Don Helphrey putts on the first hole at Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Don Helphrey putts on the first hole at Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kayak Point becomes destination for disc golf

The Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort, formerly the Kayak Point G.C., will host a pro event this weekend

STANWOOD — This weekend, more than 300 of the best disc golf players from Washington and beyond descend upon the Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort for the Kayak Point Open, an event sanctioned by the Professional Disc Golf Association. When registration for the tournament opened the field filled up in 20 minutes, and there’s still a lengthy waiting list.

All of which illustrates the progress that’s been made since the former Kayak Point Golf Course reopened as a disc golf facility just over a year ago.

The Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, and this weekend’s tournament is an opportunity to spotlight Snohomish County’s unique disc golf facility.

“Right now (the Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort) is only about 50% done and it’s already a destination spot,” said Nicholas Shuler of Mountlake Terrace who, as one of just four players with ratings of 1,000 or higher who are competing in this weekend’s Open division, is considered one of the favorites. “It’s a beautiful property and I’m extremely happy to have it. It’s perfect for disc golf, and to have disc golfers running it is even better.”

The Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort is what emerged from the ashes after Kayak Point Golf Course’s closure nearly three years ago.

The 270-acre property, which is owned by Snohomish County, had been used as a golf course since 1977, with private companies receiving leases from the county to operate the course. However, the course shut its doors in October of 2018 when the operators were no longer able to meet their financial obligations to the county.

Meanwhile Keith Lionetti, one of Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort’s co-owners, had been on the lookout for a location to create a dedicated disc golf facility.

“I had been trying to get at least one 18-hole disc golf course on any Snohomish Count Park property probably dating back to 10 years ago,” Lionetti said. “I was seeing where disc golf was going first-hand. I own another retail shop in (Seattle) which is located inside a King County Park with a disc golf course, and I was watching how the amount of players was increasing, but there was no expansion in the number of courses. So there was a need for it. Disc golf needed a dedicated space, and a high percentage of the players are more than willing to pay for the peace of mind of not having to deal with whatever may come up in a public park.

“The Snohomish County Parks director told me about (Kayak Point Golf Course) and how the current management was struggling and couldn’t pay rent, and said I should come and check it out to see if disc golf would be a good fit,” Lionetti added. “I played a round when it was still a ball golf course and I saw the potential. I also knew it would take a team of dedicated, passionate crazies like myself in order to make the dream come true.”

After what Lionetti described as an “extremely challenging” process, he and his partners Rob Jones-Gunn and Eric Edgeton were able to obtain a short-term lease from the county. They cleaned up the facility, which had not been maintained, and came up with a plan for five separate disc golf courses on the site.

The resort opened on May 30, 2020, with three courses up and running: two full-sized 18-hole courses (the Gold course is for experts, the Red course is for beginners) along with an 18-hole pitch-and-putt. The fee is $12 for unlimited play, though players must book tee times in advance, and the pitch-and-putt is free. A pro shop is available on site and players can also rent carts. The resort is hoping to open its restaurant later this summer.

Facilities dedicated solely to disc golf are rare. Most courses are located in public parks, which makes them free and accessible, while a handful of golf courses also accommodate disc golf. However, those options don’t offer multiple courses, and players face the obstacle of picnickers setting up in the middle of a fairway, or the threat of golf discs whizzing overhead.

“As far as I know there’s nothing like this anywhere,” Lionetti said. “I do think there are places dedicated to disc golf only, but I don’t think there’s anything like what we’re trying to achieve here, with different courses based off different skill levels so that it appeals to a broad range of players.”

The development of the other two courses is dependent upon the resort being able to obtain a long-term lease with the county. Once that happens and the final two courses are complete, the resort is hoping it can attract national-level and even international-level events.

As for this weekend’s Kayak Point Open, it’s part of the Professional Disc Golf Association’s PackEx Cup, which is a series of 10 events held around Puget Sound. The majority of the entrants hail from Washington, though some are traveling from Oregon and California. Players will compete in two rounds, with the Open division leaders teeing off last on Sunday at the Gold course. The Open division winner was expected to pocket between $500 and $1,000.

“I did some research, and over the last five or six years this is the biggest disc golf event Washington has ever had as far as the number of players,” tournament director Anthony Hawley said. “Relative to par, (the Gold course) is probably one of the hardest courses in Washington. The length is the difficulty, there’s quite a few 600-foot par 3s.

“Honestly, it’s just nice to have Kayak Point as a venue to hold such a large event,” Hawley added. “And for locals who aren’t comfortable competing in events, it’s great to have the chance to spectate and watch some of the best players in Washington play a very difficult course.”

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