Tee off

Friendly competition and tasty food at Island Cove Adventures.

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Family vacations in New England usually begin with some sort of brainstorming session. What does everyone need to check off the list? Eat a lobster roll, catch a sunset, ride bikes, and if your family was anything like mine— play mini golf.

Mini golf is a longstanding family tradition; at least it is in this part of the country. The sport can manifest itself in a lot of different ways. For some, it’s light and easy, and everyone’s a winner. For others, it’s really competitive and provides us with one of our earliest memories of a public meltdown. However you go about your mini golf experience is up to you, but maybe we can all agree this pastime is an important one.

There’s only one mini golf course on Martha’s Vineyard, which may come as a surprise to those familiar with the mid-Cape region. Island Cove Adventures is located off State Road in Vineyard Haven, just across from the Woodlands Plaza. Owners Mary and Ray Gosselin opened it 26 years ago, recognizing the need for something like this on the Island.

“It’s an important vacation tradition,” Mary Gosselin said. “I didn’t think much of it at first; it was my husband’s idea. But over the years, I’ve fallen in love with mini golf.”

The Times had a little company outing on a recent Friday afternoon. Myself, reporter Brian Dowd, photo editor Gabrielle Mannino, intern extraordinaire Sophia McCarron, and editor George Brennan decided to take a drive up the road and check it out. It’s one of those properties that’s about five times larger than it looks from the street.

For $11 per adult, $10 per child, and $8 per senior, you’re granted access to 18 holes of wonder amid waterfalls, gardens, caves, and coves. But before we embarked on our Island Cove Adventure, we had to pick out colors, which if you ask me says a lot about the player.

George went red, a fiery-but-classic choice. Brian chose a vibrant orange — bold, without taking the game too seriously. Gabrielle went with hot pink, a spritely and youthful choice. Sophia chose purple — a zen and laid-back player. I went with yellow, exuding some warm and friendly competition — and also my favorite color.

We quickly learned after the first few holes that this was not your average mini golf course. Every hole is equipped with a few sneaky hills that you have to learn to navigate. You think you’re sending the ball in one direction, but then it stops, and rolls where you least expect it to. This creates a game that’s both challenging and unpredictable, yet stirring and humbling. You could have 100 mini golf games under your belt, and Island Cove Adventures would keep your game on its toes.

The course takes you through waterfalls and caves casting mist and shade, keeping the players cool on a hot summer day. Streams run along, aside, and within each hole, sometimes trapping a ball, providing another sense of capriciousness. The game also teaches you that confidence is key. On hole 14, George called out, “This is my hole,” and followed through with a hole in one.

Each hole was par two or three, and total was par 44, which my score nearly doubled. George came closest with a 47, to all of our dismay. Brian came in a close second with a 54, Gabrielle a 56, and Sophia a 61.

But everyone’s a winner when you’ve got an extensive selection of postgame eats. Island Cove Adventures has an overwhelming number of options, ranging from ice cream to cookiewiches, frappes, lattes, sundaes, and smoothies. There’s a full food menu, and an outdoor bar with high-top tables. There are hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, grilled chicken, garden burgers, and veggie wraps — Island Cove is very vegetarian-friendly.

Mary Gosselin reflected on the past 26 years co-owning Island Cove Adventures. She reflected on the Clintons visiting one summer, and on a 23-year-old who pulled up one evening after hours.

“I said, ‘Sorry, we’re closed,’ and he responded, ‘But you’re still here? I just needed to make sure you were still here,’” Mary recounted.

“It’s a place where families make memories,” she said. “There’s no phones, no iPads, no business calls, and no distractions. When people are here, they’re here.”

Island Cove Adventures is open every day in the summer season from 10 am to 10 pm. It is located at 386 State Rd. in Vineyard Haven.