Working on a fresh piece of land is like having a blank canvas, which makes disc golf course design an art.
As a result, when designers and contributors take the time for the careful design and implementation of the course and any type of course modifications — big or small — players get an unforgettable experience.
In the current world of disc golf course design, there are several aspects of design that can greatly increase the reputation of a course. There are many courses around the world that have made adjustments to their aesthetics, which increase the playing experience. For example, a hanging basket at the edge of a riverbank or a well-placed rock formation along a walkway to the next hole can make memories. General upkeep and monthly maintenance quickly increases the novelty.
Milo McIver State Park in Estacada, Oregon, is home to one of the best courses I have ever had the opportunity to play. I speak of this course from my experience of having played the original layout as well as the tournament layout (two courses) for the Beaver State Fling. From wide fairways and fir trees
that dwarf the baskets and people who play among them to nicely grooved tee pads and the overall scenery, this course is a must for your bucket list. The result of such attention to detail and thought is a disc golf course to which very few in the country can even compare.
Then there’s Bryant Lake Park, an 18-hole pay-to-play course in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Although rated 4.41 on Disc Golf Course Review, I believe that its rating is more so derived from the immaculate construction of staircases, tiered baskets, flagstone walkways, and the constant upkeep of the course. The course itself plays well, but if it weren’t for flagstone walkways and wood chips around the basket, I don’t believe it would have that high of a rating. Nonetheless, it continues to draw crowds of disc golfers for a reason — it’s a great looking course and fun to play.
Flip City Disc Golf Park in Shelby, Michigan, is described on DG Course Review as a “Field of Dreams.” Although I have never played it, I have heard many rumors in its favor about this privately owned course, not boasting of its amazing par 4s, but rather the meticulous and constant upkeep of the land. For example, there are large rocks and boulders scattered throughout the course in groups of various sizes. Land on one of them and you’re out of bounds. Knock over any of the carefully stacked rock formations with your disc, and you must re-stack them to maintain their structure.
Small changes make a big difference
At a local course of mine, Eagle Ridge in Oswego, Illinois, a few loyal disc golf enthusiasts recently installed an elevated basket on one of the holes. This small modification turned a common, unassuming uphill shot out of the woods into a prime example of how a slight change can make a course memorable
and enhance the playing experience. This isn’t always a means for a signature hole in the making, but it can leave a lasting impression on any first time player of the course.
While this step was only recently taken locally, it isn’t new to disc golf course design. This is what has made courses like Milo McIver renown among the disc golf community. While Milo is one of the best-known examples, it hasn’t gotten to where it’s at without the help of great designers — and a maybe a little bit of trial and error, too.
Forward thinking can aid parks departments
Not every course has the resources for high caliber design, like an excellent plot of land to work with and monetary funds. In the long run, this can affect the ability for upkeep, which can be a major factor in how great a course can be.
When a course is installed on local park property, there are great advantages, if the land provides, that can be had if the park district has an open mind. But that’s only the first step. If the course is built well, and the people come to play, the park district will be more likely to keep the course in its long-term plans.
It’s too bad, though, when a park district has achieved design and implementation of a course, but then eventually removes it after a number of years. Why does this happen? I firmly believe a lot of park districts throughout the country are not aware of how much disc golf grows in popularity year after year.
We can’t control a park district’s 10-year plan, but we can help it start off on the right foot. When a course is done right the first time and people come play (and maybe pitch-in with cleanups and maintenance), the likelihood of the permanence of the course as well as the openness for course improvements skyrockets. Courses will get better as the interest in this sport increases, thus the two are linked.
People will find themselves looking for the next and better course to play, and perhaps more players will be willing to travel the distance for those pay-to-play courses. In the end, drawing the players the first time around will keep them coming back again and again.
Jenny Cook is a women’s Open-division player based in Illinois. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can see some of her disc golf photography at her website.