June 15th, 2024

Disc golf taking off in Alberta

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on May 25, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Craig Burrows-Johnson has seen disc golf grow from a sport virtually nobody had heard of to one which is now played throughout the year in this city and elsewhere.
Disc golf has many reasons for its appeal including a relatively low cost for equipment. It can be played without having to reserve spots at a golf course and it’s accessible to virtually everyone regardless of age or physical abilities.
And the capital costs of creating a disc golf course are relatively low compared to those of other recreational facilities, says Burrows-Johnson who has designed about courses in Alberta over the decades including in Lethbridge, Cardston, Medicine Hat, Drumheller (which has three courses) and other communities.
The Nicholas Sheran Park course cost less than $30,000 to construct, Burrows-Johnson recalled in an interview recently. In comparison, one tennis court can cost $40,000 to construct and can support four recreational uses per hour.
The Nicholas Sheran disc golf course can support 72 recreational users per hour if there are four on each hole.
And and most disc golf courses are free of charge to use, he said.
In a year, there are thousands of rounds of golf played at the course, 6,000 of them alone registered by disc golf club members on an app called UDisc.
No sport gives people a bigger bang for their recreational buck, Burrows-Johnson believes.
And people even if they are physically limited can play, says Burrows-Johnson who plays with a person in Calgary who is wheelchair-bound.
Players use different discs which cost roughly $25 to $30 a piece, far less than the cost of a golf club. And Burrows-Johnson uses 10 on a round, keeping them in a converted golf pull cart.
The Nicholas Sheran course is getting so busy now people have to sometimes wait to play which never happened years ago.
In 2001, there were maybe six people playing the sport in the city and now “there are hundreds and hundreds” with the club having 200 members alone, says Burrows-Johnson, noting most players don’t even join the club.
“They just come out here and play for free, unstructured, barrier-free recreation.”
Burrows-Johnson played for the first time in 1980 when he was in Jamaica where some Americans had set up a course around a local pub.
While working at the University of Calgary, Burrows-Johnson hooked up with a guy he went to high school with in Taber, who along with others were playing ultimate frisbee at the U of C. They were all interested in other disc sports and it was decided to set up a disc golf course around the grounds of U of C.
That course consisted of taped trees and cones used in ultimate frisbee for tee boxes.
At the Calgary neighbourhood of Inglewood, the group installed the first nine-basket course in the city at Pearce Estate Park along the Bow River.
After talking to frisbee players in Calgary, the decision was made to establish a tour which started in 1996, the objects being to build a network of courses across the province, and the other being to promote the sport in new communities, Burrows-Johnson recalls.
Edmonton had actually installed a disc golf course in 1980 and that city along with Calgary and the Canmore Nordic Centre – where Burrows-Johnson created a course in 1995 – were the first on the tour.
Disc golf came to Lethbridge after it was made an official sport for the Alberta Senior Games.
In 2000, Lethbridge won the bid for the 2001 games. Different sites were looked at for a course including Henderson Lake where a nine-basket course had existed at one time that nobody used.
Burrows-Johnson was asked to explore suitable sites. Needed were parking, washrooms, and enough unused green space to design a course that would have no conflict with existing users and Nicholas Sheran fit those desires.
A code of conduct for the course is listed on a sign at the main parking lot of Nicholas Sheran park where members will pick up debris and garbage at their own initiative while playing to do their part to keep the space clean.
Constant use keeps disc golf courses clean and safe with multiple eyes on the public space.
This year there are a couple of events planned at the NSP course including the national amateur championships Aug. 24-25.
The Aperture course at the University of Lethbridge will host the 2024 Fall Classic on Sept. 21.
The 18-basket Nicholas Sheran layout is considered to be one of the “greatest courses in Canada,” says Burrows-Johnson and it’s still the longest public course. The disc golf club has league play Tuesday nights at 6 p.m.
Disc golf uses many of the same terminologies as golf, and has different tee boxes for different distance – red, white and blue at Nicholas Sheran. Burrows-Johnson, for the Northern Rockies Challenge Alberta vs. Montana event, set up black tees which meant distances of nearly 12,000 feet.
Burrows-Johnson calls his work developing courses “a labour of love,” noting the 24-basket Cardston course at Lee Creek Park will be “unbelievably good.”

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