Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Molly Streich, of Kenai, hits an approach shot to the eighth green at Kenai Golf Course on Sunday as Billy Anderson, of Nikiski, observes. When Streich asked Anderson if he wanted to golf Sunday, Anderson didn't believe the course was open. The course opened Tuesday, the earliest opening ever.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Molly Streich, of Kenai, hits an approach shot to the eighth green at Kenai Golf Course on Sunday as Billy Anderson, of Nikiski, observes. When Streich asked Anderson if he wanted to golf Sunday, Anderson didn't believe the course was open. The course opened Tuesday, the earliest opening ever.

Birch Ridge, Kenai Golf Course set records for early opening dates

It’s a rite of spring enjoyed by golfers in the northern half of the Lower 48 — watch the Masters on Sunday, get out and play golf the next week.

But for Kenai Peninsula golfers, the only sticks getting pulled out of the quiver the week after the Masters are usually skis. Until this spring.

Both Kenai Golf Course and Birch Ridge Golf Course opened for play this week, smashing all records for the earliest opening. Bird Homestead Golf Course is not open for play yet.

Pat Cowan, who owns Birch Ridge with his wife, Myrna, has been at least a co-owner of the course since 1988. He said there was one year Birch Ridge, which opened in 1973, opened on April 6, but it eventually had to close again due to snow.

Cowan said the average opening date for Birch Ridge is the last week of April and the latest opening date is May 8. But the course is so dry that all holes were open Thursday and Cowan said carts could be allowed as early as Wednesday.

“People just really want to get out and hit the ball,” Cowan said. “The course is not in fantastic shape. There’s frost heaves and it’s kind of wet. It’s definitely kind of primitive.

“But people just want to play.”

Gordon Griffin is finding the same thing at Kenai Golf Course, which he has owned with his wife, Deborah, for 10 years.

Griffin is pretty sure last season’s opening date of April 24 was a record. Until the course opened Tuesday, that is.

“This is off the charts,” Griffin said. “And we’ve opened the front nine, back nine and driving range. That’s unheard of.”

Kenai Golf Course, which still has a temporary green on No. 14, has some notoriously swampy areas so it normally opens later than Birch Ridge.

Griffin pegged the average opening date at May 10 and the latest at May 20.

The co-owner also expects carts to be usable by midweek.

“There’s been years when there is still 3 feet of snow on the course this time of year,” Griffin said.

Both Griffin and Cowan said the early opening offers multiple advantages, from more revenue to put back into the course, to more time for course improvement projects.

“There’s already a green hue on the greens,” Griffin said. “The greens are going to be incredible when we get into the season.”

And the crazy thing is golfers aren’t even suffering to get their swings in. Proof of that came from Bob Tepp and Mark McComsey, both of Kenai.

The pair was relaxing on the deck outside the Kenai Golf Course clubhouse Sunday after playing a round in sunny, 50-degree weather.

The duo first got out on the course March 30 to whack the balls around a little.

“There were still some snow bunkers out here,” said McComsey, who plays to a 10 or 11 handicap. “But it was better than lying around the house and playing video games.”

Both are veterans of the course, having played it for about 30 years. Both vouch for Griffin’s claim of an absurdly early opening date.

While the pair spent the winter stewing inside and playing simulator golf at the Peninsula Center Mall, it wasn’t the golf that had both content Sunday.

“This is just a really great time of the year to be out here,” said Tepp, who plays to a 14.

Tepp spoke of eagles already having their chicks, while McComsey talked of ducks and the budding trees.

Both said the pace of play is relaxed enough that there’s time to watch nature slowly roll into summer. There are also long stretches in spots secluded from the wind but not sun, perfect for letting the heat soak winter’s sluggishness away.

“Summertime in Alaska is short, you’ve got to take advantage of it while you can,” McComsey said. “Now is the perfect time to take advantage of it.”

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