This week in disc golf GROWTH news

We go out of our way to share news stories that cover disc golf growth at the local, grassroots level for two good reasons. Grassroots growth is the secret sauce for a sport that is spreading like a virus despite almost no corporate funding, and, amazingly, no other disc golf media talk much about it.

On January 2nd tusconlocalmedia.com published a comprehensive piece listing what their reporters believe will be the biggest stories in that region in 2019. Near the top is a theme that is all too common these days, a public (taxpayer funded) golf course that is losing more than $1 million a year. Who wants to bet they’ll be adding disc golf sometime soon? The same story mentions a new course coming to the El Rio Preserve in Pima County. If you live in Oro Valley, help them connect the dots!

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If you’re near Blaine, WA, check out this new course added in 2018. Photo credit: Chris Garvey for The Northern Light

From Blaine, WA, right on the Canadian border, a similar “Year in Review” article published in The Northern Light lists the installation of a new course in Lincoln Park, stating “Residents and visitors can now enjoy the Blaine disc golf course in Lincoln Park, an 18-hole championship-style course that is free to use and encourages outdoor recreation and tournament-style play.”

A weee bit to the south, in Crossville, TN, a story that focuses on whether the town council should market itself as more than “The Golf Capital of Tennessee,” the real news (as far as we’re concerned) is buried near the bottom. The council is raising funds to build a #newdiscgolfcourse and should be ready to begin soon. If you live in Crossville, get in touch with them and let them know you’re excited- and maybe offer to help!

“The sports council has been raising funds to add a disc golf course at Meadow Park Lake and expects to soon move forward with that project.” –Heather Mullinix, Crossville Chronicle

In LaJunta, CO, a story detailing the city’s extensive Trails project, kudos are given for the installation of another new course. According to the story by Bette McFarren, “Also helping with the continued development of Anderson Arroyo, said (Parks and Recreation Director Brad) Swartz, is the popular Disc Golf Course installed in 2018.” Judging by the picture accompanying the story, the course replaced a previously neglected open space and now provides exercise and recreation for numerous residents. Have any of our readers played this one yet?

Finally, here is a story from Bowling Green Daily News about local business leaders in Logan County, KY wanting the county to purchase a golf course that is for sale and turn half of it into a park (leaving 9 holes of the golf course intact).

“According to Ray, the proposed plans include a disc golf course, baseball fields, tennis and volleyball courts and a splash park.” –Jackson French, Bowling Green Daily News

Their plan calls for the park to include a disc golf course, so here’s an extension of that idea. Build the park and disc golf course, and on the remaining 9-hole golf course, add disc golf to that as well. The county would suddenly be able to offer a 36-hole disc golf complex- a sure tourism draw these days when done right. If you know someone who lives in Bowling Green or Logan County tell them to pitch the idea right away. The people to talk to are listed in the story.

 

As ball golf courses struggle, disc golf fills the void

Contrasting the rapidly expanding number of disc golf courses in the U.S. with the, uh, relative ‘shrinkage‘ in ball golf is one way to measure the unstoppable ascension of The New Golf.

Both Steve Dodge and I have publicly predicted that the number of disc golf courses in the U.S. will overtake traditional golf venues in the near future. Mr. Dodge wrote about it on the DGPT blog, and I addressed it a couple of times in my book. In both cases we considered the two types of courses as mutually exclusive- in other words, they are either one or the other. A growing trend, however, is changing the math in a BIG way.

If we’re comparing facilities that offer ONLY ball golf to all the parks, open spaces, AND commercial venues where permanent disc golf courses exist, our seemingly aggressive predictions of eight and five years may turn out to be conservative.

And you can guess why, can’t you?

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The basket of Hole 11 of the disc golf layout on DeLaveaga Municipal Golf Golf in Santa Cruz, CA sits perilously close to a sand trap. Traps and greens are typically one-stroke hazards in disc golf.

Public ball golf courses are dropping left and right. More often than not they operate at a loss these days, and those that try to remain open are desperate to attract new patrons. Enter disc golf, a sport headed in a decidedly different direction. This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune offers a perfect example.

San Diego runs multiple public golf courses, but only the famous Torrey Pines complex with two championship 18-hole tracks turns a profit. The rest of them are subsidized by the city. Balboa and Mission Bay, which according to the article lose a combined $2 million each year, felt compelled to attract a new breed of golfer. For a relatively minimal investment they added disc golf and footgolf, and (no surprise), usage at both courses has spiked.

“The spikes in usage at Balboa and Mission Bay have been partly attributed to upgrades, including new foot and disc golf courses added to each and a greater focus on the quality of course conditions.”  -David Garrick, SD Union Tribune

A quick Google search yields plenty of other examples, like this one from Ceres, CA, and another from Tuscon, AZ where the city council recommended more desperate measures- with disc golf still the end goal.

The article from San Diego also mentioned some details on how much it costs to operate a traditional golf course. According to Garrick, energy and water costs for all San Diego public courses are expected to rise this year from $2.1 to $2.6 million, with personnel costs rising from $4.3 million to $4.6 million. Their overall budget will approach $20 million!

So is it realistic to think that within a few short years the number of disc golf-only courses in the U.S. combined with the number of ball golf/disc golf hybrid courses will be greater than the number of ball golf-only courses? Sure seems like it.

We’re trending that way already, as budget-strapped cities and municipalities are figuring out that disc golf courses require a tiny fraction of the overhead needed to keep a traditional golf course playable, in addition to requiring far less land.

What do you suppose will happen when it also becomes common knowledge that the average taxpayer these days is more likely to embrace the easier-to-learn, quicker-to-play, less expensive, and less environmentally impactful version of the game?

Get ready for The New Golf. It will eclipse the old, obsolete model, much sooner than you think.

Disc Golf Book Excerpt: The environmental impact of disc golf vs. ball golf

 

In this excerpt from a soon-to-be-released disc golf book targeting non-disc golfers, the considerable environmental impact of ball golf course development and maintenance is contrasted with the relatively invisible footprint of most disc golf courses. Consider the resources demanded by a ball golf course located in the middle of a desert wasteland. A disc golf course on the same piece of land, on the other hand, would involve nothing except strategically-placed targets and tees. Virtually no manipulation of the landscape whatsoever. And no watering.

I hope you enjoy the read, follow the links and post comments below.

As shown on this shot from the fairway of hole #3 at Pinto Lake DGC in Watsonville, CA (site of the 2011 PDGA World Championships), disc golf can be played on severe slopes and any type of ground cover- in this case bare dirt.
As shown on this shot from the fairway of hole #3 at Pinto Lake DGC in Watsonville, CA (site of the 2011 PDGA World Championships), disc golf can be played on severe slopes and any type of ground cover- in this case bare dirt with a severe right-to-left slope.

The Environmental Impact of Golf

Traditional golf attracts criticism from environmentalists for two primary reasons: water and pesticides. Prodigious amounts of both are used each week by U.S. golf courses to keep fairways and greens lush, green, and free of weeds. The more radical line of thinking is that the environmental impact on such large areas for the benefit – and recreational benefit at that – of so few is unconscionable. Even a good percentage of golf enthusiasts polled on the subject of golf and the environment tend to agree that course owners and greenskeepers need to modify maintenance practices.

As part of a comprehensive report on golf and the environment in 2008 written by John Barton, Golf Digest magazine conducted a survey with the purpose of determining the opinions of golfers as compared to the general population. When asked if Pesticides used on a golf course creates a potential health hazard for humans, 40 percent of the golfer group responded yes (compared to 66 percent of the general population group). That says two things: Two-thirds of the general population think that the pesticides used on traditional golf courses are likely hazardous and even close to half of all golfers are willing to admit it; yet their reasons for wanting to play the game are so compelling that they don’t care. They’ll take their chances!

To the poll question “Should the amount of water used on golf courses only be enough to keep the grass alive, not make it green and lush?” 44 percent of golfers said yes. Pay attention to this one not only to the reply (most golfers still want their course green and lush, whatever it takes) but to the particular wording of the question. ‘ . . . enough to keep the grass alive . . . ” How much is that, exactly? And why is keeping the grass alive necessary if it isn’t going to be esthetically pleasing? Dead grass comes back every Spring.

The answer to the first question is hard to nail down, as the difference between ‘alive’ and ‘lush and green’ is entirely subjective. But the answer to the second question is more illuminating and goes directly to why golf will always be a concern – and, therefore, a barrier – to certain environmentalists.

Thick grass, mowed (emissions from maintenance equipment are another concern of environmentalist) at a consistent height is essential to the game of golf because players hit the ball from wherever it lands. They expect a reward for keeping the ball in the fairway in the form of a clean shot at the ball as it lies atop the perfect grass. And greens, where players putt the ball at the hole, are supposed to be kept so short and uniform that the ball will roll straight and smoothly with a slight tap of the club. To get a better idea of how important this manipulation of the land is to the game of traditional golf, think of your favorite natural open space park. Now imagine people trying to play golf there, hitting their balls from amongst the dirt, brush, tall native grasses or bushes and clustered trees. Not to mention finding the ball after each shot.

In the Golf Digest story mentioned above, five different people with different perspectives on golf and the environment were interviewed. One of them was a noted environmentalist named Brent Blackwelder, who is also an avid golfer. According to Barton, Blackwelder is one of America’s most prominent environmental advocates and has testified before Congress more than 100 times. He is also past president of Friends of the Earth and now president emeritus of the same.

Blackwelder answered asked a number of questions, but his response to the final one was the most illuminating in the context of this book. After touching on specific issues like pesticides, energy use, and genetically-engineered grasses, Barton asked, “What would golf be like in a perfect world?” Blackwelder’s reply:

“You’d be playing on an organic course. The maintenance equipment would be charged by solar power. Recycled water would be used for irrigation, and used efficiently and sparingly. There’d be a great variety of wildlife habitats. This idea that you’ve got to make everything look like a miniature golf course with a green carpet is crazy. It’s the same problem that we see with these lawn fetishes—all the water and chemicals and energy that are used for a lawn that just sits there. So let’s get back to the rugged qualities of the game. People ought to read the history of golf.

“We’ve not been very good stewards of the earth as a species. We should be a blessing to the rest of life, not such a curse. The whole idea of living with and appreciating and understanding our surroundings is something we need more of. We have this incredible nature-deficit disorder worldwide. We’re sitting all day in front of a computer in an office and not getting out for a walk in the woods. Golf is a great opportunity to be outdoors. It should be a fun, interesting, great walk out there; a healthful, salubrious experience.”

The utopian golf experience that Blackwelder describes as “golf in a perfect world” is already a reality, and it’s even better from an environmentalist’s perspective than he’s imagining. It may not be the golf he grew up playing, with clubs and balls on 150 acres of heavily manipulated land. But it can be played on virtually every type of terrain with hardly any alteration required, and zero watering or pesticides. As this book aims to demonstrate indisputably, players get the full golf experience – the mental challenge, the constant risk/reward equation to solve  – while in an entirely natural, native, organic environment.

They may not realize it, yet, the growing number of people like Blackwelder who see great value in the game of golf but also feel a strong obligation to minimize human impact on the planet.

Disc golf is the Utopian golf experience.

It requires one-third the land of a ball golf course, and rather than being carved out of a local natural habitat, a disc golf course can completely conform to it. No watering and no pesticides needed.

 

Disc golf course landmarks and nicknames

Players and observers have long believed that golf courses manifest unique characteristics – personalities, really – that set them apart from one another. Unlike, say, football, basketball, or tennis, which have playing fields that adhere to strict and uniformly measured specifications, golf courses come in varying shapes, sizes, and topography. But ‘ball’ golf itself has limitations (primarily the need for a playing surface and contour that permits the ball to be struck with control and aim) which keep course design within certain constraints.

The filed of play for disc golf, on the other hand, has far fewer limitations. Players merely need grounds that can be traversed (which is of course subjective based on the fitness and preference of each player) and just open enough so discs can be thrown, fly free, and then be located (also subjective). This high level of flexibility and adaptability has resulted in courses installed in a very wide range of locales, which in turn provides the opportunity for more ‘personality’ associated with its playing fields than any other sport.

Still following me? Simply put, disc golf courses have been placed in all kinds of crazy places, like thick woods, steep mountainsides, deserts . . . even in underground caves and on the side of a volcano. Which is awesome! It’s one of the reasons most disc golfers love the sport- the essence of golf combined with all the varietal landscapes nature has to offer.

With all that variety, and personality, it’s only natural that disc golf courses would be a breeding ground for unique nicknames and colloquialisms. Whether it be a tree, a patch of nasty rough to be avoided, or an entire hole, disc golf courses invite metaphoric description.

In a recent post I shared some unique disc golf terms my friends I and I created over the years, and asked readers to reply with some of theirs. We received a great response, and I’m hoping this post will do the same thing. I’ll share some local as well as well-known examples, and readers are encouraged to respond in kind.

As regular followers of this blog know, DeLaveaga DGC in Santa Cruz, CA is my home course. After more than 30 years and thousands upon thousands of rounds played by its devotees, ‘DeLa’ (there’s a nickname right there!) has more than it’s share of local labels for holes and landmarks. The most famous of these is it’s final hole, #27, known as ‘Top of the World’. At not even 1,000 feet above sea level it obviously isn’t Mt. Everest, but it is the highest point within the Santa Cruz city limits, and it earned it’s name for its backdrop view of the Pacific Ocean.

View from the teepad of 'Top of the World', hole 27 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course. Photo by John Hernlund.
View from the teepad of ‘Top of the World’, hole 27 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course. Photo by John Hernlund.

A couple more course nicknames can be found on the long, tough hole 13. DeLa was designed and installed at a time when all holes in disc golf, without exception, were par 3’s. This hole plays much more like a par 4. Locals refer to #13 as ‘I-5’, and most people assume it’s due to the flat, open first 325 feet (as in Interstate 5). In actuality it got it’s name due to the following all-too-common exchange:

“Dude, what’d you get on that hole?”

“I fived.”

Hole 13 is also home to ‘Lake Maple’, a giant pothole in the middle of the otherwise flat part of the fairway that fills with water after rainy days. It doesn’t count as a water hazard, but is deep enough and wide enough that retrieving your disc can be a major pain. This lesser-known landmark was named for a talented older player from the 80’s and early 90’s, when far fewer people played the course and most everyone knew eachother. George Maple like to throw rollers off the tee on 13, and whenever his disc would plunge into that gigantic puddle he would absolutely lose it. So naturally we named it after him. Lake Maple.

Super-short hole 17 has forever been known as ‘The Gravity Hole’, as the fairway funnels down both from tee to basket and from left to right. More often that not, if your disc catches an edge and starts to roll it won’t stop until it wedges into a seasonal creek-bed where the two slopes meet a third coming from the opposite direction. Before teeing off, you can also rub ‘The Lady’ for good luck, a very special tree next to the pad.

Hole 17, 'The Gravity Hole', at DeLaveaga. Note how the hole plays downhill as well as sloping right-to-left (looking back toward the tee). Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 17, ‘The Gravity Hole’, at DeLaveaga. Note how the hole plays downhill as well as sloping right-to-left (looking back toward the tee). Photo by John Hernlund.

Old-timers will remember ‘Chickenfoot’, a dwarfed, gnarly tree that stuck up just high enough on the fairway of hole 19 to snag an otherwise perfect throw.

Finally, there is ‘The Catcher’s Mitt’ on hole 4. Most discs that come into contact with this obstacle either skip/slide into it or strike low on one of it’s several trunks/branches. Either way, The Mitt nearly always catches the disc and keeps it within the ‘pocket’ of it’s tightly-spaced limbs.

'The Catcher's Mitt' on hole 4 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course snags all discs that venture within its grasp. Photo by Jack Trageser.
‘The Catcher’s Mitt’ on hole 4 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course snags all discs that venture within its grasp. Photo by Jack Trageser.

It doesn’t really look like a catcher’s mitt, but earned it’s name more for how it grabs every disc in the vicinity. I suppose ‘First Baseman’s Mitt’ would be more accurate, but it’s not as catchy (no pun intended) as The Catcher’s Mitt.

For examples of course nicknames outside of DeLaveaga, we need only look to the Winthrop Gold course on the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC- home of the United States Disc Golf Championships. Organizers each year assign a state to be associated with each hole (this year California had hole 11, a long par 4 that killed me in 2009), but that doesn’t really count. Those names didn’t arise organically due to how the holes play or a physical characteristic of part of – or the whole – hole. But Winthrop Gold definitely has a few of those.

Hole 7, a.k.a. the 'Bamboo Hole' at Winthrop Gold during a warmup round for the 2009 USDGC. Photo by Jack Trageser
Hole 7, a.k.a. the ‘Bamboo Hole’ at Winthrop Gold during a warmup round for the 2009 USDGC. Photo by Jack Trageser

Two of the most famous are hole 7, the Bamboo Hole, where players must navigate a bamboo fence in front of the basket; and the par 5 hole 13, known simply as ‘888’ due to its length of 888 feet. As anyone who has played this hole can attest, there is much more to this beast than its length (which, considering it is a par 5, is actually pretty short). Just ask 3-time USDGC champ Barry Schultz, who was in the lead in 2013 until carding an 11.

Now it’s your turn. Post a comment to share a nickname or two from your favorite courses. Be sure to explain why and/or how the nicknames came to be. Also, if you have really good pictures that clearly illustrate the nickname, send them (along with your story) to jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com. I’ll write a follow-up post that shows the best ones so readers can enjoy examples from our entire ever-expanding disc golf universe.

Video and pictures from the South Pacific’s best disc golf course

You’ve heard of an island green in golf, right? Where you tee off near a shoreline to a green situated on a small piece of land surrounded by water? The course featured in today’s post is nothing like that. In fact, it is much better described as a mountain course considering the fact that it is 5,000 feet up the side of a 10,000 foot-tall mountain and every hole has some type of slope in play. But this course, Poli Poli, is also situated on an island in the middle of the South Pacific, and boasts views of the aquamarine-colored water far below.

I’m purposefully not disclosing the location due to its quasi private/public nature, but those who want it bad enough will be able to discover the truth without too much trouble. Check out this video just posted to YouTube. It’s got short video clips first (sorry for the choppy editing) and still pictures after the vid clips.

More land for us misfits to play with our toys

People of a certain age certainly remember the Land of the Misfit Toys, a place to where toys that no kids want for Christmas get exiled. It’s part of the old Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer movie from a looong time ago. Anyway, those toys are none too happy to be there, because they are unwanted as well as the fact that the place looks pretty cold and bleak.

Now many people will characterize disc golfers as misfits, for a variety of reasons. Personally I wear that label as a badge of honor, because fitting in has never been on my list of priorities. But with us the story is quite different than with those sad little toys. We actually seek out locales where we can lose ourselves in a self-imposed exile for a couple hours, and we’re finding them with increasing frequency. A recent blog post here on the installation of the Ryan Ranch course in Monterey discusses what I believe to be at the core of the disc golf grassroots growth phenomenon, essentially people going to great lengths to get new courses installed not for monetary gain but to enable themselves and others to experience the game. And now another example pops up – this time in Walnut Creek.

As detailed in a story published on the SJ Mercury website, another course may be installed soon, and for disc golfers it includes an encouraging new twist: a new level of local government support. If the proposal by ‘local disc golf enthusiasts’ is accepted, the city of Walnut Creek will provide $20,000 for equipment costs as well as ongoing maintenance by its parks staff for Old Oak Park. This kind of support is more common in other parts of the country, and it’s an encouraging trend here in Northern California. Local governments are finally realizing what a tremendous success story installing a disc golf course can be.

You take 10 acres or more that otherwise had no recreational potential or viable commercial uses, invest a tiny fraction of what it costs to develop convention parks, or tennis courts, or baseball/softball fields, and wham! Just like that you’ve enabled thousands of people to enjoy the land (in a more pristine condition than you’ll find with any other arrangement that untouched open space), and get exercise many would not get otherwise get . . . all basically at little or no cost to the city or the players. And since unused public acreage usually ends up getting populated by shady people looking for hidden places to do their shady things, cities and counties have removal of those elements as further incentive. More and more, they are seeing the upside of accommodating us misfits and our plastic toys.

Ryan Ranch: Yet another disc golf success story

I’m sure there must be similar phenomena out there, but I can’t think of any. How many other sports, activities or hobbies besides disc golf have grown the way disc golf has grown, in terms of the way courses get conceived, petitioned and ultimately installed?

In other states, especially places in the Midwest I’ve visited, it’s a little more conventional and less amazing. Park commissions not only agree to install courses in their groomed, grassy parks, but they often pay for the entire course and maintain it to boot! In California it rarely happens that way. (I think that’s why our courses are on the whole much more interesting and challenging, by the way. They’re usually carved into or out of some form of untamed natural area. They haven’t been sterilized for the safety of the meekest visitor. In NorCal, I’m amazed whenever a new course pops up, given the scarcity and value of available land.

Here, the story goes like this: A person or group of people go searching for open space or neglected parks that no one else wants. They find place with potential, chucks some discs while imagining the already completed course, then research who to talk to to make it happen. What starts out overgrown, blighted, and often full of trash is transformed through countless hours of volunteer effort and thousands of dollars of donated and fund-raised cash into something much . . . more.

A non-disc golfer will notice the improved natural beauty (or maybe not if their only idea of improvement is laying sod and concrete walking paths), but to a disc golfer a new course in her/his area is almost like a miracle. Case in point: Ryan Ranch in Monterey.

Anthony DeMers, Mover-and-Shaker at Ryan RanchThe course sits close to a small airport, and in the three-plus hours we were there I estimate we saw 10 planes flying close overhead.

This picturesque hole (I think it’s #3 or 4) is easily reachable, but forces you to go straight at it or very wide to the left or right.
This shot ended up almost 100 feet past and 30 feet below the hole, where a longer pin position is located.

I didn’t see what the Ryan Ranch land looked like before the first baskets were installed, but pretty close. I think it had 18 baskets when I first played it a couple years ago, and maybe one or two Fly Pads. After playing it for the second time ever last week, the changes are obvious. Gone is the typical debris you see in an ‘open lot’, and a learned eye will recognize fairways of a sort between the hearty vegetation ubiquitous to the area. Here are some other highlights on the Ryan Ranch success story:

  • As is often the case with disc golf courses installed in an area where people had previously been doing something illegal, Ryan Ranch not only serves appreciative disc golfers. It also helps to discourage an element that had been demanding law enforcement resources due to its illegal activity. In this case it was 4-wheel drivers, and bit-by-bit they are relinquishing their grasp on the territory. I believe some refer to that as addition by subtraction.
  • Anthony DeMers was our guide last week, and he took us through a layout where we played 18-holes on one side of the parking lot first, then nine holes on the other side. The first 18 includes a great mix of holes that are less than 300 feet, 300-400, and a couple longer than that. I think it’s important to focus on serving the growing ranks of recreational players, and the first 18 do a great job at that. And because the land is full of sloping hills, and equal parts open space and clusters of oak trees, it’s very interesting more accomplished players as well.
  • The remaining nine holes, called ‘The Gauntlet,’ are nearly all long and open. But unlike a growing number of boring courses around the country that fit that description (people think if a course is long enough, it’s automatically good), The Gauntlet’s elevation changes make the challenge multi-dimensional. And the trees are used strategically to ensure players need to do more than huck a disc with no fear of trouble.
  • This course will NOT be the weak link at the 2011 Pro Worlds. And with the other courses being DeLaveaga, Pinto Lake, and CSUMB Oaks, I don’t think there will be a weak link. As you may or may not know, it will be the first Worlds with all 27-hole courses.
  • I wore a GPS watch during our round, and we actually walked 5.05 miles! Remember that the measurement is not like the the course distance you see listed sometimes, which is merely the total distance of all the holes added together. This is a measurement of how much you can expect to walk in a typical round. It includes walking from hole-to-hole, and the walking that is done while searching for errant discs. By comparison, a round at DeLa averages 3.25 miles, depending on how big the group is, Pinto Lake is around 3.5 miles, and Aptos and Black Mouse are right around two miles.