Besides the occasional sound of plastic hitting a metal chain, Volunteer Park is quiet on an early Friday afternoon.
“Look, disc golfers are the only ones here when there’s no baseball going on,” said Ben Rasmussen, who joined Jesse Routley for a quick lunchtime round of disc golf, a sport growing in popularity nationwide.
Routley, who owns Routley Engineering, a residential structural engineering firm, started playing disc golf during the pandemic. The sport naturally promotes being outside and social distancing. Rasmussen, a lifelong Key Peninsula resident and KP fire commissioner, has been playing for 10 years, but admits Routley is already as good as he is.
“When you finally throw a disc that ends up doing exactly what you envisioned, that’s when this sport just hooks you,” said Rasmussen said.
That allure is driving these two Lakebay friends to work with Key Pen Parks to possibly expand and redesign the nearly 15-year-old Volunteer Park disc golf course.
The West Sound Disc Golf Associations recently removed its disc golf equipment from Horseshoe Lake Golf Course, leaving Volunteer Park as the only public disc golf course option in the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor areas. Horseshoe Lake was a pay-to-play disc golf course and the association said there were limited times available due to sharing some of the course with traditional golfers. The closest disc golf courses now are in Port Orchard, Shelton and Steilacoom.
Disc golf has rules and format similar to traditional golf — or “ball” golf as Rasmussen and Routley like to call it — so disc and ball golfers are on an equal playing field. Like a traditional golf course, a disc golf course has tree and water hazards, terrain changes and different distances to the baskets, with the object of finishing each “hole” with the fewest number of tosses. Instead of actual holes, there are elevated metal baskets on poles.
Although playing with a common Frisbee is perfectly acceptable, most disc golfers use specialty discs to help shape a shot. Each disc is between $7 and $15, and two or three discs can get you started. Seasoned players like Rasmussen and Routley have custom backpacks filled with more than 10 discs, each one for different purposes, like drives, mid-range shots or putts. Rasmussen said it’s one of the few family-friendly sports where kids, parents and grandparents can play together equally.
Plus, with no course fees on 90% of disc golf courses across the country, it’s an affordable family activity. To encourage participation, Key Pen Parks staff developed an outreach campaign and survey to gauge public interest on three proposed redesign options. The survey closes April 16.
Option 1 is simple: Make minor improvements with a little more course upkeep. This option would improve the unforgiving Hole 9, which Routley calls unrealistic. He says it’s easy to lose multiple discs because of the terrain and bushes. Even Key Pen Parks calls the hole “unplayable” on their website. “I don’t think the installers knew much about disc golf,” said Routley, who mentioned Hole 5 could also use some reconfiguration.
Option 2 makes the course 18-holes, which is what Rasmussen and Routley are interested in, but it’s basically just a flipped concept, meaning after players finish one hole, they would go back the opposite way. “This would create a lot of crossfire (between groups of players),” said Rasmussen.
Routley added that getting hit by hard-plastic discs “is not fun,” and even though disc golfers are pretty aware of their surroundings, it would be best to avoid those scenarios.
Rasmussen and Routley are advocating for Option 3: redesigning the current course and expanding it to 18 unique holes to utilize more wooded area. Some parts would overlap with the existing walking trial, where walkers have the right-of-way, but Routley said there are ways to keep players and trail-users aware of each other. He also said that type of course could give the park opportunities to host smaller tournaments.
Survey results will be presented to the Key Pen Parks board of commissioners at an upcoming meeting. Executive Director Tracey Perkosky said her team has already started exploring costs for each option but will determine specifics if the board decides to move forward. If approved, work would begin sometime this year.
According to UDisc, an app that tracks disc golf course usage, 87% of disc golfers traveled more than 20 miles to play a round in 2022. Pier Park in Portland has one of the top destination courses in the country, and Rasmussen said the thousands of people who play a course like that would have no problem making the 2½-hour trip to the Key Peninsula. Rasmussen himself is getting ready to go on a “Birdies and Beers” trip with his friends where they plan to “pick a direction and hit every brewery and every course along the way.”
The two friends acknowledged there are stereotypes about the disc golf community, but said there’s something for every stereotype:
Nerds: As an engineer, Routley falls into this category. “Every disc is different, with different shapes and aerodynamic properties,” he said. “When you cross-section a disc, it’s like the wings of an airplane. Each angle of that wing has different flight characteristics.”
Hippies: “This sport has come a long way since hippies and Birkenstocks,” Rasmussen said. “But it’s still a group of people enjoying the outdoors and escaping into the woods.”
Meatheads: As Routley pointed out, there’s a science to each toss, but, “You can just cock back and see how hard and far you can throw it.”
The point the two are trying to make is this sport is for anyone, at any skill level.
“Really, all we’re doing is chasing that perfect toss and those tiny moments in time when all you think about is making that basket,” said Rasmussen said.
To learn more about the disc golf course project or to take the survey, go to keypenparks.com.
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