Only in Alaska are the resident bears low on a golf course’s list of concerns.
The U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship is being held starting Saturday at Anchorage Golf Course, and PGA head pro Tom Farris is telling players not to worry about the wildlife.
“There’s a bear den over behind 14. It’s not a big deal at all,” Farris said Tuesday.
For the lone Alaskan in the event, however, being there means a great deal.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Pam Chesla, who will be first off the tee Saturday. “I so hope to make Alaska proud.”
Chesla, who lives in Hope, might not be the Golden Bear, as Jack Nicklaus is known, but she is a graduate of Bartlett High School, home of the Golden Bears.
The United States Golf Association holds 15 different national championships each year, from the U.S. Open featuring professionals to a number of amateur tournaments. This is the first time one of them will be held in Alaska.
The host state would not have had anyone in the field if not for Chesla. The 80 she shot in a qualifying event made her the second alternate, and once the field invitations and acceptances were sorted out, she was in.
“It just seems to be my year,” she said. “I played really well in Arizona this past winter, and it’s just kind of transitioned to here.”
Many of the competitors grew up playing golf, but Chesla wasn’t interested when she was young.
“I went to Bartlett High in Anchorage and played basketball and was a softball player and never really wanted to chase that little white ball around, but I got hooked.”
As a guard for the Bartlett basketball team, she helped the Golden Bears win back-to-back state titles in 1977 and ‘78.
“We were actually called the Cinderella team in 1977,” she said, because the team only had two seniors and neither of them were starters.
Among the Golden Bears standouts were a rebounding machine named Aurora Adams, power forward Susan “Tiny” Turner — sister of Anchorage hoops legend Tony Turner — and Chesla, who played guard. Turner and Chesla were known as “Sweet T” and “Sweet P,” Pam recalled with amusement.
She got a scholarship to UAA and played for a year before an ankle injury sidelined her and then job opportunities proved too good to pass up.
It wasn’t until her late 20s that she started playing golf as a way to spend time with her father, “who was like a 4-handicapper most of his life,” Chesla said.
“It was something that I could do with my dad once my mom passed away where we weren’t just going out to dinner or to have drinks and we could actually spend more time together.
“And that worked out for a while until I got really good and beat him,” she said, laughing. “Then he actually told me that one time, he was like, ‘You beat me, we’re not gonna play for a little while.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, Dad, you should be really proud.’ ”
“It did take a few years to play with me again after I beat him,” she said.
The former Bureau of Land Management employee says her shooting touch in basketball translates nicely to her short game in golf.
Chesla wanted to caddy for someone if she didn’t qualify because she knows familiarity with the course will be critical.
“Which way the slopes break. If you’re hitting up into the mountain, is it one more club?” she said. “I think there would be an advantage if someone asked a local person to help them out.”
Lara Tennant, the three-time defending champion, will certainly be more than a little bit interested in the nuances of the course.
The 55-year-old from Portland, Oregon, had her reign interrupted in 2020 by the pandemic. A win that year and Tennant would be looking at trying to win her fifth straight title, which would tie the record. The missed opportunity doesn’t concern her.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people and a lot of situations that missed out on a lot more than winning a golf tournament due to COVID,” Tennant said. “So, I try to look at it that way. I try not to look at how it affected me, because in the scheme of life, a golf tournament doesn’t mean much in comparison.”
Another three-time winner, Ellen Port, who Tennant beat 2-and-1 in the 2021 final, is also in the field this year.
Playing for a national championship means the competitiveness between the two is a given, but they have been teammates in some events too.
“We are really good friends,” Tennant said. “We play in many of the same tournaments, and we almost always play all our practice rounds together.”
The championship starts with two days of stroke play before the field is whittled to 64. From there the field will compete in four days of match play.
Attendance is free, and spectators are welcome at the tournament, which runs through Thursday.