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  • Writer's pictureChris Davies. Edited by Martin Galley

Disc Golf is for communities: how a disc golf course came to be

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Queenspark, Christchurch: Vortica’s newest DGC launched three weeks ago. Today Vortica takes a close look at the process of how it came in to being, why it’s good for NZ Disc Golf, and how communities benefit from disc golf.

In August 2017 I took a call from David B, the president of the Queenspark Residents Association who asked me if I would be interested in taking a look at their local reserve with a view to installing a disc golf course there. I was interested of course, but became far more so when he informed me they had all the money required.

I couldn’t open Google Earth fast enough! At just 300 metres by 100 metres, (7.5 acres in old money, and 3 Hectares in digital currency) it clearly wouldn’t support more than 9 baskets, but that’s enough for a good little DGC – so I burned a little rubber getting down there for an initial walk around, and was pleasantly surprised by the space.

Queenspark Reserve looking North. Pacific Ocean at top right.
Queenspark Reserve looking North. Pacific Ocean at top right.

It was instantly obvious I could not create any holes which ran down the center of the area which was relatively open, with trees either side, as it was used as a walkway by the local school children and residents.

The contorted nature of the pines and the massive size of the pine needles – up to 200mm in length, mean they are extremely grabby, and I nearly lost a few discs exploring some lines as I walked around.

Basket 2, looking North.
Basket 2, looking North.

At just 2,000 metres from the Pacific Ocean and with just 3 hectares available, and with a strong prevailing East wind that would dominate normal play, it was going to be a challenge to develop something which was not only beginner and intermediate friendly, but would also challenge good disc golfers, now that Christchurch has a burgeoning population of casual players, which I estimate to be closing in on 1,000 now.

The challenging Number 3. A turnover shot thrown straight, or a very tight low hyzer to the right.
The challenging Number 3. A turnover shot thrown straight, or a very tight low hyzer to the right.

So, I set about walking the area in every direction, looking for signature holes and good challenges for both new and experienced players, trying to figure out how to get a few tucked away with minimal wind interference, while almost always keeping the basket in sight of the tee. Simultaneously, I wanted to create genuine challenges for both Forehand/lefty and Backhand/righty players, and to often restrict players either horizontally or vertically (but never both simultaneously), in order to promote a wide range of disc golf skills within a fairly small area.

Local boy, Jet, takes aim at the tunnel leading to basket 7.
Local boy, Jet, takes aim on 7.

As a course designer, I’m guided by the current state of disc golf in Christchurch. And as a community funded course, the primary objective of my design was to serve the community as best I could, by creating a disc golf course which would encourage a wide range of people to play the game, and then take up the sport.

In particular, 600 students at Queenspark Primary School are right next door, and if I could get a good number of them playing, that would be perfect.

I very quickly came to the realisation I would need to design a loop which could be started at any of the three corners locals walking to the course would naturally arrive at.

With this in mind, I continued whittling down the possible holes to more solid ones, and decided to hide only 1 basket from the teepad, and make it a very challenging 2 indeed, but with all the other baskets visible from the tee, and potentially ace-able. I surprised myself, and made the very first birdie on the blind #3, just two weeks after the install, I aced number 9 around the same time.

Queenspark Reserve course map. Up is East.
Queenspark Reserve course map. Up is East.

With each basket, I have tried to challenge a different aspect of the player’s ability. By creating different challenges, and by controlling the types of shot which can be used to access the basket. This is beneficial to the players, as it incentivizes them to develop a range of throws, and keeps players interested.

I obtained 9 additional basket receivers for alternate basket positions, which are intended to provide different challenges for regulars and to prevent the sandy soil from being wrecked close to the baskets over time. They’ll be installed soon.

Christchurch Disc Golf is Growing The Sport

With Christchurch now having 2 DGCs (or one and a half, if you’re a pessimist), and Rawhiti Domain coming along slowly, and local stalwart David R working on the old Ascot Golf Park, I am expecting the floodgates are about to open in Christchurch, and we will see at least 4 more courses installed before the end of 2019, for a combined total of six (or more) permanent courses.

With Christchurch having by far the best climate for disc golf in the country, and with an abundance of disc golfing natural resources due to a plethora of under-utilised local parks and reserves, and with the world’s largest and most expensive parklands thanks to the earthquakes, I think I am right in saying Christchurch is set to become the future disc golfing capital of New Zealand.

It’s got the weather, the parks, the Red Zone, the population and soon, the courses to properly develop the sport in Canterbury.

Just a small part of the Red Zone - literally the perfect place for disc golf.
Just a small part of the Red Zone - literally the perfect place for disc golf.

The Christchurch Red Zone: the greatest disc golfing resource any city ever had.

Here at Vortica we firmly believe in order for a region to become strong in Disc Golf it requires a base level of beginner and intermediate courses where people don’t lose discs their first time out, and don’t get discouraged by length or excessive difficulty. Where players can easily access the course and get around it, and enjoy themselves right from their very first experience with the sport.

Without such a base, there can be no long-term development of the sport, and that is why, in just a few short years, Christchurch players are set to eclipse the best Auckland has to offer. Places like Queenstown and Wanaka have already shown that offering more basic courses is the recipe for mass-participation, and up until very recently, it was true that more disc golf was played in the Queenstown Gardens than in the rest of New Zealand combined.

I am very encouraged by the fact that both Dunedin and Invercargill have understood the concept of building grass-roots support for disc golf, and built beginner/intermediate courses, instead of building championship courses to satisfy a vocal local minority of players.

Installing the Course – The Process

Ready to roll.... or hyzer.
Ready to roll.... or hyzer.

The process of installing the course was a dream; it simply involved the QRA approaching the local community board which gave its blessing (No funding required!) and I conducted a walk-around with a representative from Council (Thanks, Jacqui M) and the local parks Ranger (Thanks, Bridie G) where they gave me instructions about where baskets could and couldn’t be placed. Unfortunately, I forgot some of what was said in that meeting, figuring that begging for forgiveness was better than compromising my design… ;) Fortunately we hit no roots at all when we encroached slightly into the drip line of a few trees.

No animal in the world digs faster than a disc golfer installing baskets.
No animal in the world digs faster than a disc golfer

It only took a few months from start to finish, and in the end, the biggest hold-up was waiting for the baskets to ship over the Christmas period.

With the soil being very sandy, the baskets and tee markers all went in, in less than two and a half hours – with some of the basket receiver holes even being dug by hand.

How did Queenspark Residents Association come to seek a DGC?

This was a major question for me, because I did not do any kind of selling to get this course in. So, I interviewed QRA President David B on the subject, in the hope of finding out more about the process from the other side of the fence.

How did the QRA come to the conclusion disc golf would be a desirable addition to the reserve?

“Our objective was to deliver a project that achieved some community good in Parklands. We wanted something that would be regarded as an asset in Parklands and be something that could add positively to our lifestyle. The Queenspark Reserve had not been widely used and has some interesting features of well-established trees and small ‘hills’.”

Was it difficult to arrive at that decision?

“No. Once Disc Golf was suggested everyone agreed it would be an ideal activity to have in our suburb.”

Were any other activities considered by QRA?

“We had talked about a community garden area but this didn’t grab our enthusiasm the same way disc golf did.”

How did QRA raise the funds for the course?

“We had some reserves but we partnered with Parklands Network who were the major funders of this project. Christchurch City Council also provided a small grant but also assistance with negotiating permission to use the Reserve with the Community Board and Christchurch Parks Dept, who also agreed to provide signage for the activity.”

Is QRA happy with the outcome of the process?

“Very much so! Chris and Vortica provided expert course design, and the Christchurch Disc Golf Club and local disc golfers provided all of the labour for the course installation. The project would have been much harder and the outcome wouldn’t have been as good if we didn’t have their involvement.”

What advice would QRA give other community groups thinking about disc golf?

“Partner with the local Council community representatives, your local Disc Golf Club, and of course, talk to Vortica.”

Would you recommend disc golf to other local community groups?

“Definitely! It is a great free, fun family activity that puts a smile on people’s faces! It’s one of the best things we have done."

Thanks, David!

So, it seems obvious that with the active support of the community, and local stakeholders, it can be extremely quick and remarkably easy to get a disc golf course installed in your community.

Potential downsides of a disc golf course in a local park

After 28 years of play, I can honestly say there is only one potential downside to community disc golf courses in the long term; they can become too popular.

This has happened in Queenstown where the course has been a victim of its own success, with around 1.2 million people visiting the course since 1996. This has resulted in hard-pan dirt and dug-out areas around the baskets and teepads, damage to tree trunks facing some teepads, and damage to tree roots exposed by erosion.

But these potential problems are all very nice to have! It means your community and local players are getting the maximum possible use of their parkland space. Potential damage can be identified early on and appropriate measures adopted as they are needed. Some expenditure might be necessary, and local councils should be asked to provide assistance as clubs make facilities available for the public, at no charge.

So, what’s been the response after 3 weeks?

Universally positive! I’ve only heard and seen good things. The many local residents I have spoken with are all in favour of it, and many are already enjoying the course. I’ve seen plenty of local families with small children playing, and disc golfers from across the city, and from out of town are also making the trip regularly.

As a result, the reserve is instantly getting a lot more use. There’s also a lot less rubbish and broken glass in the reserve, after spending hours collecting trash and removing all the glass we have found.

Big Exposure at the launch

The Facebook post (with about 25 pictures) created to announce the opening of the new course, has been the single most-viewed post the Christchurch club have ever had, with over 7,000 views, and many shares.

This is testament to the fact that Disc Golf has finally come of age, and is no longer a fringe activity very few have heard of, and now it is true that disc golf doesn’t need to be explained to people. Finally!

The Future is Bright

With Christchurch desperate for facilities and sporting resources after many were wiped out by 10,000+ earthquakes, disc golf offers amazing societal benefits while requiring only very modest amounts of capital: a full 18-basket course with paved teepads can usually be installed for under $30,000 depending on the type of teepads.

Disc golf does not use dedicated space, nor does it prevent the space being used for other activities. It does not require watering, or any additional lawn mowing, so it is environmentally neutral. A disc golf course costing less than 25% the price of a single tennis court can support at least 72 players simultaneously, and each disc golf course can support around 1,000 or so local disc golfers.

Disc golf transforms local communities

Disc golf not only utilises under-used areas in community parks and reserves, it results in safer spaces, less vandalism, and less litter. Parks which are under threat of being sold off for development, or converted in other ways, can be saved by Disc Golf, as it results in dramatically increased use of significant areas of land.

Disc golf is one of the very few family activities

where everyone has a good time, every time.

Right from the first time.

Disc golf is cheap

Only one disc, costing less than $20 is required to play, so it is readily accessible to people in lower socio-economic areas. Disc golf is an inclusive sport, unlike the old version of golf, which today has a lot of stigma attached to it.

Disc golf is easy to learn, but difficult to master

Because you are effectively holding the ball, when you play disc golf, it is much easier and quicker to become proficient in disc golf. Expertise on the other hand requires much dedication and practice. It's a professional sport

Young disc golfers in 2018 have a genuine and realistic option to become professional disc golfers in the USA and Europe should their talents and ambitions align sufficiently. Vortica sponsors some players, but we remain an amateur sport, here in New Zealand.

Call us for a no-obligation discussion about Disc Golf for your community park or reserve

Whether you have a smaller space, suitable for a 9-basket course, or a larger area which could host 18 baskets (or more!) we will be delighted to hear from you and discuss your community’s needs and wants.

Call Chris in Christchurch on 0210-69-58-69, or Martin in Wanaka on 027-226-5343.

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