Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Beyond the Campfire

Summer camp sports head mainstream

By Margaret Ahrweiler



Disc golf

And while it hasn't received the high-profile media boost that archery has experienced, another camp staple, disc golf, has been growing—or shall we say soaring—as well.

What's more, park and rec pros have discovered that few other sports in their constellation of programming inspire more passion and devotion. Without exception, every park director contacted reported that the popular response to disc golf has been overwhelming, the courses profitable, and voice a desire to grow.

Unlike golf, disc golf requires no endless vistas of manicured fairways, specialized skills or expensive equipment. Generally, an 18-hole course requires about 30 to 40 acres of land and a nine-hole course, half that. Depending on the site, a nine-hole course can be installed on as little as five acres, says Scott Keasey, director of sales and marketing for the Disc Golf Association, the sport's trade group, as long as safety considerations are met.

Park and rec departments can eke out land for a disc-golf course from areas that wouldn't get public use otherwise, Keasey notes.

"A lot of times, we convert land that isn't suitable for normal park activities," he says. "In fact, obstacles are key for a good course. We don't need an open area and we don't necessarily want an open area."

In a happy skew to that Law of Unintended Consequences, parks pros report that vandalism and loitering drop with the arrival of disc golf, proving the rec adage that a positive use will displace a negative use.

Many districts are pleasantly startled by the success of their disc-golf facilities, as was the Kalamazoo County Parks and Recreation Department in Michigan, when it installed an 18-hole disc-golf course on a wooded site at its 200-acre Cold Brook Park in 1992. The course now features 24 holes to provide more flexibility.

"It's been used year-round, which is a pleasant surprise," says Parks Director Dave Rachowicz. "Plus, it's been a real income-generator. It's a great return on what's really a minimal investment."

Kalamazoo charges $5 per car, or $20 for an annual pass.

According to the Disc Golf Association, a no-frills, entry-level course can be installed for as little as $2,300 for a nine-hole course or $4,580 for an 18-hole course, with options like signage, anchors for the baskets or concrete tee pads additional. A championship-level course would run up to $9,500—some signage included. According to the association's marketing material, pay-for-play courses have generated up to $56,000 a year in revenue.

Attendance numbers seem to bear out its popularity: In a county of about 250,000 people, the Kalamazoo disc-golf course attracts thousands of users each year, Rachowicz says. While young people make up the bulk of players in this college town (Kalamazoo is home to Western Michigan University), families and kids come out in droves as well. A core group of about 100 players hosts tournaments throughout the year.

In fact, the county parks department currently is planning another disc-golf facility in its River Oaks Park.


FAST FACT:

The nation's first disc-golf resort, Highbridge Hills, is in Highbridge, Wis., about 20 miles from the shores of Lake Superior. Guests can stay on a variety of campsites—yurts coming soon—or purchase home sites for development and play disc golf at one of four courses, with three more under construction.