For more than two decades, golfers in the Alaska State Amateur prepped their games to attack four golf courses, one for each day of the annual four-day tournament.
When the 53rd tournament starts Thursday, it will represent the second year of a shift toward a simpler, more traditional selection of venue. It's a transition that will make history next summer when the championship will be played in Fairbanks for the first time, with all four rounds conducted at Chena Bend Golf Course.
This week's championship will utilize two courses for the second straight year. The Moose Run Creek Course, the state's longest course, will host the first two rounds Thursday and Friday, and Settlers Bay in Wasilla will host the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday.
"Those are two of the better- conditioned courses around, not to say the others are bad," said three-time State Am champion Greg Sanders. "The tee shots at the Creek are a premium. Settlers is more of a second-shot golf course."
From the tips, the Creek measures 7,324 yards, nearly 200 yards longer than the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where the U.S. Open was held last month.
Alaska's amateurs won't be tested from the tips, however. The Creek will be trimmed to around 6,800 yards for men, said Sanders, who is chairman of the rules committee for the Alaska Golf Association.
Settlers Bay will play around 6,500 yards for men. Both courses will measure in the neighborhood of 5,500 yards for women.
The infamously dense forest bordering every fairway at the Creek tends to swallow stray golf balls and create double and triple bogeys in a hurry, so Sanders said many golfers will go into survival mode, trying to avoid major disasters at the Creek and getting more aggressive at Settlers.
"I would expect a whole lot lower scores at Settlers Bay," Sanders said. "Some of the long hitters can drive par 4s back there."
With three par 4s of less than 340 yards and two par 5s of less than 520 yards, Settlers' back nine is especially vulnerable to a power player, but all skill sets will find a challenge waiting on one of the meanest finishing holes in the state.
The 18th at Settlers is a 441-yard uphill par 4 with a fairway that mercilessly propels bouncing golf balls toward the right tree line. The small green isn't easy to hit, either, because it slopes gently away from incoming shots.
"That's a great finishing hole," said Sanders, who birdied the 18th while playing as a marker in a U.S. Open qualifier in May. "Anything can happen on that hole. Par is a great score and double and triple bogey can happen so quickly."
Defending women's champion Terri McAngus isn't thinking as much about the tournament's last hole as she is about the first at the Creek, a par 4 that doglegs to the left and requires a demanding tee shot for anyone taking an aggressive line across the corner.
"I kind of go for broke," McAngus said. "Starting off, No. 1, I gotta drive it up over the trees, or I'm in the woods. It sets a tone, either I'm gonna be grinding, or off to a positive, confident start."
McAngus prefers aggressive play until a course insists on a more conservative style. There are lots of different methods for playing the courses this week, she said, and plenty for golfers to think about.
"Both of these courses have holes that are risk-reward," she said.
Several factors went into choosing the venues for this year's tournament, said Alaska Golf Association executive director Jeff Barnhart.
"Price is part of it, condition is part of it, availability is part of it," he said. "Probably the biggest reason is variety. There isn't a rotation, but you don't want to use the same courses over and over because that's somebody's favorite course."
Across the country, state championships are traditionally held on one golf course for the entirety of the event. Barnhart said that's the direction the AGA is trying to take the State Am.
Whatever course or courses are selected each summer, Barnhart and the AGA work with course superintendents to set up a fair test that higher handicappers can enjoy and lower handicappers will find challenging. Tee boxes and hole placements are arranged to include six tough holes, six medium holes and six easy holes each day.
"The best golfer wins anyways, so you got to find some balance," Barnhart said. "Most players are playing to test themselves and they want to measure themselves against the best players."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.