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Decatur Daily Article
April 2, 2012
The Decatur Daily
By Johnny Kampis
Tim Mitchell pulls back the disc, takes a step and lets it fly.
The disc travels about 200 feet before hitting a tree and falling to the ground, short of its intended target.
“Even in fairways, not everything is open,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, other enthusiasts and Decatur Parks and Recreation employees are clearing brush and marking off holes in woods at Jack Allen Recreation Complex to create the city’s first disc golf course.
Tourism officials hope to land regional and national disc golf tournaments that cities like Huntsville and Hartselle have hosted. The U.S. Women’s Disc Golf Championships will be held in the Rocket City in September, an event expected to draw hundreds of players.
“Now that we have our own disc golf course, it will allow us to bid on these events,” said Decatur Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tami Reist.
Disc golf has similarities to the game played with the little white ball.
Players toss their discs down a fairway in an attempt to get the objects closer to a chain basket that serves as the hole. The goal is to get discs in baskets with the fewest throws.
Disc golf courses vary greatly, with some in open fields and others like the Decatur course that are contained in tightly wooded areas.
Courses normally have 18 holes, like in standard golf.
“This will be a nice addition,” said Tom Chappell, assistant director of city parks and rec. “They say it will be challenging for the pros.”
Chappell said the city has considered such a course “for a long time,” and the project is finally bearing fruit thanks to volunteer labor and about $10,000 in tourism funds secured for the project by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to pay for materials.
While the course will provide a challenge for the skilled — such as Mitchell’s nemesis, the seventh hole with trees in the fairway — multiple tee boxes will be created to allow people of all skill levels to participate, Chappell said.
Each hole will be a par three, and the course will be free to play when the complex is open.
“We wanted something that would be suitable for families and beginners who want to learn the game,” Chappell said.
Unlike golf — which requires expensive equipment, course fees and balls that are often lost — disc golf only requires players to buy a single disc.
Those who take the game seriously, such as Mitchell and Steve Wicker, have bags filled with discs of different weights and shapes for various shots needed on the course.
The pair emerged tired and sweaty Wednesday afternoon from the 13-acre woods that will house much of the course. These avid players spend the short hours between the end of their work days and darkness taking chain saws and machetes to the trees and underbrush to clear paths for the course.
Work began in February.
They nearly have the pathways ready for the first nine holes, but ran into ground that was too rocky to play the game safely while constructing the back nine.
The last six holes will be moved to another area in the northern part of the complex.
“It’s turned into a bigger job,” Wicker said.
The first nine holes should be ready for play sometime this spring, with the entire course complete sometime in 2013.
The course will be called Flying Dragon, after an invasive thorny bush native to Asia that fills much of the woods.
Some of these bushes have been cleared, but others remain to provide a hazard.
“If you throw a disc in them, you just have to do the best you can,” Mitchell said with a laugh.
Huntsville resident Lavone Wolfe, who is a certified course creator with the Professional Disc Golf Association, designed the layout, with the local players doing much of the grunt work.
Mitchell said it’s a labor of love for the game he discovered about 15 years ago while camping at Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi.
A disc golf course had just opened there.
“We went to Fred’s and bought every cheap Frisbee they had and played for three straight days,” he said.
For more information or to volunteer with the course creation, email
Disc golf tidbits
- The sport was formalized in the 1970s.
- Players use a flying disc, like a Frisbee, that costs about $10. The object is to complete a course in the fewest number of throws.
- A player throws a golf disc from a tee area into an elevated metal basket. The player must make each consecutive shot from the spot where the previous throw landed.
- A round takes one to two hours.
- A championship-caliber 18-hole course can be built on 30 to 40 acres.
- The Professional Disc Golf Association has more than 16,000 members.
— From the Professional Disc Golf Association