For those who think they have to be good at golf to enjoy playing, think again.
Get Golf Ready, a program designed to help absolute beginners become comfortable on the course, is part of the PGA's national Play Golf America program and is available at Anchorage Golf Course, Eagleglen and Moose Run.
"You don't even need any clubs," said AGC director of instruction Sam Bomar. "We provide all the equipment."
One of the first things a new golfer receives when joining a Get Golf Ready program is an "It's-OK list," intended to clear up common misconceptions.
Among the 18 tips: It's OK to start at the 150-yard marker if you want to; it's OK to throw your golf ball out of a sand trap after you swing and miss on the first try; it's OK to just forget about a ball that may be lost or out of bounds.
The fun, relaxed nature of the program made it popular in its debut at AGC last summer. The course even won an award from the PGA for ranking in the top 100 nationally for participation.
Most courses get about 40 or 50 people to join the program each summer, Bomar said, but 181 new golfers joined at AGC -- 174 of them women.
"I think that's the fastest growing demographic in golf right now," Bomar said. "There's a stigma with guys. They don't want to say, 'I'm a beginner golfer.' "
The Get Golf Ready package includes five 90-minute lessons for $99. Considering Bomar charges $90 for a one-hour individual lesson, the price is tough to beat.
Class sizes are restricted to eight students and Bomar said a lot of new students like to recruit friends, so all eight people know one another.
Bomar said his phone was ringing like crazy this spring when more than 100 new golfers signed up weeks before the first set of classes started May 12.
"My goal is to do 300 this year," he said.
Moose Run has used Get Golf Ready for six years and Eagleglen is entering its fourth season. Eagleglen assistant manager Rob Nelson said about 50 students have signed up each summer and about half have become regular golfers -- demonstrating, he said, that the program can help new golfers take a lasting interest in the game.
"It's been received well," he said. "You'd be amazed how many people are scared to come out and hit balls, because they don't want to look like an idiot."
Care to play three?
For golfers who can't seem to find time to fit golf into their schedule, courses are coming up with ways of condensing the experience.
The shortest round available is at Moose Run, which is offering three-hole rates Monday through Thursday on the Hill Course. Civilians pay $15, with discounts for seniors, juniors and military.
Moose Run manager Amy Sexton said the idea is intended for people who might want to squeeze in some golf on a lunch break.
Competitive nine-hole evening leagues have been around for a while, but there are some new, more casual, nine-hole packages popping up. Palmer Golf Course and AGC are both offering couple's nights this summer, packaging golf with dinner for two.
Settlers Bay and Moose Run are both adding family nights to the schedule, Settlers doing so every Sunday and Moose Run offering it every other Tuesday.
"I think the trend in the industry is to make it more family-friendly," Sexton said. "We want to be the family golf course."
The Moose Run family night includes a small bucket of balls at the driving range and a hot dog, chips and drink.
At Settlers, adults can bring kids and play a nine-hole shortened course for $10 per player. Any junior who fills out at least four holes on a scorecard gets a free drink and snack at the end of the round.
Tanglewood is making improvements
The nine holes at Tanglewood Lakes Golf Club tend to be overshadowed by the 18-hole courses in Anchorage, but since director of golf Billy Bomar started managing the par-3 course last summer, he's made some changes that golfers will surely applaud.
"I want to create a family-friendly facility, not only for the die-hard golfers, but for families that are learning to golf together," Bomar said. "I think there's a need for it, plus I've seen the benefit of playing with my family."
This summer Bomar will enlist the help of Bill Enberg, an assistant golf pro at Soldotna's Birch Ridge Golf Course who specializes in turf management. Enberg has helped make Birch Ridge's greens some of the best in the state, Bomar said, and he expects Enberg can do the same at Tanglewood.
Bomar, a long-time pro at AGC, said the short course is an ideal size for his junior clinics. Kids will never get rained out, because Tanglewood also has Anchorage's only indoor driving range, where a golf ball can fly about 90 yards before hitting the dome's back wall.
For golfers seeking a technological training edge, there is also a state-of-the-art golf simulator available, and Bomar said he plans to add a second simulator by the end of the year.
Valley off to great start
Signs are pointing toward a summer of great golf conditions in the Valley. Three courses opened before the end of April and all seem on track to be in stellar shape by June.
Palmer director of golf George Collum III is excited about a new computerized irrigation system that will do a better job of watering the fairways. Unlike most years, no tournaments are scheduled at Palmer in May, so Collum said his crew has the entire month to get the course in prime condition.
"Setting up for tournaments forces you to shut down the whole process," he said.
While it's not unusual for Valley golf courses to open weeks ahead of Anchorage courses, it's virtually unheard of for permanent greens to be in play so shortly after the snow melts. Settlers Bay opened on 18 permanent and very puttable greens two weeks ago. The best putting surfaces, however, arguably belong to the nine holes at Fishhook Golf Course in Palmer.
The Alaska Golf Association will hold its annual swap meet at the University Center on Saturday, and this time an element of competition will be added.
La-Z-Boy is hosting a nine-hole putting contest in the store and will award the winner a $700 gift card.
The primary purpose of the swap meet, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is to buy and sell golf equipment. Those interested in selling items need to drop them off at the Peppercini's entrance at University Center from 3-6 p.m., Wednesday through Friday.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News