Golfing experience on Hat Island is a diamond in the rough

When Don Levin’s motorboat left the Everett Marina heading for Hat Island recently, I felt the impulse to sing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song so many of us know from our youth.

It was one of those sunny afternoons on Puget Sound. And yet, even on gorgeous Pacific Northwest summer days, when it comes to my golf game, one never knows when the tempest is going to raise its ugly head.

So just sit right back and you’ll read a tale, a tale of a rather eventful trip that started aboard a tiny ship.

From the moment Levin, 56, and I arrived at the Hat Island Marina, I knew I was in for a treat. Before we could even tie up, a local, Susan Church, greeted us and offered to pull our line. As fate would have it, the line I unwittingly tossed her was deceptively not secured to the boat and Susan, bless her heart, tumbled backward into the cold Puget Sound and then gamely swam to the emergency ladder.

“I’m going to be banned before I set foot on Hat Island,” I thought.

But, Church, like a true Hat Islander, made the best of the situation.

And that’s partly why I wanted to visit Hat Island.

While I used the excuse that I was there for the golf, I was really there to get the entire island experience. And over the next handful of hours, I pretty much achieved my goal.

How often in Snohomish County do you climb into a vehicle that’s been left unlocked overnight in a public area with keys in the glove box? Of course, there’s no place to hide large stolen property on this small island with about 270 homes. In fact, according to Levin, there’s not even a need for law enforcement on Hat Island so even stop signs are seen as mere suggestions for those touring the dirt roads in their beater vehicles or ATVs.

It was on two ATVs, with our clubs attached by bungee cords, that Don and his wife, Jo, and I rode from their beach house up to the quaint and narrow par-33 nine-hole course. With no one around to ensure that we were paying customers and with just a pair of twosomes spotted on the entire course, the Hat Island golfing experience is one of those diamonds in the rough.

Granted the greens may be a little “fuzzy,” as Levin described them, but that’s also part of that Hat Island experience. And by the fourth hole, I had a pretty good feel for how much “oomph” I needed to apply to the putter.

It was at about that point that Levin, an 8-handicapper, showed little interest in doing anything other than avoiding having his rather inexperienced golfing wife, yet an extremely athletic woman, top his score on any hole and went sans shirt. Whether he did this to distract his wife or simply to enjoy the sun and the fact that there were no other golfers around to be disturbed by the sight, I couldn’t determine. But on how many golf courses in the county do you even dare to go shirtless?

Only on Hat Island.

Except for a couple token sandbox-sized sand traps and the “fuzzy” greens, Hat Island Golf Course played like most courses I have explored this summer. Some thick rough laced with nettles on a few of the holes kept us from venturing too far in to retrieve a deeply embedded ball. However, it’s the only course I know of where only recyclables (read: mainly beer cans) are collected; other garbage must be personally carted off the island.

Playing golf on a secluded island with two very good athletes who just happen to be married to each other makes for some comical dynamics. At one point, Jo put her second shot on the edge of the No. 6 green. Her husband, meanwhile, was facing a challenging pitching wedge third shot. At that point, Jo, 55, turned to Don and claimed that this was the hole where she would come out on top (talk about a competitive streak), to which Don reminded her that, “It’s far from over.” Sure enough, an impressive chip shot and a steely putt kept Levin’s wife from having the right to gloat over her husband.

As for my game, the loft on my approach shots is becoming more consistent. But it’s the mental letdowns that are inflating my score. Except for No. 5, I played steady bogey-plus golf to finish with a 47.

After our relaxing round of golf, we enjoyed lunch at the Levin’s beach home before heading back on the ATVs to the reality of the fast-paced mainland life. I thought about Hat Island being as primitive as it is and I commented to Levin that except for the foliage, this really could pass for a tropical island.

One where a golfing Gilligan might not mind getting stranded.

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