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Flying the green: Disc golfers build a course at Stables Park
By Charles Swenson
The tee shot stayed low under the limbs of the live oak that framed the fairway and curled gently toward the target. It was a little long, leaving Jonathan Poole with a 12-foot putt for a birdie. His aim was true, but the putt broke left. He settled for par.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Poole said.
Hitting a 22-inch target with an 8-inch disc is almost as hard as carving a nine-hole disc golf course from the overgrown pastures at a former equestrian center. But that’s what Poole and a handful of disc golfers have done at Stables Park in Litchfield. The easy part was drawing a crowd. Poole and Tom Housner set the nine targets on a Saturday, finishing up by the headlights of Poole’s SUV. By Monday morning there were a dozen people on the course.
“How did they find out about it?” asked Blaine Harvey, who is working on the project. “There’s a whole community of disc golfers that live around here.”
But none have Poole’s stature in the sport. He is the team manager for Innova, a manufacturer of discs and other equipment, and one of the co-founders of the U.S. Disc Golf Championship. The tournament is played each October at Winthrop University.
Poole lives in Litchfield Country Club. He moved to the area in 2011, just when work started to turn the former Litchfield Plantation riding facility in Stables Park. Poole talked with the county Parks and Recreation Department about disc golf. They were interested, but the time wasn’t right. He wound up helping Horry County with an 18-hole course that wraps around ballfields at a park in Socastee.
The Professional Disc Golf Association dates the sport to the mid 1960s, when the Frisbee was patented. The same designer patented the disc golf target hole in 1975. Huntington Beach State Park had a disc golf course that was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and never replaced. Georgetown County opened a course at East Bay Park in 2008.
The concept is identical to traditional golf: get from tee to green in the fewest strokes. Players use different discs based on the distance and conditions the way traditional golfers use different clubs. The PGDA sets the standards for equipment and the rules.
The course can be played with a beach-style disc, but those are designed to float in the air, Poole explained. “When you throw it hard, you lose control,” he said. “I see people on the beach all the time throwing these cheap discs. They’re not having any fun because they don’t have any control.”
There is no limit on the number of discs a golfer can carry. Discs that are identical when they come out of the factory take on their own characteristics with use, Poole said. Wear affects how they fly.
And then there are hazards, as Harvey demonstrated with a morning round at Stables Park. His tee shot ended up somewhere between a stand of pine saplings and a pond. They may float on the air, but the discs sink in the water.
It was Harvey who renewed the pitch to the recreation department this fall for a course. The nine holes start at the tree line at the edge of the Stables Park ballfields. They hug one side of the old pasture where it runs alongside a Carolina bay. The longest hole extends 345 feet toward the boundary of Litchfield Country Club before the course turns and makes its way back toward the ballfields. One sign of the work in progress is the ninth green, where a hive of ground-nesting yellow jackets are still in residence.
Poole used a push mower to shape the course. Even though the discs fly over the ground, he wants to have a uniform surface on the fairways. Golfers can skip the discs off the ground or throw them in a way that they roll on an edge around obstacles. The course takes advantage of the many live oaks and some natural elevation changes. “There’s going to be a lot of shot-making. You’re going to have to work those discs in a lot of different directions,” Poole said.
Eventually, there will be tee boxes. That will give a solid surface for drives, which can be made with a run up to the tee blocks. Poole envisions a plastic frame topped with artificial turf. The tees will also provide space to list sponsors. There are five so far: Pawleys Island Pharmacy, Pawleys Island Lumber, New South Brewing, Tom and Jane Housner and Innova.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Housner, who was among those who played on opening day at East Bay Park.
With courses in Horry County and another in Awendaw, Stables Park will fill a void for the sport that has been growing 15 to 20 percent a year since the early 1980s, Poole said. “It won’t be long before, on a Saturday, you’ll have people on every hole,” he said. “We’re looking for something locals can come out and play as a family.”
“This is a great recreational activity,” said Loren Wallace, the county recreation manager. “We see tons of benefits.”
The county has other plans for this portion of Stables Park, such as a dog park. It is also serves as the course for the Waccamaw High cross country team. “We can peacefully co-exist with a lot of other activities,” Poole said. “Plus, it’s golf, so it’s quiet.”
The local disc golfers are committed to maintaining the course. They will also help out with the dog park, Poole said. “We live here. It’s our yard.”
“It’s so laid back and casual,” Harvey said. “It’s not like golf.”
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