Birch Ridge golf course sees earliest ever opening

Birch Ridge golf course sees earliest ever opening

Reminiscing recently about some of the big stars that have graced the fairways at the Birch Ridge golf course, Pat Cowan recalled one of the PGA’s finest who visited in 1997.

Billy Casper, a PGA Tour legend who owns 51 tour wins including the 1970 Masters, passed away in February at age 83. Casper won the Birch Ridge annual skins game in that summer of ‘97. While playing the ninth and final hole, Casper caught a whiff of ribs that were being barbecued nearby, and promptly chipped his ball onto the green, just inches away from the pin.

“He really wanted to get done so he could eat,” Cowan said with a chuckle.

With that wistful memory surfacing just months after Casper’s passing and during the week of the 79th Masters tournament, Cowan, owner of Birch Ridge, has a lot to be pleased with right now.

For the first time ever, local golfers broke out their set of clubs for a season-opening round at Birch Ridge before the first week of April was up.

Taking full advantage of the early spring weather, players took to the nine-hole course in Soldotna beginning Monday, the earliest ever opening day for Birch Ridge, according to Cowan.

Instead of sitting inside watching the prestigious Masters tournament at Augusta National, as is typical this time of year in Alaska, Cowan and Birch Ridge general manager Nolan Rose have been busy getting the course and course accessories ready for summer 2015. Cowan said the previous record for earliest opening for the course was April 11 in 2003.

This year, the course was dry enough by April 6 to walk on without even getting your feet wet.

“Any tee time before May 1 is a bonus,” Rose said.

Rose said he and Cowan have seen about 15 to 20 golfers play through in the first three days, with more expected. Cowan added that the only restriction at the moment is the use of carts, which are not allowed quite yet to preserve the soft fairways. Cowan said he hopes to bring the carts out by April 18, but that is totally dependent on the condition of the course.

“We were out there on the (putting) greens pulling the rebar out of the ground with our hands,” Cowan said. “Usually we use tools for that.”

Rose said the wettest parts of the course are the green on hole two and the tee box on hole six. One of the lowest areas — hole four — is actually one of the driest, as the steep incline that characterizes the fairway allows a great meltwater runoff.

Birch Ridge’s main competition, the Kenai and Bird Homestead golf courses, are not yet open, giving Birch Ridge an early advantage in attracting customers. Of the roughly 20 players that have arrived thus far for early action, Rose said the majority are not necessarily season pass members. The course regulars usually start later in the season once the greens are in perfect condition, as they get in more time during the main summer swing.

Birch Ridge will be hosting what was originally called a “preseason” open house tomorrow, but Rose and Cowan this year will be the first in which the opening precedes the open house event.

The first actual competition will be the 12th annual BRGA Junior Golf Championship, slated for June 18. Other major events include the Wells Fargo Pro-Am skins game July 13, the Soldotna Junior Masters July 20 and 21, the Alaska State Junior Championship Aug. 3 and 4, and the fifth annual Kenai Peninsula Open Sept. 5 and 6.

Open until mid-October, Birch Ridge is slated to see over six months of action in 2015, a long run by Alaskan standards.

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