In six years as manager of Bear Valley Golf Course, Barry Colflesh has golfed 20 holes. Not 20 rounds. 20 holes.
How could that be?
“After you spend 12 hours at someplace, the last thing you want to do is spend another two hours playing golf,” said Colflesh, while sitting in the clubhouse of Bear Valley Golf Course on a blustery but sunny July day.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy swinging a club — quite the contrary. Colflesh, 65, caught the golf bug as a youngster in tiny Ursina, Pennsylvania — a dot on the map 75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and a 5-iron hit away from the borders of West Virginia and Maryland.
Raised in a 200-population town that relied on the railroad industry for income, Colflesh had access to plenty of pastures to strike the ball. And he did, but not before having to persuade his stay-at-home mom to purchase a left-handed 9-iron he spotted at Kmart in a nearby town.
“I threw a little bit of a fit trying to get my mom to buy me that because it was like $5, which was a lot of money,” he recalled. “She bought it.”
A love was born. Townies, hearing Colflesh was learning to play golf, supplied him with golf balls, which he sent toward a hole — complete with a stick — that he dug in the open field.
Nearly four decades later, after 20 years serving in the U.S. Air Force as an air traffic controller, Colflesh swung into the back nine of his life as a golf course manager.
He was warned by the manager of the now-closed Eagleglen Golf Course in Anchorage that his game would be an afterthought when he was hired as an assistant manager in 2000. That didn’t deter Colflesh from the job and, in the first six months, he learned more about how to run and groom a course than he would have attending a golf academy. He used that knowledge to move up in the industry and, after eight years in Anchorage, headed north to run Chena Bend Golf Course in Fairbanks.
Because of a difference in business philosophy with management, Colflesh departed Fairbanks in 2014. He thought his career in golf was over. A mulligan came his way — Lisa Reuter was retiring as manager of Bear Valley Golf Course after the 2014 season.
Returning to The Rock and managing Bear Valley — a gem of a nine-hole course owned by the United States Coast Guard — was something that he longed to do after spending two years on the island in the late-1990s as an air traffic controller. He played the course — located 2.8 miles back on Anton Larsen Road — often and routinely told then-manager Art Bors that he was shooting for his job.
“I remember distinctly going over to Art and saying, ‘Someday, I am going to be the manager at this facility,’” Colflesh said. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Ok, sure. Who are you?’”
Working at an electronic store in Anchorage, he applied for the job at Bear Valley and got it. He helped close the course in 2014. At that time, though, it wasn’t clear if Bear Valley would be opening in 2015.
Run by the Coast Guard’s Morale, Well-Being and Recreation department, the course was opened in September 1986 to serve Coast Guard members and their dependents. Once approved by Capt. Floyd Rice, a design company from California was hired to lay out the fairways and greens. The blueprints displayed an 18-hole course, but after laborious work clearing alders and cottonwood trees, only nine holes were carved out.
A golf course is a Category C MWR activity — the riskiest of three categories — in the Coast Guard MWR manual. Activities in Category C must be self-sustaining and have a primary audience of Coast Guard patrons.
In the three years leading up to 2014, the course had financial losses, and the customer log showed that 60% of the people who used the course were not associated with the Coast Guard. For those reasons, officials discussed closing the course but ultimately kept it open for the 2015 season.
Colflesh, who lives off-island during the winter, received word in April that the course was opening and was here a month later, prepping for the season, which runs from May to October.
“I viewed it as a big challenge, and I still view it as a challenge,” he said.
The par-36 course has thrived under the leadership of Colflesh. He said Bear Valley turned a profit in his first year and has only been on the watchlist in two of the five years since he has been in charge.
“Everything that I have done for Kodiak has come from my heart,” he said. “I would never want to see this golf course close. It has so much history.”
Colflesh — a people person who knows the name of everybody who walks into the clubhouse — said the military taught him the importance of programs. So he created events — ladies night, payday scrambles, concerts on the green — to draw people in. Seeing the golfers' demographic getting older, he added eight motorized golf carts for golfers to cruise the 3,000-yard course.
Colflesh said Linda Pena, the Kodiak MWR programs manager, backed his vision.
“There are a lot of things that I tried to put in place and make happen, and most things I have been successful with,” he said. “I’ve been pretty blessed.”
As much as Colflesh enjoyed golfing as a youngster, he liked baseball even more. His childhood dream, like most kids, was to play professional baseball. He emulated his favorite Pittsburgh Pirates players Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Steve Blass on the Little League diamond. He listened to their heroics on the radio with his dad, a railroad worker.
“We had an old fluorescent light and an old AM radio,” Colflesh said. “When that fluorescent light would flicker, the radio would get static.”
A southpaw pitcher, Colflesh thought he was on his way to Cooperstown. The dream derailed after his first outing as a high school pitcher.
“I got pummeled,” he said. “I threw what I’m thinking were good pitches, and they would get hit over the fence.”
That experience didn’t deter his passion for baseball. He spent decades coaching youth baseball and softball during his time in the military. While stationed in Las Vegas, he coached future MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux in Little League. Maddux’s dad was also in the Air Force.
“His dad was very influential in his life, and I would like to say I had something to do with it too, but that is a pipedream,” laughed Colflesh.
Colflesh said Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner during a decorated 23-year MLB career, had the “it factor” in Little League and was easily the best player on the team. Colflesh still has the scorebook and a team photo from the season he coached Maddux. It was during a tour in England that he found out the Chicago Cubs drafted Maddux. Colflesh followed Maddux’s career after that and got to watch him pitch an MLB game in Pittsburgh. He even attempted to reconnect with Maddux before that game.
“I saw Mark Grace and said, ‘Hey, could you get Greg for me. I used to coach him in Little League.’ He told me on the night he pitches, he really doesn’t socialize,” Colflesh said. “Me and Mark struck up this conversation, but I never got to talk to Greg. I was disappointed.”
Back in the clubhouse, while Colflesh talked about Maddux, a television airing an MLB game was playing over his shoulders. He paused, peered out a window, and watched a guy chipping on to the ninth green. The conversation turned back to golf.
“My favorite hole on the course — in terms of beauty — is No. 7,” said Colflesh, sporting glasses and a goatee. “When you get to the No. 7 tee box, and you look over the valley and see Buskin Lake — it is just gorgeous.”
With the words Colflesh used to describe the course, it’s apparent his work is a labor of love. With rough bordering every fairway and tree limbs obstructing ball paths, the course plays tougher than it did a decade ago, but easier than when it opened. Chuck Hughes won the first tournament at Bear Valley with an 18-hole score of 83. The course record was lowered to 65 by James McCarthy — who died of cancer in 2016 — in 2009.
As manager, Colflesh is also the head groundskeeper and responsible for the course’s condition. Still, he knows that without his staff and the help of the Kodiak Golf Association that the facility would not have flourished.
“I’m going to miss the people the most,” he said. “I hope I left this place a better place than when I first came.”
Colflesh officially retires on Nov. 1. He will join his bride of 46 years in Winchester, Tennessee, where the couple purchased a house a few years back. He rattled off the minor league baseball teams around the area, then circled back to golf. Before he leaves the island, he hopes to add to his 20-hole total at Bear Valley Golf Course.
“All these guys have been asking me to play with them,” Colflesh said. “I just don’t want to go out and embarrass myself when you are supposed to be the club pro and go and shank it into the woods.”