Disc Fever

By Rachel Wisinski | Photography by Shanna Wolf

Josh Moore was 30, unemployed and looking for a way to incorporate more
exercise into his life. that’s when he took up disc golf and as they say, the rest is history. Moore now says his love for the sport has grown so much he has become an advocate for its expansion throughout the Geneva Lakes area.

The self-designated “key holder,” Moore has worked so extensively with the Lake Geneva Public Works Department on matters concerning the White River Disc Golf Course, that the department gave him the keys to the baskets, which means he has free reign to unlock them and move them,
altering the course layout.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Lake Geneva Public Works director Dan Winkler says the land sat unused for almost three years before Mayor Jim Connors suggested a conversion into a disc golf course. After the park commission secured funding from the City Council it worked with the firm Watch it Bend to design the course.

When construction began in July 2013, it took a joint effort to clean up the course, mount baskets, create tee boxes and make signs to mark the holes. Since opening in 2014, disc golf has gained popularity in the area among both traditional golfers and others alike.

The concept of disc golf is quite similar to that of golf with a ball, with the exception that it involves throwing a disc into a metal basket instead of hitting a ball into a hole.

Much like the different clubs in golf, there are three main discs – a driver, midrange and putter, each with individual flight and weight dynamics that affect how it is thrown and where it lands.

A lie marks the spot a disc lands, and a mini disc is placed in front of the disc on the ground, which then becomes the line a player must throw behind.

Like golf, the goal is to make the fewest amount of throws to get the disc into the basket.

Moore says weather conditions such as wind and terrain of the course are constant factors in how well one plays.

The White River Course has its own set of challenges for players, including trees, change in elevation and water hazards. Fallen trees from the tornado last August still dot the White River playing field. Six or seven holes of the White River course run along the river, and one hole even features a pond.

“It makes it interesting,” Moore says. “Wide open holes can be fun depending on how long the course is, but the challenge comes from the obstacles.”

THE EMERGENCE OF DISC GOLF

According to the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), the first known instance of people playing disc golf occurred in 1926 in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada, but the sport didn’t begin to build momentum until the 1970s. A small group of people in Rochester, New York, began playing disc golf competitively, and promoted championship events in the area.

In 1975, Wham-O, a company that produced sporting goods such as Frisbees, Hula Hoops and slingshots included disc golf in its annual World Frisbee Championship. Soon the sport gained traction and it’s now popular worldwide with 4,666 PDGA recognized courses in the U.S. alone, with the majority located in the Midwest.

A DRAW TO THE SPORT

Around the time the skate park gained popularity, Lake Geneva Board of Commissioners Chairman Doug Skates says people were looking for something else to do that involved fitness and recreation.

Disc golf seemed a logical choice for the adjacent land because it was something that didn’t involve a lot of infrastructure and wasn’t costly, Skates says.

“Between the skate park, the dog park and the disc golf course, it’s really been a winning combination,” he says.

Moore and Skates both emphasize two factors that have continued to draw people to the sport—how easy it is to get into and how reasonably priced it is to play.

A game of disc golf can be played more quickly than traditional golf – where 18 holes can often take six hours to complete. Skates says people will come over from biking or skateboarding in the park to play five or six holes before moving on to another activity. “It’s an easy transition,” he says.

Participants also walk the course rather than drive a cart, so it is a good form of exercise. Additionally, discs cost between $8 and $20, and only three are necessary.

However, once Moore began competing in tournaments in Madison and Milwaukee, he says he continued to buy them, and he now owns between 100 and 200 discs. “As you become addicted, you want more,” Moore says. “That’s like with anything— people who fish have more fishing gear.”

DISTINCT COURSES ABOUND

Bringing the sport to the Geneva Lakes area required the parks department to observe and expand on ideas used on other Wisconsin courses, Skates says.

Kenosha County’s Silver Lake course served as a major inspiration.

However, The Mountain Top at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa boasts the area’s newest course.

Chad Hart, director of ski operations, says he and The Mountain Top staff proposed using more of the resort’s land by incorporating new summer operations, and its course opened for public use in July 2015.

Although the Grand Geneva course is smaller than the White River course, it’s a little more technical, Hart says. The elevation of the 18-hole course changes due to the incorporation of the ski hill area.

Unlike the White River course, however, Hart says the course at The Mountain Top is not open all year, so waiting for the snow to melt in the spring sometimes hinders play, which is why the professional season is played from mid-March to November.

Moore admits he plays mostly on the White River Course because he’s from the area, but he’s also played at Grand Geneva, in Janesville and on Fontana’s nine-hole course, located in the Duck Pond Recreation Area. “I go at least three times a week, otherwise I get kind of crabby,” Moore says.

ALL PARTICIPANTS WELCOME

Although most disc golf players are 20 to 35 years old, Skates says he’s seen everyone from small kids playing with their parents to those in their 60s and 70s enjoying the game.

Hart says a major draw over traditional golf is disc golf is more laid back—participants can play at their own pace and bring whatever skill level to the field.

“It all depends on what you’re into as far as athleticism and the sports you like,” Hart says. “Some people really like golf, some really like hiking, and disc golf is kind of a mix of that.”

LOCAL ROOTS AND BEYOND

Skates says the White River Disc Golf Course was a no-brainer as far as adding a form of recreation to draw people in from the Lake Geneva beach, shops, restaurants and places to stay.

People from out of town who play sometimes leave feedback for the city—both things they like about the course and ways to possibly improve it.

It’s all part of an effort to work out the kinks and grow the sport in the area, Skates says.

In January, Moore worked with the Geneva Lakes Family YMCA to offer a putting league for anyone in the area interested in disc golf. He plans to make it an annual event and hopes it will grow in popularity as word spreads.

This summer, with the help of the YMCA, Moore plans to help organize the first White River Course league as well as its first official event, the Trilogy Challenge to be held on June 25.

Although the Geneva Lakes area currently does not hold sanctioned tournaments, Hart says the Grand Geneva course hopes to implement them in the near future.

“It’s a great family sport and a wonderful way to spend the afternoon,” Hart says.

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