said. "I'm an avid golfer. Most of my friends and customers are avid golfers and it just seemed like a natural thing to do.”
  2. 2. Now every year in March, the Ice Golf Classic kicks off in conjunction with the start of the last great race 15 miles to the south. As challenging as playing ice golf can be building the course can be an even more so. Wasilla can get several feet of snow over the winter so clearing the lake is not easy and sometimes comes with consequences. February had dumped more than three feet of snow on the ice of Wasilla Lake a few years ago, and in the process of clearing it off trying to plow it, the weight of the wet snow broke the brackets on not one, but two of Keuler’s plows. Fortunately for the tournament (not so much for the plows) a relentless windstorm ended up doing much of the heavy lifting for them clearing the lake of all but an inch of snow. The Iditarod Ice Golf Classic isn’t the only tournament of its kind either. In Nome, golfers battle the rocks and the undulating ocean under their feet at the Bering Sea Ice Classic. A six-hole par-41 course is set up in March and being on top of the frozen ocean gives a whole new meaning to the term water hazard. “There are so many fun things about ice golf,” said Nikki Polk, a teacher in Nome. “It’s such a unique experience.” Fans of the sport in Kodiak have taken that uniqueness to new heights, 1400 feet to be exact. Twenty years ago during the lull in the commercial fishing season known as winter the Pillar Mountain Golf Classic was born of a wager at Tony's Bar. Glenn "The Cod Father" Yngve slapped a hundred dollar bill on the bar and issued a challenge to fellow fisherman Steve "Scrimshaw" Mathieu to beat his score in a golfing contest to the top of Pillar Mountain. At the time Kodiak was devoid of an official golf course; and golf clubs were something buried in the closet waiting for the vacation to the Lower 48. Soon 21
  3. 3. challengers dug out their clubs and polished their swings to compete in this crazy event. The generous fisherman decided to charge an entry fee, pay prize money and expenses and donate the remainder to local charities. The Pillar Mountain Golf Tournament was born. On April Fool’s Day weekend each year since seasoned veterans of the game along with many who only play one day of the year get together to test their skills against probably the longest hole in the history of golf. The Pillar Mountain Classic is an event that pits golfers against tundra, snow, howling winds of up to 100 miles per hour, and even the occasional bear as they compete to see who can get their ball to the summit first. Par for the hole/course is 70. Ice golf is by no means limited to eccentric hearty Alaskans though. All over the world enthusiastic golfers are trading in their golf glove for wool mittens, plaid knee high socks for leg warmers, and green sport coats for down jackets. “The trick is finding something warm to wear that you can still swing a golf club in,” said Dale Dailey who helps organize the Mat-Su tournament. Ice golf tournaments are held in several polar and semi-polar venues including the Polar Ice Cap Golf Tournament in Michigan, the Pawtuckaway Open in New Hampshire, the Chilly Open in Minnesota, and even the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships held in Uummannaq, Greenland. So if you’re worried that your swing will go cold over the winter, fear not, there is probably and ice golf tournament near you. “It doesn’t matter if you’re any good at golf people just come out to have a good time,” said Dailey. “Golfers are a funny bunch.”