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Disc golf course opening soon

By Janet Nolte
Solon Economist

SOLON– Those who’ve visited the Solon Recreation and Nature Area (SNRA) lately may have noticed there’s a new game in town– one played with flying plastic discs baby boomers will fondly remember as “Frisbees.”
“It started when we were approached by Coralville Parks and Recreation and the Army Corps of Engineers, who said they were replacing the disc golf goals on one of their courses,” said Mike Reeve, Activities Coordinator of Solon’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“They were asking if we would be interested in using the goals they were taking out. We said yes, definitely, especially when there was no cost involved, because disc golf goals can be very pricey,” said Reeve.
Disc golf goals, or pole holes, were invented and patented by the father of the sport, Ed Headrick, when he worked as head of R&D at Wham-O Toys in the 1970s. The catching devices for modern disc golf remain true to Headrick’s original design consisting of 10 or so chains, hung over a sturdy metal basket, into which players attempt to land their plastic saucers with as few throws as possible.
“So once we got those goals, then next thing was deciding on where would be a good spot,” said Reeve. “The one that made the most sense was the recreation and nature area, so I contacted the Iowa Disc Golf Association and got some people that were willing to come down and walk the area we were looking at.”
Reeve welcomed the input of representatives from the professional organization. “They looked at the timber area just west of the park and thought this would be a great area to put a course in,” he said. “We decided that we didn’t want to go to the extreme of cutting down a lot of trees. We didn’t want to disrupt the natural habitat that much.”
That was back in the fall of 2015.
“To be honest with you, the first time we had consultants come down and take a look at the area and say, ‘oh, hey that wooded area is great,’ our city officials weren’t crazy about doing it back there,” Reeve recalled. “They were worried about a couple different things.”
The city’s number one concern was potential damage to trees, a common topic of discussion at other disc golf sites.
“You wouldn’t think a disc would hurt a tree much, but if one hits it several times, there could be significant damage,” said Reeve.
Second, the lack of supervision in the area also gave the city pause. “The SNRA is kind of out of the way and there’s been some problems in the past--not so much with vandalism, but litter down there and it’s not patrolled regularly,” he noted. “So considering those factors, they kind of said no, we’re not going to put it in that area. “
Reeve said the original plan was to put in 18 holes. “We were thinking, okay, let’s put more of it in the actual park area, the mote area, and maybe just use a couple of open areas in the woods and make sure that it’s areas where we don’t have to cut down or pull out many trees. So the second round of consultants came down and they were very, very safety conscious, saying, ‘we can’t be close to any area that’s going to have people either participating or spectating a sport.’”
Working with a variety of consultants and local disc golf enthusiasts, Reeve scaled the plan back to nine holes he mapped out with the help of Andy Greco, a Solon resident and member of the Sutliff Bushwackers disc golf league.
“Andy and I walked the area and put flags down... this is where we could have a tee, this is where we could have a goal… and marked fairways,” said Reeve.
Then he pitched the refined plan for the course to members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.
“When some of them actually walked the area and saw that we really weren’t going to remove that many trees, and that it will be close enough to the path that won’t be hidden, it’s going to be observable from the path– they kinda changed their minds,” said Reeve.
The popularity of disc golf and a bit of public pressure clinched the commission’s decision to move forward. “People started asking, ‘hey, when we going to get a disc golf course?’” Reeve said.
Since the pole holes were donated and the labor to construct the course has been done primarily by volunteers, the costs of Solon’s new disc golf facility are minimal. It’s all coming along quite nicely. On Saturday, April 8, a robust group of volunteers turned out to clear brush and branches.
Greco said the community work day was fantastic.
“We had some Boy Scouts out, we had moms of Boy Scouts, we had fellow members of the Sutliff Bushwackers league, and it went really smooth. It only took us a couple of hours,” said Greco, who began playing disc golf 17 years ago. He also gave kudos to Solon’s parks and recreation crew for their commitment and heavy lifting on the project. “I definitely want to give them credit,” he said. “Because without them, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Reeve likewise appreciated the help of Greco and others who play in his league: “One thing I’ve learned about disc golfers, they are willing to pitch in and help if it means a new course. They are really hungry for new courses.”
Solon’s new course starts and ends near the Timber DOME Lodge and includes a practice tee in addition to nine holes that are an average of 300 feet each. “Some of them are on the west and north paved path that goes around the rec. and nature area, and some of them are on the east and south side of the marsh,” said Reeve.
Anyone may play on the course for free and more than one group may play at the same time.
Now that the concrete anchors to hold the metal baskets and poles at each goal are in place, Reeve said the course is already attracting some enthusiasts.
“We are currently waiting on hole signs which will go up on the tee posts, as well as a larger sign showing the entire layout. Consequently, it hasn’t officially opened, but I’ve noticed people playing just about every evening I’m down at the SRNA,” Reeve said in an email.
“Iowa is in the top five states when it comes to courses per capita and so we are really lucky,” noted Greco.
While there are several disc golf courses throughout the Corridor, including one at nearby Sugar Bottom, Greco is excited that Solon will have its own course.
“People who live in town can ride bikes to play nine holes of disc golf without having to drive to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids to play,” he said.
“It’s really addicting, and it’s very economical when it comes down to it. There’s something really special about it.”