Only in Alaska are resident bears low on a golf course’s list of concerns.
The United States Senior Women’s Amateur Championship runs from Saturday at the Anchorage Golf Course, and PGA Chief Pro Tom Farris is telling players not to worry about wildlife.
“There’s a bear den behind 14. It’s no big deal,” Farris said Tuesday.
For the sole Alaskan in the event, however, being there means a lot.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Pam Chesla, who will be the first out of the start on Saturday. “I hope so much to make Alaska proud.”
Chesla, who lives in Hope, may not be the Golden Bear, as Jack Nicklaus is known, but she graduated from Bartlett High School, home of the Golden Bears.
The United States Golf Association holds 15 different national championships each year, from the US Open featuring professionals to a number of amateur tournaments. This is the first time that one of them will take place in Alaska.
The host state wouldn’t have had anyone on the pitch without Chesla. The 80s she shot in a qualifying event made her the second alternate, and once the field invites and acceptances were sorted, she was in.
“It just seems to be my year,” she said. “I played very well in Arizona last winter, and it’s just kind of a transition to here.”
Many 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, but I got hooked.”
As a guard for Bartlett’s basketball team, she helped the Golden Bears win back-to-back state titles in 1977 and 1978.
“We were actually called the Cinderella team in 1977,” she said, as the team only had two seniors and neither of them was a starter.
Among the Golden Bears’ stars were a rebounding machine named Aurora Adams, 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 recalls amusedly.
She got a scholarship to UAA and played for a year before an ankle injury sidelined her, and then the job opportunities proved too good to pass up.
It wasn’t until her late twenties that she started playing golf to spend time with her father, “who was like a handicap 4 most of his life,” Chesla said.
“It was something I could do with my dad once my mom passed away, where we didn’t just go out to dinner or drinks and we could actually spend more time together.
“And it worked for a while until I got really good and beat him,” she said with a laugh. “Then he told me that once he was like, ‘You beat me, we’re not going to play for a little while. I’m like, ‘Oh, dad, you should be really proud.’ ”
“It took a few years to play with me again after beating him,” she said.
[From the first tee box to the 18th green, watch this flyover of the Alaska golf course where the US Senior Women’s Amateur will be played]
The former Bureau of Land Management employee says her shooting touch in basketball translates well to her short game in golf.
Chesla wanted to caddy for someone if she didn’t qualify, as she knows familiarity with the course will be essential.
“Which way the slopes break. If you hit in the mountain, is it one more club? ” she says. “I think there would be an advantage if someone asked a local person to help them.”
Lara Tennant, the three-time reigning champion, will certainly be more than a little interested in the nuances of the course.
The 55-year-old from Portland, Oregon saw her reign interrupted in 2020 by the pandemic. A win that year and Tennant would be looking to win his fifth consecutive title, which would tie the record. The missed opportunity does not concern her.
“I feel like there are a lot of people and a lot of situations that have missed out on so much more than winning a golf tournament because of COVID,” Tennant said. “So, I try to see 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, whom Tennant beat 2-1 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’ve also been teammates in some events.
“We’re really good friends,” Tennant said. “We play in many of the same tournaments, and we almost always play all of our practice rounds together.”
The championship begins with two days of match play before the field is reduced to 64. From there, the field will compete over four days of match play.
Participation is free and spectators are welcome at the tournament, which runs until Thursday.