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Settlers Bay Golf Course: An Escape into the Last Frontier

By Kelly Saul, Contributor

Wasilla, AK - Forget Pebble Beach. Forget Augusta and St. Andrews. When most people think golf they remember staples such as Palm Springs, Myrtle Beach, and Scottsdale. Has anyone heard of Settlers Bay Golf Course? Probably not.

Well, that's because it occupies some of the most picturesque land in the country - Alaska. Then people think, who golfs in Alaska? Words like snow, ice, and Eskimo don't really associate themselves with golf. Well, things change.

Settlers Bay Golf Course is nestled within the Settlers Bay Community, 50 miles northeast of Anchorage in the scenic Matanuska Valley. From Anchorage you drive North on Glenn Hwy, get off at the Parks Hwy exit and turn left on Mile 8 Knik Rd. Not able to see any greens for awhile, you drive through a lovely golf community until you reach the renovated club. What used to be just a 9-hole course in 1996, is now a beautiful 18-hole escape.

Settlers Bay opened in 1978 as only a 9 hole course designed by Terry Ferraro. In 1996 a firm from British Colombia designed the back 9, making it much more modern and pleasing to golfers.

"Since Settlers Bay is outside of Anchorage, we attract not only people from the city, but golfers from all over the valley as well," begins head golf professional Tom Mulka.

The season lasts only about 4 or 5 months, but the course captivates 20,000 rounds of golf within that time. Although that's nothing compared to courses in Phoenix that can get up to 100,000 rounds played a year.

"The course is well maintained during the winter," says Mulka. "So when the season finally does start, people really rush out to enjoy themselves."

Walking into the clubhouse you first come to a brand new wooden deck overlooking not just the ocean, but mountains upon mountains as well. In no other state in the country can you finish a round of golf in the summer, go and have a beer on the deck, and overlook snow-capped mountain ranges in back of the great Pacific Ocean. Once you've made your way past the deck and taken the stairs up to the pro shop, you'll meet dozens of the nicest people you have ever met on any golf course. Remember, this is Alaska.

A place of small communities, where everywhere you go is a visit with your closest friends. Every golfer is not just familiar with one golf course in Alaska, but all of them. Any new golfers they meet are greeted with open arms and friendly advice. They'll warn you about dangers awaiting you at hole 9, and make sure you get something good to eat after you play.

The driving range, for those who dare to practice before they play, lies next to the 10th hole. No mats in Alaska, they wouldn't hear of it! Mats are for those crowded country clubs back in California. However they do offer mats if you so choose. The driving range is one of the most beautiful spots on the property.

Every golfer is not just familiar with one golf course in Alaska, but all of them.

Golfers have the pleasure of hitting towards the same Kodak moment you see when you drive up. Hundreds of trees scattered along the banks of the ocean, in the company of snow laced mountains. You will be so in owe of the driving range you will forget you can go play an actual round of golf. Before you leave take a look at the amazing cabin sharing your view.

Now you've hit a couple irons and ripped a few woods, you're ready to play. Now I should warn that you might be surprised when you first tee off that the cart paths at this course are not paved. Not that every course needs perfectly laid cement roads for their golf carts, but at Settlers Bay many rocks await your cart's tires. The paths are quite bumpy and since there is a steep down slope on the first hole you may be surprised.

"The front 9 is a lot older, and it's a lot flatter," comments Mulka. "However, there are a lot of risks to be taken on the front and a lot of risk rewards."

At Settlers Bay, golfers need not worry about hitting into water, only 3 and 12 allow such hazards. I must warn however, your ball will flirt with so many trees your bag will become jealous. The trees on the course have been known to haunt golfers for days after a round. Also beware of foxes that come out of the woods and snatch up players balls. The front nine is fairly easy playing. Relaxing, not a whole lot worth throwing a club over. That's until you reach hole #9. It's infamous to locals.

Almost a bankable bogey. She is a long par 4, slanting severely from left to right. On the right lies a whole mess of trees - trouble accompanied by some pretty glutinous grass. You have to try and stick your shot high on the left side of the fairway. Anything not hugging that left side tightly is going to roll down into the rough, making a good approach to the pin nearly impossible. Hopefully your scorecard says you shot 4 under on the front, so the bogey on 9 will not sting too much.

Settlers Bay hosted the first round of The Alaska State Amateur Golf Tournament this year. Zac Gavlak, 19, who shot a 68 that first day agrees with Mulka "You have to make your birdies on the first 8 holes, because the rest of the course doesn't hand you many more opportunities."

The new back 9 is more challenging than the front, but still easy enough that you can enjoy your outing. Filled with loose sand, the bunkers at Settlers Bay stay in pretty good condition through the summer. However, they do attract hundreds of little rocks so be careful hitting out of them.

This course isn't Sherwood, or a country club for that matter. Yet, some prefer down-to-earth public courses such as Settlers Bay. It is Alaska, and harsh weather all winter makes it impossible to keep the course in as good condition as some would like. However the scenery is so mind capturing that any quirks you have about the course will be quickly chipped away.

The Alaska Blue Nugget course is only $30 for non-members; how nice to find something affordable for a change. Golf carts are $22 and there is a $4 rental fee for pull carts. The season only lasts from April 15 to October 15, but only in Alaska can you tee off at 9:00 p.m. and still get a full round in. In June the sun sets around midnight, and to a true golf lover that can only mean one thing - more time to golf!

Settlers Bay Golf Course is located in the town of Wasilla. Where you stay in relation to the course is totally dependent on what type of trip you want to have. If you love quaint out-of-the-way places there is the Wasilla Lake Bed and Breakfast. If you really like family style inns and are interested in more sightseeing, there is the Alaska Wilderness Plantation.

Compared to The Grand Hotel, this southern style mansion in Anchorage houses cozy rooms and suites, fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and offers many outdoor sightseeing trips. If you simply want a hotel good walking distance from downtown shops, restaurants and shows, Anchorage also has The Hilton and The Sheraton.

Settlers Bay
Mile 8 Knik Rd
Wasilla, AK 99687
Phone: (907) 376-5466


Conditions: B
Layout: B
Club House/Pro Shop: B
Pace of Play: A
Value: A+
Overall Rating: B

Kelly SaulKelly Saul, Contributor

Kelly Saul received her B.A. in Broadcasting from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. After graduation in May 2001 she moved back to her native home of Los Angeles to work for NBC in Burbank.

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