As a young pup reporter fresh to the island in 2006, I spent one summer day with Jim Sandin searching for Ouzinkie’s three-hole golf course. Sandin, the owner of Golf Stuff and no stranger to the sport, had heard rumors of the local course and wanted to check it out for himself. Summer sports reporting was slow, so he figured it would make good filler and invited me along. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Why am I revisiting this story? Sandin died on New Year’s Day from pulmonary fibrosis. He was 86. Hearing of his passing made me think of that day. Other than the casual pleasantries in stores or in the Daily Mirror office, that was really my only encounter with Sandin during my time here. The fact that the boat ride to Ouzinkie floats near the top of the thousands of stories that I have produced here says a lot.
What I recall the most from that day, which started early in the morning and ended over dinner at the now-closed Channel Side Chodwer House (I heard Sandin was extremely saddened when that place closed), was the boat ride. It was a leisurely ride. Sandin’s boat that he owned was not meant for a hydroplane race in Puget Sound. The boat moved at a snail’s pace. Fortunately, it was perfect conditions for a two-hour excursion to Ouzinkie. A summer later, I realized just how slow the trip was when I took a 20-minute skiff ride to Spruce Island to do a story on a hermit.
What I didn’t know at the time of the story, which was not focused on Sandin but instead on Ouzinkie’s course, was how much he liked golf. I discovered later he caddied as a kid in Chicago when pull carts were introduced.
“I was surprised a blue-collar guy like my dad got so into a somewhat elitist game like golf,” his only son Nick texted me on Tuesday evening.
A fisherman and truck driver, Sandin’s passion for striking golf balls grew when Bear Valley Golf Course opened in 1986. It was fitting that his final round of golf was on Bear Valley during the summer of 2019 with his grandson. He had eight grandchildren and six kids.
He sold golf equipment out of his house and named the business Golf Stuff. He still equipped island golfers this past summer, even though his energy level wasn’t there. Sandin was the Adopt-A-Highway sponsor for the section of Anton Larsen Bay Road before Bear Valley Golf Course.
“Before the course was built, he’d take me to dig coal left over from the military in patches around the antenna field around the same stretch,” Nick wrote.
Sandin watched Tiger Woods play at Torrey Pines in San Diego and casually followed tournaments on television. He did enjoy NFL Sundays, rooting for Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago — all areas where he grew up. He also liked any team playing Dallas. “I think his experience working the pipeline put him off Texans,” Nick wrote.
Sandin introduced golf to a then-14-year-old Chris Murray, who took what he learned and parlayed it into a prolific amateur career in Alaska. After leaving the island, Murray finished third in either the 1990 or 1991 Alaska State Junior Championships and later won several tournaments on the Kenai Peninsula while boasting a 2.7-handicap. His first job was at the Birchwood Golf Course in Soldotna.
“Jim made the game fun,” said Murray on Wednesday afternoon from Anchorage. “He didn’t feel like it had to be competitive, which was nice. I just remember the kindness and the patience because one thing that you need to learn about golf is you got to be patient — I don’t think I could break 10 on a hole when I first started, but that was OK with him.”
Even after Murray moved to Soldotna, the two met up at local courses to play. He last golfed with Sandin around 2016 in Anchorage. Now at 48, Murray’s handicap has dipped to 13.
“But, I still have fun, and that is the one thing that Jim taught me is to always have fun out there,” Murray said. “Those are my best memories of him is just his patience out there with us dumb little kids out there swinging at the ball and missing half the time. When we connected, it was a great shot; rather, it went into the woods or not.”
My only round with Sandin came in July 2006 — four months after my arrival to The Rock. After finally tying up in Ouzinkie, we — thanks to the help of a few residents — found the three-hole, Par-15 triangular-shaped course. Locals stashed clubs in bushes, and the flat sticks were bamboo shoots. The townies had named the course “Sourdough Flats.”
“We made each hole a Par 5 because of the roughness,” Paul Panamarioff told me in 2006. “It’s probably a Par 3 somewhere else. You see, it’s not too smooth, and your short game will kill you.”
The course was a 25-minute walk from Ouzinkie. On one side of the course was Marmot Bay, and on the other side was Ouzinkie Narrows. Panamarioff wanted to turn the open field into a golf course to give residents a recreational activity. He won the 2005 July Fourth Tournament, which consisted of playing the course three times.
“The main reason we built this was just to kill time — there is not much to do in the village,” he told me. “Sso we got a golf course, and we have a long season. It works out good.”
Murray said Sandin’s favorite courses had a low-key vibe. He must have loved his short time at Sourdough Flats, because it fit the bill of a low-key course.