Like the final scene from many Hollywood productions, the Island Greens faded from history Sunday, Aug. 23, as the sun symbolically set in the western sky.
Dave and Karen Anderson, the developers and original owners of Island Greens, were among the quintet that played what was likely the final public round on the nine-hole, par-three course in Clinton Sunday. They were joined by Mike Zuercher, the course’s general manager for the past nine years; Jerry Elliott, who took over as the course superintendent three months ago; and Bill Bickle, who helped and mentored Zeurcher and ran the first golf league.
Island Greens was sold in mid-August to someone from Los Angeles who plans to build a family home on the property.
Anderson, Elliott and Zuercher, though not positive, believe the new owner doesn’t plan to keep the course open to the public.
In 1974, the Andersons bought the property that would later become Island Greens and opened the course on Fathers’ Day June 17, 1989. They sold it in September 2011 to Lucy Vanderwende and Arul Menezes.
Dave Anderson, a veterinarian, grew up on a golf course in the Bothell area, where he “would come out and play every night.” He continued to play golf throughout his adult life, including a trip to the world’s most famous course, St. Andrews Links in Scotland, and developed a feel for what a course should look like.
Once he settled on South Whidbey, he said he “always dreamed of building a course on this beautiful property of old growth timber.”
When the Andersons’ two sons graduated from high school in the 1980s, they decided it was time to “do something to give back,” so they applied to and were accepted by the Peace Corps. As they were waiting their assignment, the golfing dynamics on South Whidbey changed.
The Useless Bay Golf and Country Club became totally private and Holmes Harbor closed, leaving no public course in the area. The closest, the Gallery, was north of Oak Harbor, 40 miles away.
“We more or less flipped a coin,” Dave Anderson said. “We had to make a decision, go into the Peace Corps or build a golf course.”
The golf course won out.
At the time, the Andersons already had three rough holes on their property that they would play during family get-togethers, teeing off from the back porch.
For quite a while, Anderson had an eight-hole layout designed in his head. Karen came up with the ninth.
A plus, Dave Anderson said, was they needed to remove only a few trees on their park-like property to complete the course. They accented its beauty by planting more than 300 rhododendrons.
Building the course “was a lot of hard work,” Anderson said, “and we did most of it ourselves.”
The fee when the course opened was $4 for nine holes; payment is on the honor system.
“Most people paid, but there were a few who would sneak on,” Dave Anderson said. “Sometimes we would get notes in the envelopes like, ‘Only had a five; I’ll catch you later, Dave.’”
Even with the low fees, the course was profitable.
“We would get so busy, we would have to hire an attendant all summer long,” Anderson said.
“We grossed as much as $125,000,” he said. Much of that, however, was eaten up by insurance and maintenance.
“We did it on a shoestring budget,” he added.
The green fees gradually grew over the years, and Sunday they were $10 for nine holes and $15 for 18.
Keeping the course playable for 22 years wasn’t easy, according to Anderson. “It is quite a bit of physical labor and quite a bit of maintenance.”
The Andersons received help from some “incredible workers,” such as Don Grow, along the way.
Once he reached his mid 60s, Anderson said he “couldn’t do it anymore.” That prompted the sale to Vandewende and Menezes in 2011.
After selling, the Andersons continued to play the course and couldn’t get its upkeep out of their blood.
“We would bring along clippers and help trim up the course as we played,” Anderson said. “It was a labor of love. I guess I am a frustrated landscaper at heart.”
Now that the course is shutting down, he “feels bad” for local golfers. Holmes Harbor has re-opened, but the green fees, which are more than double those at Island Greens, are “out of budget” for some, Anderson said.
Although he knows it is probably just a “pipe dream,” he is “holding out hope” that the new owner keeps the course open.
“I spent about two hours in bed last night figuring out how to reconfigure the course around a house,” he said.
Regardless, he is looking forward to meeting the new owner and pointing out some of the idiosyncrasies of the property.
Zuercher, who took over maintenance of the course when the Andersons sold it, said Dave and Karen are “two of the hardest working people I know.
“When people think of Island Greens, they think of Dave, but it is also Karen. People don’t come out just to golf, but to see the rhodies. Karen helped make the course beautiful.”
Zuercher said he was forced to “become complete,” a jack-of-all-trades, to maintain the course.
“It is a monumental challenge,” he said. “Island Greens is very deceptive maintenance-wise — it looks easier than it is.
“Dave was really good to me. If I ever needed to talk it out, to discuss a problem, he would always have the answer.”
Zuercher said he gets emotional thinking about it closing: “We put our heart and soul into it.”
Zuercher called Vandewende “a fabulous woman” who “held the place for nine years and tried to make it work.”
“She tried to sell it as a golf course,” he added. “She cares about the community.”
Vandewende said she and her husband planned to keep the course and establish it as their future home when they bought it, “but our plans changed.”
“I am not a golfer,” she said. “For me, the course has had its ups and downs.”
Vandewende said she never received a firm offer from someone wishing to keep the course open.
“Had we received two equal offers, we would have chosen the one who wanted to keep it open,” she said.
“I think the community is going to be sad about this,” Vandewende added. “Change is hard.”
At Sunday’s good-bye round, Karen Anderson posted the best score, according to Zuercher.
“The golf game wasn’t about the score though,” Zuercher said afterward. “We talked about the things that impacted us over the years on the different holes, told stories about things that happened on the course and laughed a lot.”