ST. HELENS — Long, straight shots will come into play on many holes at the new 18-hole McCormick Park Disc Golf Course once it’s up and running. Only one of those adjectives can describe the process of creating the course, though: Long.
About a year and a half ago, a small group of disc golfers realized there was incredible potential for a full-sized, challenging, maybe even world-class disc golf course at McCormick Park. Now, after several redesigns, many meetings with governmental agencies and plenty of fundraising, the park is shaping up.
In February, the St. Helens City Council approved the group’s course design. The 18 holes meander through 28 acres of forested area in the park, careful to avoid pedestrian paths and stay away from flood zones.
In the last couple of weeks, volunteers like Logan Miller, Jared Fischer and Sean Phillips have spent several hours trimming away underbrush to make their vision become a reality. A walk through the park turns up dozens of stakes and ribbons, marking future pin locations, tee pads, cut zones and no-cut zones. The going is slow, and they anticipate spending many, many more hours laboring to get the course ready. Once they’ve done more rough cuts, as they call them, the plot of land will look more and more like a course.
“We’re working on it in three stages. Right now, we’re doing rough cuts to get lines of sight. Then we’ll bring in a brush hog to get rid of the underbrush, then we’ll add the pads,” Miller said. “Hopefully we’ll have that done this summer.”
On these rough cuts, the volunteers are cutting away the smaller brush to be sure a hole can actually go in where they have planned. They’ve only done a couple so far, and still have several more rough cuts to do before the heavy equipment can come in.
That makes their goal of having the course playable this summer an ambitious one. But it’s also a goal that carries the potential of a big reward.
The Professional Disc Golf Association is holding its 2014 World Championships in Portland, with more than 300 professional disc golfers expected to compete. The tournament will be played on six courses: Portland is still looking for a sixth.
“Stumptown (Disc Golf Club) is hoping to have worlds here,” Miller said while walking through McCormick Park. “Our timeline is, if we can get it in by summer – basically get it cut before stuff starts growing – then it’ll get played, it’ll get packed down by people using it. If we can get it packed down by people playing it through the fall and winter, we might have it ready for worlds. But if we don’t get it in by fall, we won’t have enough people playing it in the winter to have worlds.”
That’s the giant carrot dangling in front of them as they take pruners and chainsaws to the blackberry bushes, poison oak and vine maple currently covering the park’s ground. The big trees will all stay. In fact, those big trees are the guidelines for the course.
Miller, who has also designed courses in California, said holes are planned by looking at the taller trees.
“You look up and you see fairways,” he said.
His plan is for those fairways to be tough enough that professionals will be challenged by the course, but basic enough that beginners can enjoy the course.
“We’re trying to cater to lefties, righties, pros, amateurs, beginners. We want a bunch of different variety,” Miller said.
The way to strike that balance, he said, is by posing shots with high-risk and high-reward. So where a beginner could take two or three simple shots from the tee pad to be within putting distance, a more experienced player could attempt a more advanced shot. But if that shot sails off path, it will be tough to recover from.
Phillips, who lives in Deer Island, hopes to turn more people into advanced players. According to the PDGA’s latest rankings, he’s the No. 4 professional disc golfer in Oregon (out of 73).
“I’m gonna be looking to run some clinics out here, make some pros out of some people out here,” Phillips said.
Phillips and Fischer are the locals; Miller has been commuting from Portland to help on the course. Fischer grew up near the park, but only started playing disc golf recently.
“This is a great piece of land. This is really perfect for a disc golf course. We’ve got a lot of people expecting us to do well so we’re putting our time in,” Fischer said.
Their hope is that by adding a disc golf course to St. Helens, the community will gain another avenue that encourages people to get outside and exercise. The beauty of disc golf is in its cheap price tag. There is no charge to use the course – only the price of your discs.
In order to raise money for the course’s construction, the St. Helens Disc Golf Club is selling discs. They’ve also received several substantial donations from Stumptown Disc Golf Club. Stumptown’s four-tournament Winter Slosh Series was a fundraiser for McCormick Park. A large number of discs were custom made and sold for the renowned Beaver State Fling, with a portion of all sales going to McCormick Park. Those efforts covered the cost of the 19 baskets that will be at the park. (There will be one practice hole.) Those donations originated with the president of Stumptown Disc Golf Club coming to Miller with the idea.
“That was really awesome,” Miller said. “He knew we needed money. I didn’t ask, I thought that would be pretty presumptuous. That was great of them.”
Those baskets likely won’t go in until late summer. Before that, the St. Helens Disc Golf Club will need to finish making its rough cuts. Then it will need to clear out some of the undergrowth. For that step, the group plans on organizing work parties at the park. Those will be advertised on the McCormick Park Disc Golf Course Facebook page.
Once the course is cleared, the pads will go in. Then the plan is for an opening day celebration in which the baskets are dropped into their slots. Then the discs will finally be able to fly – hopefully long and straight.