‘Tee’ time is any time at Head Lake Park
For the past four months I’ve been living at a golf course, yet I haven’t used it once. While people come to the course throughout the week to hit the links, I’ve found myself driving to a different course in town, one that requires a different kind of driver.
Head Lake Park’s disc golf course was built in 2002 by locals Greg Shantz and Thom Lambert. For the unfamiliar, disc golf requires players to throw a disc into a chain basket. There are nine “holes” in Head Lake Park, the longest one 275 feet from its tee.
I started playing the course about a month ago, shortly after I learned that the library allows anyone with a card to borrow discs. But every time I’ve gone out to play I’ve been the only one using the course. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone else playing disc golf in the park in my four months working and living in town. But this wasn’t always the case.
Before Shantz and Lambert could build the course – putting in each of the nine posts themselves with the help of five high school students – they had to get council to allow them to put the course in the park, something that wasn’t an easy task at the time, according to Lambert.
Lambert said that early on council was worried people mowing the grass would accidentally run into the baskets at each hole. They were also worried about people walking into them in the dark and, of course, people getting hit by the discs, which are heavier than your traditional Frisbee.
“I think they had a very difficult time [because] it was brand new, right. I think most people in council had never even heard of the concept of disc golf for one thing,” he says. “We had to convince them that it wasn’t going to be a liability.”
Once the design was agreed upon and the course was built, Lambert says that it was fairly popular for the first few years. He would organize a tournament every Wednesday that saw around 20 people, mostly families, come out and break up into groups for a few matches. Along with those tournaments, Lambert himself would get out to the park a couple times a week to practice on the course.
I met Lambert at Head Lake Park last week, with my standard yellow Frisbee in tow, to get some tricks of the trade on the course he helped build. My disc made Lambert chuckle, as he opened up a duffle bag to show me all the different types of golf discs he had, probably more than 20 in that one bag alone.
Golf discs are different from a standard Frisbee, the likes of which I’ve been playing with for the last month. Lambert’s discs are not only heavier, but smaller. The discs used for driving have sharper edges, better for slicing through the air and curving, and are not as affected by heavy wind. The putters are made of a softer plastic and have wider edges, better for a straight throw that has less of a chance of bouncing off the chains.
Lambert built up his collection after playing competitively for around 30 years. He grew up in Muncie, Indiana, a university town where disc sports were popular. He entered his first competitive disc golf tournament in 1978, and also played competitive ultimate Frisbee throughout his time in university.
“I’ve always been attracted to a Frisbee way more than a ball because it’s just, the flight is just so beautiful compared to [a ball],” he says.
We play the ninth hole together, located between the park’s playground and the water fountain. Lambert shows me how to throw a roller, which is exactly what it sounds like. Especially on windy days, Lambert says discs can often go farther if they roll along the ground on their edge, held up by the wind. I also learn a few more rules and tricks: how to mark your disc, the difference between throwing a disc and a Frisbee.
If it weren’t for the scorecards available at the library, which have a map of the course on the back, there’d be no way to know where to start throwing from on the ninth or any of the course’s holes. Each hole does have a “tee,” a brick-coloured stone embedded into the grass with a number painted on it. However, none of the tees are bigger than a Frisbee and can be hard to find even if you’re looking for them.
Lambert says he thinks a little more signage would help attract more people to the course these days.
When it first opened, Lambert says there was a sign with a map of the course at the first hole. However, the sign was removed at some point as the course has been restructured a couple times.
Now there aren’t any maps of the course in the park. There aren’t even any indicators of what the holes are used for.
“You just need some signage to let people know what those weird metal things are down there,” Lambert says, before going over some of the things he’s heard unaware people suggest the holes are used for (everything from a bird trap to a bicycle rack).
There’s no signage indicating there are discs and score sheets available for free use at the library.
The free equipment rentals are something that Lambert says he hasn’t seen at any of the courses he’s travelled to before.
Whatever the reason, people don’t seem to be playing disc golf in Haliburton as much as they did after the course was first built, even as the sport rises in popularity in North America.
According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, the 2014 National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship reached an estimated 93 million American households and was distributed to 24 different regional sports networks.
Lambert says that there are way more disc golf courses (which you can find online at the PDGA’s website) around compared to when he was playing competitively. Currently there are eight other courses within 85 km of Haliburton.
But at the Head Lake Park course I may be playing by myself for the rest of the summer. It looks like there are more people than just me in town who are missing out on the golf course in their backyard.