Mushing dogs across the frozen expanse of the Bering Sea isn’t the only sport undertaken in Nome during mid-March. That’s also when locals and visitors gather for the Eliot Staples Bering Sea Ice Classic, a golf tournament where the fairway is three feet of ice covered in snow, and the “green” is a small bit of green carpet rolled out over the lumpy ice near each hole.
Teams of four gather mid-morning behind Breakers bar on Front Street, then tee off from the top of the seawall separating Nome from the Bering Sea. The 6-hole game is played with bright green balls. Finding them is the challenge, since they have a tendency to roll into cracks in the ice or get lost in snow drifts. (It is okay – maybe even advisable – to steal a ball from your partner.)
Since this is the only golf event of the year, clubs consist of a collection of rusty left-overs from the backs of closets, unless you bring your own. Empty shotgun shells (for a shotgun start) and miniature liquor bottles serve as tees. Coffee cans frozen into the ice are the holes, none of which are further apart than about 120 yards. One of the holes is usually located in the “Nome National Forest,” a group of discarded Christmas trees hammered into the ice after the holidays.
Rules are unique too. If you hit a polar bear, you get a three-stroke penalty. And a mandatory stop-off at a local bar in between holes allows for fingers and toes to warm up a little.
The Bering Sea Ice Classic has been a fixture during Iditarod Week for more than thirty years, and it’s clearly more about fun than fierce competition. The $50 entry – with proceeds going to event-organizer the Lion’s Club – will buy you an intriguing time on the ice in one of the most unique golf events you could ever participate in. You also get a story well worth its price.
For more information, check the Iditarod Week event schedule at the Nome Visitors Center.