Part of the original design when Eagleglen Golf Course was built in 1970, there may not be a more legendary tree among Anchorage golfers than the massive cottonwood that guarded the 18th green.
When it fell across the 18th fairway in last week's wind storm, word spread quickly through the golf community.
"Everybody loves the tree, some more than others," said Eagleglen manager Mark Dolejsi.
Dolejsi estimated the tree stood 60 feet, had a canopy that stretched around 70 feet wide and a trunk around 15 feet in diameter.
"I put my arms around it and I got about halfway around," Dolejsi said.
The trunk of the cottonwood currently lies across the right side of the 18th fairway. All its limbs have been cut in the first stage of a removal process. Though no decision has been made about replacing the cottonwood, Dolejsi said it will probably be replaced with two or three smaller trees.
Once rooted about 80 yards in front of the 18th green and 30 yards or so in front of the creek that flows in front of the green, the cottonwood made any golfer think twice about attempting to reach the par-5 with their second shot and even managed to challenge the simplest lay-up strategy.
"It's the whole hole, because even if you lay up, you have to put it left of the tree, you have to put it past the tree," said Anchorage golfer Mark Schneiter. "It's really too bad that it's gone. It's not really a par-5 anymore."
Schneiter, a 6-handicap who has played Eagleglen for 20 years, thinks a new tree will have to be planted to keep competitive golfers from freely firing at the green in two shots.
But the tree wasn't the 18th's only defense.
A creek meanders along the right side of the 521-yard hole and crosses in front of the green, so any tee shot or approach that strays to the right finds the water, as does any approach that falls more than 10 yards short of the green.
Anchorage golf professional Casey Cusack thinks the hole might be better without the cottonwood. Cusack, who won back-to-back State Amateur championships in 2009-10 and turned pro shortly after becoming the only amateur to win the Eagleglen Open in 2010, is tired of hitting a perfect drive on 18, only to be forced into laying up.
Part of the fun in playing many par-5s is being tempted to hit the green in two shots. There was a time Cusack could hit his second shot around the right side of the tree and draw the ball into the green, but the tree had grown so much over the years that the shot became too demanding. A group of trees on the far side of the creek have also grown, shrinking the window for a shot down to almost nothing.
"The risk-reward ratio has changed so much, it's not even worth going for it," Cusack said.
One of the longest hitters in the state, Cusack played Eagleglen on Wednesday for the first time since the wind storm, in part because he wanted to see the fallen tree. He said a driver and 5-iron were enough to reach the green, and while he admitted the hole plays much easier with the cottonwood down, a challenge still exists.
"It's still not a gimme hole" he said. "It's still not the easiest shot from 210 (yards)."
Troy Hampton, an 18-handicap who also played Eagleglen on Wednesday, said he felt only a fraction of the fear and stress he used to feel on the daunting finishing hole. He likened the loss of the cottonwood to the loss of a monument and said he hopes something is done to replace it.
"Golf's not supposed to be easy," Hampton said. "If it was easy, I'd stop playing."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.