Whidbey Golf: From North to South

Sunday evening: The parking lot at Island Greens is nearly full, novice golfers navigating each of the course’s nine holes. Owner Dave Anderson shakes his head. He quit trying to figure out why and when golfers will show up.

On most Sunday nights, the course is nearly empty.

“You can usually walk on and tee it up on almost any hole and not get in anyone’s way,” Anderson said. “It’s like the ferry. Some Sunday nights you can drive right onto the ferry and other nights the line stretches up the hill.”

When a golfing analogy includes the ferry, you know you’re on an island course.

The wait at the first tee comes as no surprise to a newcomer, however. The promise of a casual walk through a park-like course on warm and breezy evening is a siren-call.

No one rides carts here. There’s no lone golfer trying to rush through the course as if a round of golf were a morning workout. This is casual golfing, with a serious side: A nine hole par-3 with enough water holes, tall grass, and tunneling trees to make it challenging for golfers at most any level.

The fairways are full of obstacles and the greens are small, requiring accuracy that might be a little less demanding on a full-sized course. It’s great practice for the short game.

At the same time, the course is popular with families and wannabe golfers. At $8 a round on weekends, $7 on weeknights, and the bonus of going around twice after 4 p.m., it’s a bargain for parents teaching their children the game.

To avoid the wait at the first tee, Anderson suggests we begin our round at the fifth hole where there is a momentary opening. To Anderson, that’s like eating desert before the main meal, and he does it all the time. After 15 years on the course — Island Greens passed its 15th anniversary June 17 without fanfare — Anderson says he still enjoys the second half of the course best.

Number five is the longest hole, a 225-yarder, drivable from the blue tees, but requiring pinpoint accuracy with a wood. On some courses it might be a par 4, an ego-booster providing a good opportunity for a birdie, and a long-shot at eagle. At Island Greens, it’s prized as the lone opportunity for a strong swinger to take out a driver or three wood.

Anderson starts with the swing of the day, reaching the green and sitting the ball 12 feet from the cup. As usual, I’m in the apple trees 30 yards to the right. Despite the promising start, Anderson would not get his birdie.

Number six is the only hole Anderson actually cut through the trees on the property. He took down several tall fir to create a narrow corridor patterned after the fifth hole at Everett Country Club known as “Hogan’s Alley.” For me, it’s been the most challenging hole on the course, the trees mercilessly intercepting all but the purest, straightest drives.

The tee box is built high on a wooden platform, an amenity that doesn’t interest me. I’d rather swing with my feet on solid ground, convinced that the platform has just enough sway to keep me from hitting the sweet spot. After telling Anderson this theory, I hit the sweet spot and rolled my ball inches from the cup before it settled on the back fringe of the green. Suddenly, I loved this hole.

Island Greens is a former 30-acre rolling pasture with natural wetlands.

“We let the land dictate where the holes would lie,” Anderson said.

To develop a park-like atmosphere, Anderson limbed tall mature trees, planted new ones, landscaped around the greens, and enhanced the wetlands, creating full-fledged ponds. To date, Anderson has planted 352 rhododendrons, which makes for a great garden walk during springtime rounds.

Number seven is a short 144-yard fly from the blue tees over a wetland. Signs surrounding the tall grass ask the errant golfer to stay out of the sanctuary area and consider any ball as lost.

Number eight turns right around and flies back over the same sanctuary, this time an uphill 133-yarder protected by trees on both sides of the green. Anderson calls it “the goal posts,” and it’s one of the more challenging short holes.

The final hole in Anderson’s favorite half of the course is a 170-yarder off the flatbed of an old rusted-out truck. Again, I worry about the sway, which turns out to be as good an excuse as any for my slice.

Anderson retired as a veterinarian in 1989 when he and his wife, Karen, opened the course to the public. He retired from his part-time job as state legislator in 2000, after four years representing Whidbey Island in Olympia. Of his careers, Anderson says owning and operating a golf course is the best and healthiest thing he’s done. Being a vet was satisfying, but it was also an intense business that included the daily drama of people losing their loved pets. And politics? Well, it was too political.

Island Greens offers neither the politics or the drama, unless you consider it dramatic to climb 50 feet up a towering fir in order to rig up protective netting. The golf course is profitable, he says, but only because he and Karen do most of the operations and maintenance themselves.

Anderson runs Island Greens based on his own set of course standards. He uses very little herbicide on the fairways or fungicide on the greens, preferring the rougher look and feel of the unmanicured course. What’s wrong with hitting a ball off a weed, he asks?

“There’s been too much demand on making the turf too perfect, which requires dramatically more maintenance and more chemicals,” he said.

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