By Josh Woods ~
I’ve heard enough.
In the last two months, local news outlets have reported that four disc golf courses may soon be closed, one fully funded course development project has been canceled, and one large disc golf community may see substantial new parking fees on top of the pay-to-play fees that already exist.
Each of these cases offers important clues about the future of disc golf, and together they suggest a need for greater unity and organizational strength in the disc golf community.
1. Death by protest
In mid-December 2017, public officials in Passaic County, New Jersey declared that their plan to build a championship-level disc golf course in Rifle Camp Park was “a dead issue.”
As reported in NorthJersey.com, a course development project with a $20,000 budget was cancelled due to a small, but loud group of protesters who convinced local officials that disc golfers are a menace to society.
Winning the Nasty Stereotype Award of 2017, the Save Rifle Camp Park group argued successfully that disc golf will “conflict with the recreational needs of senior citizens and people with disabilities,” and that disc strikes will cause “severe injuries” to people, cost the county millions in law suits, harm hundreds of trees and kill birds.
2. Death by housing development
In late January 2018, the Hood River News reported that a plan to transform Morrison Park into a housing project would go forward after months of debate and appeals by community activists. The decision will put an end to this public park in Hood River, Oregon, along with the disc golf course inside it.
Asked about other locations for the new housing development, Joel Madsen, executive director of the Housing Authority, remarked: “The lowest hanging fruit is land in public ownership.”
3) Death by dog
Fox 4 News reported in January 2018 that Swope Park, the oldest disc golf course in Kansas City, Missouri, will be closed to make room for an animal shelter. Some of the greatest disc golfers of all time have walked this course in major competitions. Now the only walking on this site will be done by our four-legged friends.
At first, the city’s plan was to incorporate the animal shelter with only minor changes to the disc golf course, but eventually it was revealed that the entire course would need to go. The Kansas City Flying Disc Club started a petition to save the course.
As reported in The Pitch, some local disc golfers thought that more could have been done to protect the course.
Swope Park veteran Dan Cashen put it this way: “I think because we [disc golfers] were cool about it and didn’t come out loudly as a community and say, you know, ‘We’ve been here 40 years, why can’t you put that shelter somewhere else on this 1,800-acre park?’ — I think that gave the city and the [KC] Pet Project the impression that they could just take it all.”
4) Death by soccer stadium
In early 2018, as reported by the Stateman, Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River public park in Austin, Texas was being considered as a possible site for a Major League Soccer stadium. This public park is home to a substantial 18-hole disc golf course with multiple tee locations.
Like the case in Hood River, many people protested the use of public parkland for private development. A petition to save the park from private development has already received nearly 10,000 signatures as of mid-February 2018. This is an ongoing case involving several local interest groups, and it is not yet settled. News reports suggest that public opposition to the plan has been fierce, and the organizing efforts of multiple groups have gained some traction.
5) Death by youth sports complex
In early February 2018, a local news station reported that the city of Memphis, Tennessee would like to terminate a disc golf course located on the Mid-South Fairgrounds and turn the area into a youth sports complex. Local organizers are calling for a relocation plan for the course.
6) Death by parking fees
In early February 2018, Fox6Now.com reported that several Milwaukee County residents attended a public meeting to discuss the county’s proposal to collect parking fees at most parks. Some local disc golfers joined in the public outcry against the changes.
At least five disc golf courses are located in Milwaukee parks where players already pay $40 annually or $5 per day to play. The proposal would add an additional parking fee of $1 to $2.50 per hour.
In response to heavy criticism, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele decided to halt his pay-to-park plan. However, almost immediately, Abele began pursuing political machinations that would expand his powers and allow him to push forward unilaterally to add parking meters to county parks.
Adam Arndt, a Milwaukee-area disc golfer who is actively protesting the pay-to-park plan, told Parked: “While they stopped the plan from being implemented in 2018, they will be revisiting the paid-parking idea for the 2019 Milwaukee county budget.”
Each of these cases is complicated. Jumping to conclusions, without the full story, is unwise and unhelpful. But at least two key insights emerge from these examples.
First, like it or not, disc golf is political. There are more than 6,000 disc golf courses in the United States, and roughly 90 percent of them are in public parks. These courses are located at ground zero in the ongoing struggle for power over public land and resources. Local disc golf communities are clearly vulnerable to threats from other interest groups.
Second, no one can respond effectively to these threats alone. Among the cases described above, the most successful efforts to dispute policy changes occurred when disc golf clubs came together quickly, partnered with other community groups, and produced a loud and timely uproar.
The only way to stop policy changes that hurt disc golfers is to come together and organize at the state, regional and national levels. Most disc golf clubs are too small to mobilize effectively against incursions from other groups.
Organizational weakness poses a significant challenge to the future of the sport. Disc golf land is notoriously fragmented. The sport lacks a powerful governing body, an association of clubs, or a private company that can systematically support disc golfers in local political disputes.
When asked about disc golf’s political challenges, Dee Leekha, a co-founder of Houck Design and a tireless disc golf consultant and promoter, said, “One problem is that there is no lobbying for the sport, nor a group set up to educate local governments.”
Writing about the prospect of uniting disc golfers in a proactive stance, Adam Arndt was hopeful, but less than optimistic. “I fear that many disc golfers may take the ‘wait-and-see’ approach, and by the time they mobilize, it may be too late.”
PDGA Membership Manager Vic Allen provided a statement on the PDGA’s position on local politics. In an email, Allen stated: “The historical stance of the PDGA is not to interfere with local policy decisions; not necessarily because we are not interested or don’t want to help, but we are not resourced to thoroughly research and address the many diverse and often complex issues tied to local decisions.”
Although the PDGA lacks funding to function as a governing body and a political interest group, it is a vital resource to members. As Allen put it: “We are the governing body of the sport of disc golf, but we are here to help.”
This is not an empty promise. For example, the PDGA aided the disc golf community in Moore, Oklahoma in the wake of a weather-related tragedy. It helped spread the word about the Swope Park case discussed above. The PDGA supported efforts to save Järva DiscGolf Park in Stockholm, Sweden. Through its Innovation Grant Program, the PDGA also supported Parked, along with its mission to promote disc golf research and create educational materials aimed at growing the sport.
The PDGA is largely a coalition of the willing. It could not exist without the heavy lifting and thoughtful work of numerous unpaid volunteers. The association’s contributions to the disc golf community go well beyond the tangible benefits of membership listed on its website.
What you can do today
There are at least four steps that disc golfers can take when they find their course on the chopping block: Contact, Organize, Reach out, and Educate (CORE).
- Contact the PDGA and ask for help (also contact Parked for support).
- Organize your disc golf community via social media and consider starting a petition (the 3DISCgolf Facebook group may also help).
- Reach out to like-minded groups in your area and build alliances.
- Educate local officials about your group’s past contributions, the public demand for disc golf courses, and the benefits of playing disc golf.
Disc golf courses are the heart and lungs of the disc golf community. Help preserve them by supporting the CORE.
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Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.