Innova Disc Golf course designer Darrell Bankes demonstrates how to play disc golf at the newly opened 18-hold disc golf course at Abbey Gardens. The new course provides new and advanced players an opportunity for fun and challenge. Disc golf is one of the fasting growing sports./DARREN LUM Staff

Disc golf takes root at Abbey Gardens

By Darren Lum

The well-known quote by American novelist Harry Leon Wilson, who said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled” never anticipated disc golf would make him so wrong.

Disc golf has been around for more than 40 years and may be similar to golf, but it’s typically set among the woods where the walks between the holes are as much a part of the experience as is the challenge of the game. Rather than using clubs to strike a ball to a hole, players use discs to throw with the aim of getting into a metal chain basket.

Since July 1, Abbey Gardens has been open for disc golf, offering players an 18-hole course, which is set against a hardwood forest, teeming with wildlife, lush with vegetation, emitting the aroma of the woods, and a multitude of shades of colours, all to tickle the senses.

There is an inclusive quality to the course created by course designer and business development officer for Canada Innova Disc Golf, Darrell Bankes, which features distances for beginners to longer distances for advanced players at the former quarry pit.

Bankes acknowledges the public course at Head Lake Park in Haliburton, but said it can’t compare with what’s on offer for the pay-as-you-play option at Abbey Gardens.

“Here’s a full 18-hole disc golf course. There are short and long layouts. Just like a ball golf course. We have a front block and a back block. So beginner players and newer players can have just as much fun here as really experienced veteran players. When people come to play disc golf [here], throwing discs, it’s much better when it’s not in a mixed-use park because if it’s downtown there are kids playing soccer and other things. Here it’s just disc golf and because its pay-to-play we can invest in better quality things, like we’ve got great signage. We’ve got artificial turf tee pads. We’ve got two full layouts that people can play. You can spend a full day here. You’re on a private piece of property that has other amenities.”

The amenities includes washrooms, a brewery, a restaurant and exclusive use of the course on the private landscaped land.

With a decade of disc golf playing experience and also years playing conventional ball golf, Bankes said he appreciates the faster pace of disc golf and the greater potential for shot making, including a lower cost to get into the sport.

“I find it to be a bit more of an engaging and more challenging activity … you can do things with a disc golf that you can’t do with a golf ball,” he said.

For instance, discs can be thrown so they curve around obstacles and is a welcome challenge for seasoned players like Bankes. He also points out in the woods it’s not unusual to throw a disc that can perform “s-turns.” A decent quality disc is under $20. There are putting and driving discs.

The challenge with building this 18-hole course was figuring out where holes would go and how to ensure the work required wouldn’t be harder than it needed to be.

“A lot of disc golf is based on playing in the woods, compared to regular golf, which is wide open fairways. People are challenged to throw through the woods, so you’re trying to find routes through the woods that doesn’t involve clearing tonnes of trees, removing big and large amounts of vegetation. You really want to selectively work through the property, so that was part of the challenge,” he said. “A good part of the challenge was convincing Abbey Gardens that this is a worthwhile investment in their time.”

He characterized the arrangement with Abbey Gardens as a partnership.

“Innova Disc Golf and myself, we’ve invested in Abbey Gardens to build this course and by charging green fees, we get our investment back over time and Abbey Gardens makes money off of it right from the start,” he said.

There is also a residual benefit to Abbey Gardens, who can expect a greater number of visitors, he added.

“If we can have 20 to 30 disc golfers show up on a day, and they drop by the pub, and they drop by the Food Hub, they blow $20 there, it’s all supporting the economy,” he said.

This course addresses the boom in demand related to outdoor recreation.

“People are looking to do things. They want to go and try something. Play a game. It’s just like the same group of guys that used to travel for regular golf. We have the same people travelling for disc golf,” he said.

Bankes said the course was designed to offer players flexibility.

“The course is designed that if you don’t feel like you can play the full 18 you can just bail out after four holes and turn around and play one, two, three, four and hop on 13 and go, 14, 15 and 16. You can do a little bit of a shorter layout, but an experience out here … the hike and getting out on the landscape and seeing all the great things this property has to offer is as much apart of the fun of going on a hike, as it is to play a round of disc golf,” he said.

With just 350 disc golf courses in the country, Canada is a far cry from the hotbeds of the sport. Our neighbours to the south boast more than 8,000 courses. It’s the most in the world, but not the most per capita. There are more than 11,000 disc golf courses around the world, including Ross Island in Antarctica.

Abbey Gardens operations manager Ashley McAllister said having the course is exciting, particularly how it coincides with summer. She added disc golf is an accessible sport and is becoming more and more popular.

“For Abbey Gardens, disc golf was a great way for us to get more people out into the Big Pit and enjoying the property recreationally. The course also opened up a new area of the property we didn’t really have access to, so now we have a new trail that takes you from the Big Pit and into the woods and meadows toward Irish Line, so you can see these different landscapes and even pass an old log chute, which most of us didn’t even know existed! Ultimately, our goal is to re-green the Big Pit and make it a space where the community can gather, celebrate life events, and of course have some fun. Disc golf is the perfect way to continue those goals,” she wrote in an email.
Before the course opened on July 1, McAllister said the response had already been positive.

The public can purchase or rent discs at the Abbey Gardens’ Food Hub. Course fees are $10 per person while children 16 and under are $5 and this will include the rental of a disc per person. Registration can also be performed with an app, enabling players who bring their own discs to be able to play when the Food Hub isn’t open.

Thom Lambert, who is with Haliburton Tourism and a long-time disc golf player, was happy about the new course being added.

“I am delighted to see a new addition to the already rich variety of outdoor adventures in the Haliburton Highlands. With disc golf being so popular, I believe that this course will become a destination for an entirely new traveller, as well as offering yet another asset for our traditional visitors to experience. It’s a great fit at Abbey Gardens with their already impressive variety of activities and attractions,” he wrote in an email.

As far as long range goals, Bankes said he hopes there will be an established group of players, who can benefit from a membership program. He adds, the plan is to have leagues like a golf club, host corporate events and PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association) sanctioned tournaments, including tournaments for recreational players.

“This is really meant to be an economic draw and another activity for the community and also the great thing is because Abbey Gardens is such a public property, it’s really a public park in a way.”

He adds the pressure now is off of the municipality of Dysart to build another disc golf course.

Bankes said the course will not stop when the snow flies because the sport has that attribute of being fun no matter what the weather is like. It all comes down to attitude.

“The quality of the course changes a little bit. It becomes a little more about getting out and having fun, putting your snowshoes on bombing around the place,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”