No. 15 ranks No. 1

It’s not every year that a par 3 gets voted by the Whidbey News-Times readers as the toughest golf hole on North Whidbey, but then the 15th hole at Gallery Golf Course is no ordinary par 3.

You don’t have to be Tiger Woods to make it to the green on No. 15, but hitting big sure does help. At 246 yards from the blue tees, getting it on the green in one is a challenge for even the longest of hitters. The tee shot is downhill, but you still have to get ahold of the ball if you want to be putting for birdie.

“When it’s dry you can get some roll to the green, but in the winter it’s tough,” said Ernie Ghezzi, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s athletic director. “A bogey is a very good score on this hole.”

The length of the hole from the blues makes it feel like a par 4. In fact it once was. From the time that Gallery opened until the 1950s, the hole was a short par 4 with one nasty catch. The tee box was at the bottom of a rolling hill making the first shot completely blind. Golfers teeing off could not see if the group in front of them was finished on the green, and a booming drive could lead to injuries.

“They shortened it in the fifties because you couldn’t see down to the green,” said Gallery Course Manager Chris Braun. “They did right by shortening it for safety reasons.”

In 2000, the hole was shortened again, this time to help the hackers. The white or intermediate tee box was moved down from 246 yards to 190 yards.

“We opened up the shorter white tees in 2000,” Braun said. “It helps the average golfer, but it’s still difficult to hit that green and make the ball stop.”

Speaking of the green, once a golfer gets there it’s not over yet. Number 15 has a large putting surface that slopes toward the back and that can make for some interesting putts and pin placements.

“It’s a fast green that slopes back,” Ghezzi said. “If the pin is on the back side watch out.”

Making the hole even tougher are the elements. Wind usually steers the ball right and toward Golf Course Road which is out-of-bounds. Veteran golfers aim for the poplar tree to the left of the green and let the wind fade it onto the green.

“If you aim straight for the flag on a windy day it’s sayonara,” said Ghezzi.

A row of cottonwoods were planted down the right side about 10 years ago to cut down on the amount of balls that were hit onto the road. Now that the trees have matured they provide another obstacle for players who hit into them.

Though difficult, holes-in-one are not out of the question on No. 15. According to Braun, the hole gives up two or three holes-in-one a year.

Gallery, which was once for military and guests only, opened up to the public approximately five years ago. A majority of the players are still active duty and military retirees, but the course does attract its share of public golfers, especially in the winter.

“It’s one of the driest courses in the area during the winter and we get a lot of play from off the island,” Braun said. “We have a few holes that are wet, but the majority of the course stays dry.”

With the 18-hole 6,351 yard course a part of NAS Whidbey, the unfamiliar golfer has to get used to a couple of things that are not a part of a usual golf outing. The screaming of jets taking off and leaving from the adjacent base is just one of the things. One other is bursts of gunfire from the nearby shooting range.

“That’s part of playing on a military base,” said Ghezzi. “You should go to Fort Lewis where they have the big howitzers. When they go off it shakes the ground.”

If golfers worry about playing No. 15 at Gallery now, they will be really concerned in the next few years. Gallery’s management is planning an obstacle that will make the hole even tougher.

Sometime in the next two years Gallery will be getting a new irrigation system. Right now the area to the left of No. 15 is grass and is an ideal bailout area for golfers concerned about hitting the ball out-of-bounds. Many duffers aim the ball to the open grass on the left and chip up to the green. When the irrigation system comes in, course management is planning on putting a reservoir pond to the left of the 15th green, adding a water hazard to an already difficult hole.

“It’s a challenging hole, it’s long for a par 3, that’s why it is one of the hardest holes on the island,” Braun said. “Putting in a water hazard will just make it harder.”

Just what No. 15 needs.

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