As I said in my last travelogue, while South Korea is small as countries go, it can still be difficult and time-consuming to travel anywhere. This is largely relegated to the Seoul area.
Get anywhere near Seoul, and you will find yourself with a serious travel headache, unless you grew up in Asia, mostly because of the sheer density of the population.
About 90 percent of South Koreans live in Seoul. That’s not around Seoul, or the greater area of Seoul, that’s in Seoul. Pretty wild, no?
Now, being as far north as I am, and seeing as how we are somewhat restricted in our freedom of travel, I quickly deduced that making 3- to 8-hour round trip to play disc golf every weekend wasn’t going to work. I’d end up broke or insane, or perhaps both.
So this left me with one logical solution — build my own course!
Luckily, my barracks are in a rather nice part of the base known as “Dragon Valley,” and I figured I could pretty easily cram a 9-hole course in with no problem. I began scouting the area while I did morning physical training and, with the aid of Google Earth, came up with a delightfully challenging layout.
That was the easy part.
The next step would be the real kicker — cutting through the red tape and actually getting permission to build the course. This turned out to be a bit more difficult than I thought. My first stop was at Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) for a meeting about getting a few bucks to install baskets and signs, and for them to help me get permission to use the land.
Three minutes into our meeting I was duly informed that, thanks to sequestration and severe budget cuts, they wouldn’t be able to supply me with anything. In fact, they were so short-staffed they couldn’t even go with me to meet the higher-ups for permission to use the land.
They tried their best to help though, making a few phone calls on my behalf and sending me on the way to meet the people I needed to meet. But, for now, this course was going to be built with my blood, sweat, tears, and, perhaps most importantly, my money.
The next stop was a meeting with the folks who would ultimately allow this project to sink or swim — the ones who could grant permission for me to use the land.
I prepared a good presentation, stressing that I wouldn’t need to actually build anything (almost all the holes had concrete or asphalt areas I was going to use as teepads anyway) and maintenance would be low. I gave them my intended result — a 9-hole course winding through Dragon Valley, with nine baskets and full-color signs at each hole, that anyone with a Department of Defense ID card could come play.
We could also use the course as part of our community outreach programs with the Korean nationals, escorting local players onto the base to play with us. I also noted I would be doing most, if not all, of the work in building the course and I had more than 20 years of experience playing the sport.
After about two minutes of deliberation, they agreed to allow The Dragon’s Lair, but with a few conditions:
- Fairways and greens can only be in low or non-use areas;
- No teepads can ever be built;
- No military funds can be used to build the course;
- No one can play the course during working hours.
Those seemed like easy rules to follow.
We shook hands and I went to the PX to buy some spray paint. I found trees, or other landmarks I could paint, near where I wanted to put baskets and marked them.
A bit of nostalgia ran through me as I did this. When I first started playing in the late 1980s, this was how we played the game of “frolf” in Montana. Throwing a big Wham-O at marked trees just like these.
Unintentionally, I had wandered back to the roots of the sport. It was a good feeling when I brought another player out to throw on the newly designed course, and it was hilarious watching his expression every time he had to throw his putter at a tree. His feedback helped me dial in on the design even more and we eventually came up with our final layout.
Hole No. 1 is a short, 235-foot shot with a gnarly swamp right behind, which is an out-of-bounds area.
The second hole is another fairly short hole, measuring 270 feet. There is a road, which is OB, behind the bin. The backside of the swamp lines the beginning part of the fairway. There is rough to the right, forcing a flex shot or a huge sky hyzer.
The third hole is known as “The Jungle,” a 284-foot downhill shot that isn’t for the weak of heart. Throw your bright-colored discs here as there are only two truly open windows and they are hard to hit. There’s also a small amount of water, which is OB.
Hole No. 4 is a deceptively tricky 393-foot downhill bomb. The pin is set off to the right of the tee, but a huge hyzer bomb is not possible because of buildings on the right, which are all OB. To the left is another out-of-bounds area — a ditch. Add to that is a large tree in the middle of the fairway, as well as a road you need to throw over. It’s very technical and tricky.
The fifth hole — Blind Man’s Bluff — is a 340-foot blind shot. The pin is nestled inside a grove of trees that sit on a bluff, which can’t be seen from the tee. There’s a huge out-of-bounds ditch on the right and there’s no clear window to the left.
The sixth hole is one of the shortest holes on the course at 193 feet. It’s a straight shot across the ditch and slightly uphill, but a lot of OB surrounds the pin, making it an island hole.
Hole No. 7 is the signature hole of the course, known as the Dragon’s Tail. It’s 600 feet, straight downhill, with OB wide right and OB tight left in the form of water and a road. There’s also many trees and powerlines in the way. Played as a Par 3, it can be just as easily a triple-bogey as it can be a birdie.
The eighth hole is a steep, uphill dogleg left and measures a little more than 200 feet. Because of the uphill nature, most will elect for a mid-range disc, rather than a putter.
The final hole is 232 feet back across the valley. It can be an ace run, with an OB road just beyond the pin. Putts can be difficult as the pin is on the side of a steep hill.
With the course laid out and test driven, we were feeling confident in its success as well as for the future of disc golf on our base. However, a lot of work still needs to be done.
We need baskets. Our plan, at first, was to put in tone poles. However, they are not authorized for any KPDGA-sanctioned event and we’d like to hold at least one before I leave. The next thought was to purchase Nomad targets, which are approved for C-Tier events.
Plus, we also need to make signs. And then get the word out that the course exists. Then it needs to be taken care of and played on.
There’s so much to do, but the excitement hasn’t dwindled.
If you are interesting in donating to the Dragon’s Lair Course at Camp Casey, please e-mail Andrew Belet at email@example.com for more information.
Andrew Belet has been playing disc golf for more than 20 years. He’s currently serving with the U.S. Army in South Korea. A published author and poet, you can see his works on Amazon. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.