Disc Golf Takes Off
Ideas for Your Own Disc Golf Course Project
For decades, disc golf has been known as the fastest-growing sport no one has heard of, but COVID-19 brought an additional surge to the number of players. Membership in the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) grew from 53,366 in 2019 to 71,016 in 2020, an increase of 33%.
Disc golf evolved as an offshoot of the many games spawned by the Frisbee craze of the 1970s, said Josh Orzech, operations and art director for DGA, a California-based provider of disc golf equipment and services. "The game started with people using Frisbees and aiming at targets made up of trees, trash cans, light poles, pipes and whatever else was handy," Orzech explained.
Disc golf is similar to traditional golf, but instead of using clubs and balls and aiming for a hole, players use discs and aim for a basket, which is a pole extending up from the ground with chains and a basket where the disc lands. The object of the game is to complete each hole in the fewest number of throws, starting from a tee area and finishing with the disc coming to rest in the basket, Orzech said.
The game has a lot of appeal, added Danny Voss, PDGA marketing director. As a great healthful outdoor lifetime fitness sport, disc golf is easy to learn, and accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels, Voss said. "It's a perfect restorative outdoor activity in COVID times. During the pandemic a lot of people have been exposed to it for the first time and see it as an enriching experience."
Accessibility is one of the clearest virtues that this sport has. You can go out and play by yourself or you can play with family and friends. It's also accessible as far as the infrastructure. You can build a course on a very small plot of land, and it's still a lot of fun. Or you can take a big, beautiful piece of land and turn it into a championship course. It's an attractive way to use open space.
"I've personally seen where a disc golf course was put into a park that had been in disrepair, and where there was vagrancy," Voss said. "The disc golf community put a course in and beautified the park, improved the park and changed the whole culture of the area."
Knowing your intended audience is an important starting point for every new course design. Determining the type of course you will install, the general length and the difficulty of the holes your course will offer depends on the audience you are designing for.
It is important not to overlook the proper course planning both for safety and enjoyment. Professional course designers can be a big help. For example, Disc Golf Course Design Group (DGCDG) is a North Carolina-based group of like-minded designers who share a desire for proper course design and best practices.
"Often, local disc golf clubs get involved with a new course and can provide help with the first steps, envisioning a course layout as well as providing help developing the course," Orzech said.
The first step in installing a disc golf course is finding and acquiring a piece of land on which to build. Alternatively, you might already have available or underused land where you can offer disc golf. As a rule of thumb, one acre per basket is a good starting point when considering building a course.
Generally, five to 10 acres are needed for a nine-hole course, and 20 to 25 acres for an 18-hole course. Some facilities like campgrounds and schools that don't have larger plots of land can set up smaller courses that comprise only a few permanent or even portable baskets that can be moved around and stored easily when not in use.
Master disc golf course designer Gegg Hosfeld urges stakeholders to vet designers, and research their past projects. "Just because someone runs tournaments or a club, or sells discs, that doesn't mean they can design fun, fair and safe courses," Hosfeld cautioned.
Even once a course is complete, it will continue to evolve. Thoughtful implementation can reduce future needs for a redesign. Hosfeld, who has been involved in building more than 60 courses, strongly recommends setting aside a small budget to have the course designer come back once or twice a year to assist with guiding the evolution of the course. "Allow the course designer or local club to either do light limbing that affects the way the fairway plays or to directly oversee the parks/public works in doing the work," Hosfeld said. "Having a meeting and relaying the orders through five to six people and then four months later having a crew go out and cut rarely results in the intended work."
Strongly consider setting aside a fair amount of property for disc golf in the master plan of a park. The days of "OK, we're done with our pet projects, here's what's left. See what you can do with it" are waning, Hosfeld said.
As disc golf evolves, courses are moving away from common-use areas and leaning toward exclusivity. Larger, tournament-level courses encourage people to travel to play and compete, while smaller recreational-level courses encourage locals to play. Both serve the game in different ways.
Many seasoned disc golfers embrace the concept of multiple pin-positions, experts say. But what about dual tees and dual baskets on each fairway?
"I've heard the argument that having a second basket on each fairway is a waste of baskets, when they could just as easily be in another park," Hosfeld said. "Easily? Unless you live in a rural area, baskets are far more readily available than viable land available for a course. The closer you are to population epicenters (and potential players), the more challenging the land grab."
Adding $3,500 to $7,000 to the list of amenities can certainly tax the budget. But it can also significantly elevate the versatility of a course if properly implemented.
Dual courses can accommodate at least four different skill levels, including tournaments: In a tournament, pros and amateurs can play at the same time on the same course, utilizing different options commensurate to their skill levels. Also, neither park staff nor club volunteers need to relocate the baskets regularly. It also means fewer keys to lose and less of a need for covers or inserts, to protect the sleeves or locks.
Another pro: The sleeves will never be empty, which makes them less prone to damage by mowers, or filling up with dirt. Nor would they ever become overgrown and difficult to locate.
By always having two baskets in play, Hosfeld continued, "you can have greater disparity in the pin-positions than if only one basket were in play. If only one pin position is in use, that is your only option to complete the hole, and must be, at least, viable for all levels of play. But if two baskets are in play, a player can simply opt out of throwing to the red because it's too easy, or the gold because it's too difficult."
Multiple (widely varying) options may result in multiple rounds for visiting players, thus prolonging their visit.
Finally, varying tees and pins will reduce foot traffic (soil compaction) around any one position by 50%, Hosfeld noted.
Just as there are advantages to the dual/dual set up, pitfalls can also arise. "I have received complaints that the baskets were too close to one another," Hosfeld said.
Other disadvantages to a dual set include greater time and expense—not just for baskets and tees, but for design and land-clearing if necessary. A completely different fairway for a second basket/tee can double or even quadruple the clearing work, branch cutting, footprint and maintenance of that fairway. A dual course may require more acreage to be properly implemented.
Multiple baskets on the same hole should be clearly distinguishable from each other (such as a different color or make, which should be consistent throughout the course). Otherwise, in a moment of distraction, players might "forget" which pin they were gunning for.
Spread the Word
If your course is open to the public, one of the first steps to drawing visitors is to submit your park to PDGA's course directory, where it will become available for people searching out disc golf in your area.
Working with your local disc golf club to host tournaments can bring users from the surrounding areas and spread the word.
Other ways to spread the word about your course are to add your location to Google Maps, make Facebook, Instagram and Yelp pages for your course, and add your course to the popular UDisc app.
It's also a good idea to let your local city tourist center know about your course and ask if they can offer information about the course to out-of-towners.
If you offer disc golf at a private camping facility, ski resort or traditional golf course, offering discs to borrow, rent or buy for the course is also a great way for people to learn and try out disc golf at your course.
Attracting visitors to your disc golf course is often easy, Orzech suggested. "'Build it and they will come' is often quoted when installing a disc golf course," he said. RM