This year’s Seattle U Pat Lesser Harbottle Invitational will be held from Oct. 15-16 at the Tacoma Country and Golf Club in Tacoma, Wash. Shotgun tee times begin at 8:00 AM.
SEATTLE - A wood-framed portrait hangs on the wall of Seattle University’s O’Brien Center, where its athletic administration offices are located. It depicts a young woman looking to the side, a slight smile on her red-painted lips. Brown hair, curling gently, is tucked behind her right ear underneath a white brimmed cap. She wears a white top, a sheer patterned necktie and a delicate wristwatch. The picture would not look out of place in a magazine, if not for the woman’s hands tightly gripping a well-loved golf club.
“It’s a humbling game,” she says, decades later.
At 85 years old, Pat Harbottle, formerly known as Pat Lesser, maintains her love of sports, even if she no longer heads out to the course every day. With no prompting, she happily offers her thoughts on this year’s Ryder Cup (“what a disappointment”), the Seahawks, and the Fighting Irish (her husband, fellow Seattle U golf alumnus John Harbottle, is a huge Notre Dame fan). Ms. Harbottle is good-natured, sharp, always ready with a laugh – nonetheless, she stays down-to-earth and modest, making a few self-deprecating jokes about her current golf swing before thinking back to earlier successes. A member of the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame, the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame, and Seattle U’s own Athletics Hall of Fame, Harbottle’s achievements as a golfer are numerous, culminating in a U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion title in 1955. Unlike many athletes with that level of success, Harbottle never considered turning professional to join the dozen or so other women playing at the sport’s highest level. “I always wanted to get married and have a family,” she explained.
Despite her choice to remain an amateur, Harbottle remains one of Seattle U’s most decorated alumni. In 2014, the women’s golf program unveiled a new tournament, open to female collegiate golfers: the Pat Lesser Harbottle Invitational. “It came as a surprise,” Harbottle says of the event’s creation. “At the time, I had no idea that this was coming. They didn’t tell me beforehand, but I was quite honored that they used my name.”
It took the young Pat Lesser, a self-described tomboy, quite some time to express her interest in the sport. “My dad would go off on a Saturday and play golf with the fellows, and when I was 13, I finally asked, ‘Can I come out and watch you?’”
That day, at Jackson Park Golf Course, she had the opportunity to hit a few balls. “I thought that it was really kind of fun… long story short, Dad started taking me out on Saturdays.”
Those Saturday sessions inspired Colonel Lesser to seek out further opportunities for his daughter to play. “My dad was an avid golfer himself, and he must have seen some potential in me,” Harbottle remarks in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. “He went to Father Lemieux, Seattle U’s President, and told him that he had a daughter who was a halfway decent golfer. Back in the early ‘50s, colleges didn’t have any women’s sports, so Dad asked if I could be on the men’s team.”
At the time, Seattle U was an independent school, unaffiliated with a conference – as a result, Father Lemieux agreed to give Ms. Lesser a chance on the team (Colonel Lesser also inquired at the University of Washington on his daughter’s behalf and was denied). The rest, as they say, is history.
Staying involved with golf, 72 years after she first swung a club, requires a deep connection to the game. “When you’re out on the course, you forget things that worry you,” Harbottle explains. “You just enjoy the beauty of it all. I made so many lasting friendships over the years with the people I played with and competed against. I still keep up with some of them.”
Nowadays, Harbottle doesn’t play as much. Although she still enjoys golf, she says, it’s not her entire life anymore. She tends to stay close to home, enjoying activities such as digging weeds, planting flowers, or going for walks. It’s a quiet, simple life that she wouldn’t have had for quite some time, if ever, had she gone professional – and that’s just the way she likes it.
“I do still love to go out to the course with my husband, my boys and my grandson," Harbottle says. "We tease each other, we give each other a hard time… but I don’t go out there if it’s raining, not like I used to.
“John still does,” Harbottle adds, as an afterthought. “He’s just as enthusiastic as he was in college. Earlier today, he asked to use the computer so he could check the weather.” Ever frank, “I told him no, so he grabbed his clubs and headed out anyway.” She laughs. As it so happens, the sky is starting to drizzle.
“Golf,” Harbottle finally says after a pause, “has made me a better wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. It taught me sportsmanship, patience, and concentration.” Then, with a chuckle, “Hopefully, it’s also improved my personality.”