USGA WOMEN'S STATE TEAM
Alaska Showcases Its Game on the National Stage
September 11, 2015 | Cape Girardeau, Mo.
By Scott Lipsky, USGA
Susie Macleod, Rose Pelletier and Audrey Russo all made their USGA Women’s State Team Championship debuts on Thursday. For Pelletier and Russo, like nearly a third of their fellow competitors, it was their first time competing in a USGA championship. Some of the lessons they learned during Round 1 at Dalhousie Golf Club, however, were a little less common.
“I learned how to use my divot tool finally,” said Russo, eliciting a laugh from her Alaska teammates. “It’s weird because we putt and the putt just holds its line, I’ve never seen that before. You don’t have to guess on the bounces.”
“We don’t know how to putt on fast greens,” Pelletier added. “I’ve never seen a course in such good condition, even playing Division I college golf. The greens are immaculate. [In Alaska], you lose the grass every winter, even if you cover them.”
Indeed, the trio from The Last Frontier faces its share of challenges when it comes to golf. A dearth of places to play, combined with a season that roughly spans Memorial Day to Labor Day, makes the game an afterthought in many circles. Limited opportunities at the junior level makes it tougher still for youngsters in Alaska who may otherwise want to take up the game. In the cases of Russo and Pelletier, they played baseball and soccer, respectively, in high school. While Pelletier began playing competitively when she was 18 and parlayed it into a spot on the women’s golf team at Southern Utah University, Russo played softball at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and didn’t pick up golf until she returned to her hometown of Anchorage after graduating.
For Pelletier in particular, who counts snowboarding off of glaciers and mountain climbing among her favorite pastimes, golf may have never been in the picture were it not the family business. Pelletier, 25, grew up on a nine-hole golf course and driving range built, owned and operated by her father, Skip, in the Anchorage suburb of Palmer.
“When I was growing up, none of my friends played golf, so I played with my dad’s friends in skins games, and the older women sometimes,” said Pelletier, who defeated Macleod in the state final of the women’s state match play championship in 2014. “We have this unique problem in Alaska. We compete with hunting season, fishing season, hiking, camping. Alaskans are just go, go go in the summer, so it can be a beautiful day and the course is empty, because we have three months to do every hobby and activity.”
Russo, 27, has also excelled at the state level, capturing the Alaska State Women’s Amateur Championship this summer. Macleod, for her part, has won the last two Alaska Senior Women’s Amateur Championships, but also arrived at Dalhousie as the lone team member with USGA championship experience, having competed in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in 2013 and 2014. Macleod, unlike her teammates, didn’t grow up in Alaska. In fact, the Scotland native only arrived there in 2013 when her husband, a British Petroleum employee, was transferred there. She quickly embraced the golf community there, and has had the opportunity to do things within the game that she wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.
“When they told us we were moving to Alaska we said, ‘Alaska!?’ and we had to look on the map to see where it was. But we decided to embrace it, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s just a bigger Scotland,” said Macleod, 53, who is spending her wedding anniversary competing in a USGA championship for the second straight year. “I was a club golfer back home. I come across here, and these doors have opened up for me, and it’s just been awesome. My friends back home are saying, ‘You’re doing what?’ when I tell them I’m going to USGA championships. It’s a huge step up, you watch these women play, they’re professional amateurs. But it’s a privilege to be here, we have fun.”
With the squad in 49th place out of 50 teams heading into Round 2, fun will be key for the team that traveled nearly 4,000 miles to compete. With the 36-hole cut likely not within reach, there will be other things to look at when determining whether or not this week was a success, and Russo, at least, is on the right track in that regard.
“Personally, I’m here just to have fun and take it all in, because this is once in a lifetime, in a way.”
Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.