By Tiffany Quinn
In East Haddam, Conn., a small number of community members submitted a big idea to me—the town’s recreation director (and the only full-time staff member in the department). All of the members shared one thing in common—a passion for disc golf. While some courses already existed in Connecticut, most people in town had never heard of it. The three men responsible for presenting the idea spent many hours at any town meeting, kid’s birthday party, or other occasion explaining the sport (“No, it’s not a golf course in the middle of the woods”). After our meeting, they agreed to make a presentation to the full recreation commission in September 2014.
Patrick Laffan, a founding member of the newly formed East Haddam Disc Golf Club, said in his presentation, “Disc golf has been growing steadily over the last few decades, but certain parts of the country seem to have a higher concentration of courses. For instance, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where pretty much every town had at least one or two courses. I moved to Connecticut in 2003 and was surprised that such a beautiful part of the country had so few courses. Specifically, East Haddam is 45 minutes from any course, but is unarguably one of the most picturesque areas of the state.”
He continued, “Fast forward to 2014 when I happened to meet a fellow disc golfer, Dan Carbo, at my child’s birthday party. We started talking about the need for a disc-golf course in town, and as it turns out we had both been brainstorming ideas, locations, etc. Soon after, we met Shawn Callaghan, another disc golfer from town who was eager to help. We decided to form some sort of organization that could present a public face to our cause, and this was how the East Haddam Disc Golf Club was formed.”
The recreation commission included the disc-golf course in its 2015-2016 capital-improvement budget, but warned the fellows that in the past many large projects had gone unfunded by the town. Instead, these projects were funded by outside sources—grants, donations, etc. The commission members agreed that the project warranted their support and time, and whether or not it was funded in this year’s budget, it was an interesting proposal that met the needs of the community.
Disc golf can be played by people of all ages--from childhood through retirement. It can be played as a team or an individual sport. Families, friends, teens, co-workers, moms’ groups, etc., can all use the course. Day camps can use the course as a “teen challenge” between local towns, or the local youth can play as part of their day-camp activities. Parents can participate with children while their siblings are practicing soccer or baseball at a field located in the same park. Once the course is installed, everyone is welcome to use it at no charge, during daylight hours. Disc golf provides an additional opportunity for families to get outside and enjoy an active lifestyle. It presents a new opportunity for some community members with disabilities who cannot (or choose not to) participate in mainstream sports, but find that disc golf is one they enjoy. They can play at their own pace, challenge themselves, and enjoy being outside.
Once the decision was made to support the project, the group met with members of the town’s planning and zoning department, Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen, and the high school’s Agricultural Education Department. After many meetings, site walks of various locations, and discussions about what the “perfect disc-golf course would look like,” we were ready to submit a plan for inclusion in the budget. While the plan was generally well-received, most departments were indeed subject to budget cuts because of a difficult year financially.
Despite this disappointing news, the group remained optimistic. They continued to talk to community groups to explain the sport. As a gesture of good will, through its “good neighbor campaign,” Consumers Union, a local company, agreed to support the project and fully fund it! Now, with the toughest part behind us, we were ready to make the course a reality.
For the first time in East Haddam, collaboration between a local group of citizens, a high school class, a local business, and the parks and recreation department have come together to build a park and a recreational program that will benefit the entire community for years to come. And, with the dedication and hard work of everyone involved, this project is not going to cost the taxpayers any money.
As I write this, the first four holes have been cleared. Every Sunday, a group of volunteers meets to continue the site work. Every week, a bus of high school students arrives at the course to work on the trails. The course design and development came from a local expert and many hours of phone calls and research from our local group—they call themselves the “disc-golf guys”—to be sure the course will be as well-designed as possible. Laffan found that, “After we had the green light to start construction, we now faced a very important decision: how many people do we bring into the design process? While we were all experienced players, none of us had ever designed a disc-golf course. We set our egos aside and reached out to some locals who were actively involved in managing and developing other courses in the state. Sherri Reed, who manages Cross Farms Disc Golf Course and owns The Disc Hut (where we bought our baskets), introduced us to Karl Molitoris. Karl is a professional disc golfer with years of course-designs experience. He volunteered his time and labor and has been an invaluable asset. I would strongly recommend that anyone considering course construction invite a professional such as Karl to guide them through the process. A poorly designed course won't draw players, and can fall to disrepair, at best. At worst, it can be dangerous to players and other people using the property.”
Location Is Everything
The location of “The Ledges, East Haddam Disc Golf Course” was an important decision as well. Enough acreage was needed to support 18 holes, as well as features to draw park users to the area—even if they didn’t know what disc golf was. We chose an existing park that had soccer fields, baseball fields, a playground, basketball court, and bathroom facilities, as well as ample parking. There will be a practice disc-golf basket with signage to explain the sport and the course near the entrance, hopefully enticing patrons to try a new recreational activity!
We are anticipating that the new disc-golf course will be open to the public in the spring of 2016. We are so thankful for the community that came together to create this park and lucky to have such dedicated, hardworking, and generous volunteers and donors who support parks and recreation.
Tiffany Quinn is the Director for East Haddam Parks and Recreation in East Haddam, Conn. Reach her at TQuinn@easthaddam.org.