Sun’s out, greens cut, time to grab the clubs and go.
On April’s hottest day, the Women’s Club of Holmes Harbor Golf Course did just that.
“It’s our first time out and we’re spending a lot of time looking for balls,” Donna Brown said while poking through grass Thursday morning. “Miraculously my game didn’t improve in the off season.”
Such is the humor of the group of friends that have been meeting weekly for several years. Some are beginners, others more practiced and proficient at putts, drives, birdies and eagles.
Judy Brown, president of the Women’s Club, is a big fan of the Freeland course. She said it’s working hard to improve the fairways, overcome past financial woes and distill the misperception that it’s not open.
“In the past three years, Holmes Harbor has gotten in better shape,” Brown said. “It’s taken a lot of work.”
Teaching pro Paul Lavin, leases the land and owns, operates and maintains the golf course. He recently turned to the community for advice and fundraising.
Lavin said when he took over operations of the club three years ago, he put together a multi-year plan. The first years, he tended to the greens.
This year, he’s tackling bunker renovation.
“Bunkers are all filled with grass now because no one maintained them for 18 months,” Levin said.
Bunkers, more commonly called sand traps, are man-made depressions designed to create hazards. (Slang for sand traps include the beach, kitty litter and cat box.)
The Holmes Harbor course has 30 bunkers, none with sand. Instead, weeds, grasses, cattails, horsetails and other Whidbey vegetation have taken root.
The dream? Turning them into huge sand bunkers, each filled with six inches of white sand.
“That takes 150 tons of sand and costs $18,000,” Lavin said. “Once you put white sand against the greens, it makes a huge difference.”
He’s seeking one-time sponsorships to complete the project.
Called “Sponsor a Bunker,” the fundraiser is similar to sponsoring a brick to pay for outdoor public improvements. Each bunker sponsor pays $450.
So far, 12 families and groups of neighbors have committed to being sponsors.
Earlier this year, Lavin reached out to neighbors and longtime members and asked for improvement ideas.
“I put together a golf executive counsel of ten people and asked them how can we make Holmes Harbor successful,” he said. The group meets every two weeks to discuss fundraising, publicity, events and other business and then it assigns tasks.
The public course offers weekday and weekend rates, punch cards and memberships; golfers get around on 30 gasoline-powered carts and there’s a small Pro Shop inside a parking lot trailer.
Others coming out swinging Thursday said they couldn’t pass up the rays, warmth and the break from rain, rain, rain.
Considered one of the most scenic fairways in the Northwest, it’s panoramic views include snow-capped Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges and the waters of Holmes Harbor peeking through blossoming trees.
“It was a long wet winter,” declared Paul Kierman out with two friends. “I took a vacation day when I saw the weather forecast.”
Kierman lives near the 12th hole in one of the hundreds of houses surrounding the par 64 golf course.
“It’s a challenging course. It’s tight and narrow and not big and wide,” said his friend, Geary Milligan (not Mulligan) who lives in Greenbank. “It’s a golf course where you have to be accurate.”
Another reason they like Holmes Harbor, Kierman added, “It’s affordable.”
The golf course also provides an essential service to the neighborhood.
In 2013, Holmes Harbor Sewer District purchased the 50 acres of fairways to use as part of the district’s wastewater system. The undulating course acts as the drain fields for the community’s treated effluent.
A third entity, Holmes Harbor LLC, owns the large club house, which previously housed a popular restaurant but has been vacant and up for sale for years.
The course and clubhouse weathered numerous financial bumps and legal wranglings as owners and partnerships changed.
After closing for a period of time, it’s struggled to regain its former status as one of Washington state’s top executive-style golf courses.
“It’s been open officially since late 2013,” Lavin said, “but because it was closed for 18 months, many think it’s still closed.”
Four tournaments have been scheduled through the summer.
The course was built in 1994 by Jack Sikma, the former Seattle SuperSonics basketball player, who sold the 54-acre greens in 2003.
The turnaround of the club is because of Lavin’s perseverance and commitment, many say.
“Paul’s success comes under the heading of preserving the living environment,” said long-time golfer Carol Hanna, who’s part of the course advisory group. “People recognize and appreciate the energy and money that he has lavished on this on-going effort.”
Wherever she goes around Whidbey, Hanna drives home this message: “Yes, Holmes Harbor Golf Course is open and it is in really great shape.”