With the sun shining brightly in my face, I teed it up at the northernmost golf course in the United States—North Star Golf Club in Fairbanks, Alaska. It earns the distinction of being America’s northernmost golf course by sitting at a latitude just above 64 degrees.
This 18-hole course will never be on the PGA Tour radar, but visitors come here for the sheer enjoyment of the game. For first-time visitors like me, the experience generates fond memories that will forever be appreciated. The par 72, 6,342-yard course features bucolic scenery coupled with undulating greens.
“When the course opened in 1993, those greens were flat,” says Roger Evans, the owner and superintendent. “However, thanks to permafrost, which is pervasive in colder areas like Siberia, northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, the land shifted beneath the greens, causing steep undulations, which makes for challenging putts!”
Every course has its own special rules and idiosyncrasies. For North Star Golf Club, the distinction is its animal scorecard scrolled across the bottom of the golf scorecard. The animal spotting checklist includes, but is not limited to, snowshoe hare, red back vole, sandhill crane, red squirrel, marsh hawk, muskrat, marmot, coyote, moose, bear, eagle, (huge) ravens, and fox.
A unique local rule, one that I never had to use, was the following: If a raven or fox steals your ball, you can take a free drop at the “scene of the crime.” Fairbanks’ North Star Golf Club has character and critters aplenty.
Amenities include a driving range, pro shop, and snack bar/café. A great way to end a round is to sip a beverage and enjoy the expansive scenery from the viewing deck. This is especially enjoyable when the sun stays high in the sky for hours on end during summer months.
Other Golf options
North Star Golf Club is one of three courses open for play in Fairbanks. The others are the Fairbanks Golf Course and the Chena Bend Golf Course on the Fort Wainwright army base.
Fairbanks Golf Course has been around since 1946. Measuring 6,264 yards (for 18 holes), the course is usually open 24 hours a day from June 1 through July 20. Water hazards in the form of two natural lakes come into play on three holes, while the greens are large, undulating and well-bunkered. All the narrow fairways are lined with birch, alder and fir trees, and bordered by a thick cut of moderately tall rough. This course, too, has a nice deck area for outdoor dining or for watching golfers finish a round.
Chena Bend bills itself as the “Farthest North Military Course.” The 18-hole, par 72 stretches to 7,012 yards from the tips. It is open to civilian golfers; just stop by the main gate, present proper identification, and you’ll receive a one-day pass. Chena Bend is nestled between the east end of the Fort Wainwright airfield and the Chena River, with several holes running along the river. The course was rated by Golf Digest as Alaska’s best for 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and received a four-star rating in the 2008 and 2009 edition of Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play.” Chena Bend is challenging enough for experienced golfers and yet a welcoming and comfortable setting for beginners.
Golf in Alaska, as you would expect, has a rather short season, usually running from mid-May until the first snow, which could be as early as the end of September or not until late October. During that window of opportunity, there’s a lot of extra time to play golf since the sun remains above the horizon for extended periods. Many visitors actually play golf at the midnight hour for a few weeks on either side of the summer solstice, which was on June 21 this year. Regardless of when or where you tee it up in Fairbanks, you won’t be disappointed with the experience.
Reflecting on golf in Alaska, I recalled the tiny blue forget-me-not state flowers that dot some of the fairways in Fairbanks. Long after I returned home, their subtle messages were received loud and clear.
If you’ve golfed the three courses in Fairbanks and still need another golf fix, head to Pike’s Landing for a beverage and bucket of balls. For a nominal fee, you can practice your short game, launching balls 125 yards across the Chena River at the “Love Alaska” target green on the other side.
RVing in Fairbanks
A good resource for RVers headed to Fairbanks is the Alaska Campground Owners Association website at alaskacampgrounds.net. It lists contact information and the amenities at three Fairbanks RV parks: Riverview RV Park, Rivers Edge RV Park and C Lazy Moose RV Park & Gift Shop. Another option is the full-service Northern Moosed RV Park & Campground (northernmoosed.com).
Though it’s about 60 miles from Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs Resort (chenahotsprings.com) is well worth the drive. The year-round hot springs offers 30 RV spaces, a full-service restaurant and lounge, and the Aurora Ice Museum, a must-visit that’s open year-round.
For more information about this incredible place called Fairbanks, Alaska, visit explorefairbanks.com.
Rick Stedman is an avid golfer, RVer, and writer. Rick writes a weekly golf blog, “The 19th Hole,” which is published every Saturday at rvlife.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.