By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
WOODINVILLE — An afternoon of brilliant sunshine is usually the perfect time to be on a golf course.
But in spite of some great weather on Sunday afternoon, Wellington Hills Golf Course in south Snohomish County was not a happy place. The nine-hole course outside of Woodinville was closing after more than 80 years, “and there are a lot of sad, sad faces here,” said Jan Japar, who has operated the course for more than 16 years with business partner Mimi Racicot.
“It’s a sad day, it really is,” agreed Jim Fincher of Kenmore, who has been playing at Wellington Hills for 28 years. “I’m sure our groups (of regular golfers) will be getting together at other courses. We’ll land somewhere, but I don’t think there’s another course around like this one.”
Wellington Hills, one of the oldest public golf courses in Snohomish County, is a casualty of the county’s agreement with neighboring King County over their shared use of the Brightwater sewage treatment plant just south of Maltby. As part of the deal, Snohomish County received $70 million from King County with the stipulation that some of the money be dedicated to the purchase and development of park lands.
Snohomish County spent $9.7 million of that money to buy the 100-acre Wellington Hills property earlier this year. The seller was the University of Washington, which had purchased the land in 1991 as a possible site for its Bothell branch campus, which was later located elsewhere.
The county plans to turn Wellington Hills into a regional sports complex with lighted playing fields, an indoor arena, trails, a mountain bike facility and an off-leash dog park.
But no golf course.
“The first meeting I had with (Snohomish County officials earlier this year), we got our eviction notice,” Japar said.
The fact is, Wellington Hills has been on borrowed time for several years. The land is too valuable and the previous lease agreement with the UW too modest to maintain long-term viability.
“The clock’s been ticking for about a decade,” Japar acknowledged.
In addition, the number of annual nine-hole rounds has dropped significantly — from around 35,000 in the mid-1990s to about 18,000 last year.
“This is a $10 million piece of property and a little nine-hole, $10-a-round golf course,” Racicot added. “There’s no way you can get the green fees (to make it financially viable). … We’ve been lucky to be here.”
That said, Wellington Hills had a devoted contingent of regular golfers. They are, Japar said, “the people who played here every Tuesday at 10:30. Or every Thursday at 5:30. They’ve been incredibly loyal.”
On Sunday, and for the final time, the sign at the road read: “Wellington Hills Golf Course, Open.” But in and around the clubhouse there were “For Sale” signs on almost everything, including golf carts, rental clubs and even filing cabinets from the office.
In recent weeks, golfers from past years have been returning to Wellington Hills because “everybody wants to say good-bye,” Racicot said.
Both women expect those farewells to continue for a few days. The golf course is officially closed, but there are still fairways and greens, not to mention a forecast of continuing sunny weather.
“There’s still going to be a lot of golfers out here, I do believe that,” Japar said. “There will be people playing until the grass is too tall. But within the week there are going to be gates up.”
And at that point, and after more than eight decades of operation, golf at Wellington Hills will be reduced to memories.
“It’s really sad,” said Dennis Earley of Everett. “I learned to play golf here. I live next door to Walter Hall (Golf Course in south Everett), but I still come here.
“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “I don’t even know if I can find the words to describe it. But I know I’m going to cry on the way home.”