PRB Articles

Rattle The Chains

“Looks like he’s going with a driver on this one … “It’s a beautiful drive … Wait … (crashing chains) It’s in … A hole in one!” This is disc golf, a sport taking the nation by storm, bringing flying discs and the sound of ringing chains to a park near you. Haven’t you heard the chains? Then now is the time to consider bringing this activity into your community.

From college campuses to local parks, there are more than 3,000 disc-golf courses and an estimated 500,000 regular players. What sets disc apart from its older brother, golf, is that it is cheap to install (approximately $350 per target), has low equipment costs ($8-15 per disc), and is accessible to all demographics. It is also considered a “greener” recreation alternative because courses are integrated into available space and played around natural objects.

With the economic constraints that many parks and recreation providers are experiencing, disc golf is a great answer to budget woes. Now is the time to get your park and community involved in this sport revolution! To ensure the biggest benefits for the community, the process involves three main steps: planning, design and installation, and sustainability and maintenance.

Step One: Planning

Disc golf is truly a community-based sport, so involving the community is vital to developing and sustaining a great course, particularly during the planning stages. Laying out every detail of a project will help with organization as well as assist in addressing possible problems. Planning allows you to set benchmarks and a timeline to keep the project on track. Ultimately, a solid planning stage develops the necessary tools to present the idea to decision makers.

When developing a disc-golf course, follow these planning steps:

• Invite the public to meetings concerning course location and design.

• Hold public meetings at potential sites.

• Evaluate sites at various parks to find the most appropriate location.

• Set financial plans prior to course proposal.

Step Two: Design And Installation

A great design is what makes or breaks any new course, so all possible resources must be drawn upon.

A terrific course will have a natural flow to it. This can’t really be explained, but ask any avid disc golfer, and he or she will know. Recruit local disc golfers to help with the design and construction. They are very passionate and knowledgeable about their sport, and will jump at the chance to help with course design.

Here are some additional design and installation tips:

• Address/avoid environmental-impact issues.

• Avoid unique or endangered species.

• Consider the sustainability of soil under high use.

• Examine any safety and user conflicts.

• Avoid crossing paths with other user groups (i.e., bikers and walkers, volleyball players).

• Plan for approximately one acre per hole.

• Decide difficulty level and number of holes (as suggested by the Professional Disc-Golf Association)

1. Recreational: 150-275 feet average, under 5,000 feet total

2. Competitive: 185-310 feet average, under 6,800 feet total

3. Championship: 230-360 feet, over 5,700 feet total

• Consider installing multiple tee pads to meet various skill levels.

• Utilize critical course-design elements.

• Use long/short hole distances, left/right dog-legs, open/tight fairways.

• Create holes that require a variety of skills to navigate.

• Emphasize shot placement instead of randomly placing a basket a few hundred feet away.

• Utilize the features of the land that will define and make the course memorable and unique.

Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships

Be creative! Local organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, university students and other non-profits, can be utilized during the installation process. In our case, we partnered with a local university’s adventure center to fulfill volunteer requirements, the Boy Scouts earned badges, and Michigan Works employees received vocational training in return for help with the course.

Also, consider an “Adopt-a-Hole” donation campaign that recognizes local businesses, churches and other individuals for contributing money. The names are then put on plaques on the tee signs of each hole.

Teaming up with local disc golfers to start a collection at their weekly league meetings also may be beneficial.

Step Three: Sustainability And Maintenance

A disc-golf course can be a lifelong recreational opportunity when emphasis is put on maintaining and sustaining the course for the future. Here are some helpful tips to ensure the longevity of a course:

• Get local players and clubs involved--they can be great marketers as well as a great volunteer/fundraiser sources for future projects.

• Obtain user feedback--find out what people like and dislike about the course. If new trends emerge from feedback, changes can be made as necessary (e.g., alternative tee pads).

• Monitor impact--check for wear around tee pads, scars on trees and the development of spider trails. Wood-chip paths and cement tee pads can help harden the site and reduce some of the impact.

Since the installation of the course at Deerfield Nature Park in Mount Pleasant, Mich., the park has seen a 25-percent increase in usage and entrance-fee revenues. Local park managers and community members see it as a source of pride and a perfect demonstration of community involvement and partnerships in action. So, given the current economic times and challenges recreation professionals face, disc golf may be the answer to help your park take flight.

Jordan Bruursema is a graduate assistant in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services Administration at Central Michigan University, and is an avid disc golfer. He can be reached via e-mail at

Robert Dvorak is an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services Administration at Central Michigan University.


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