Winter Rules Always in Play at Northernmost Golf Course


Winter rules apply in the Bering Sea golf classic, and they're more complex than St. Andrew's.

Anyone whose ball hits a polar bear is assessed a three-stroke penalty--a concession to the Endangered Species Act. But if the player retrieves the ball from the bear--and survives--five strokes are subtracted from the scorecard.

Stealing a partner's ball is accepted practice, as is making lots of noise while someone else is putting. And no one seems to know what's an unplayable lie when you're waist-deep in a snow drift.

"I don't know if (the touring pros) could handle the competition," said tournament founder Elliott Staples. "This is a tough course to play. People at Pebble Beach don't know tough."

The Bering Sea Ice Classic, a six-hole, par-42, charity tournament played out each year on the snow-covered ice of the frozen Bering Sea, was held for the 10th time Saturday.

Sixteen foursomes, paying $50 a head into a Lions Club's scholarship fund, ventured out in a snowstorm and 20 m.p.h. wind to knock bright orange balls across the snow onto lumpy greens made of artificial turf. Coffee cans served as holes.

Some players wore plus-fours and argyle kneesocks, but the dominant fashion statement was heavy parkas and fur hats. Snowmobiles served as golf carts, and one bag was hooked onto a pair of skis.

Roy Callaway of Anchorage wore heavy, insulated boots painted with a wingtip design and bearing a tasseled fringe on the tongue. "They're golf shoes," he insisted.

There are a few things about arctic golf that warm-climate duffers have to get used to, said Staples' brother, Larry, from Makanda, Ill. "The fairways are a lot softer, but you don't have to replace your divots," he said.

Lots of balls were lost in the deep snow, an incentive for swiping someone else's ball.

"Any guy who finishes with a ball wins," summed up former Lt. Gov. Steve McAlpine, who wasn't quite able to swipe as many as he lost during his round.

The tournament is part of a month-long carnival that centers on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The course, a short wedge shot from the Iditarod's finish line, is laid out amidst the Nome National Forest (Seasonal)--that's last year's Christmas trees stuck upright into the snow and ice. Nome, built on a beach during a turn-of-the-century gold rush, has no real trees.

Cardboard animals, including a bear, wolf, penguin, walrus, pig and giant squirrel, populate the forest. There is also a fake palm tree and a pink flamingo.

After an obligatory visit to the "clubhouse," a Front Street saloon, players tee off from a bluff overlooking the first three holes.

They then make another clubhouse visit before tackling the back three, which take them several hundred yards offshore.

Then it's time for a restorative visit to the clubhouse.

Greenskeeper Mark Mahoney said he doesn't have much to do to keep the course in tip-top shape.

"You don't have to mow the greens that much, and the fairways take care of themselves," Mahoney said as he cleared a green with a janitor's broom.

From the players' viewpoint, "the good thing about the greens is that you can stomp on them to get a better roll," Mahoney said.

But keep in mind that they're playing on ice.

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