GOLF IS DEAD. LONG LIVE GOLF!
By ANDREW MCGINN
In another era, a local business leader like Steve Kohl probably would have belonged to the country club. The general manager of AAI/Spalding may even have met business associates from time to time on the links.
Kohl, 48, still practices his putting at home in the winter months, but to anyone who knows only one kind of golf, it would look like he’s merely tossing a Frisbee around his garage.
The Jefferson resident is crazy about disc golf in the way people used to feel about, well, golf.
Kohl is aiding the effort to create a tournament-worthy, 18-hole disc golf course at Daubendiek Park that would put Jefferson on the map for enthusiasts of the fast-growing sport.
But what’s perhaps craziest of all is how fast Kohl got sucked in.
He only started playing disc golf in the past year as a way to bond with his oldest son, buying a cheap set of discs for himself.
“Now I have a backpack with 20-some discs in it,” Kohl said.
Before long, he was watching videos of people throwing, and practicing his “putting” nightly.
“You start looking at how many grams your disc is,” Kohl explained. “It doesn’t take long to get to that point.”
“I’m still not good,” he added with a laugh.
But now that he’s into it, Kohl sees how willing to travel people are to play disc golf at an 18-hole course. There’s no reason, he and others say, why Jefferson can’t and shouldn’t get in on it.
“The more I heard about it, the more I got sold on it,” said Dennis Hammen, park and recreation director for the city of Jefferson, who believes in the project so much he plans to donate $1,000 of his own money.
“It just seems like a win-win for the city,” Hammen explained.
Those leading the charge — Hammen, Kohl and Daniel Rohner, another recent convert to the sport — say a destination disc golf course capable of hosting competitive tournaments can be installed for under $20,000.
The trio recently put the finishing touches on a local grant request.
Critics who’ve hounded the city for years about its ownership of the nine-hole former country club golf course on the south side of town — seeing it from day one as a losing proposition — will be in for a real treat.
A second city golf course it ain’t.
While disc golf is played like traditional golf — the goal is to make it down the fairway in as few throws as possible to a chained metal basket, er, hole — the course requires little attention.
Actually, once installation is complete — including textured slabs of concrete for tee pads and the metal baskets — nature is allowed to resume control.
“You want weeds and trees,” Kohl said. “Daubendiek has a lot to offer.
The fact that Daubendiek Park is prone to flooding doesn’t deter them, either. Just the opposite: they say disc golf courses thrive in unused park areas and on land of little other value.
The county conservation board installed a nine-hole disc golf course at Spring Lake in 2016, but the course is too small and too unobstructed to attract many out-of-towners, they say.
That said, some of Kohl’s discs have nevertheless ended up in the lake.
“It’s great if that’s all you have,” Rohner, 26, said of the nine-hole course at Spring Lake. “To start out, it’s a great course.”
Rohner was elated this past summer when a tree toppled over in the fairway at Spring Lake. Having to throw around the tree added excitement, he said.
At Daubendiek Park, they envision a 220-foot tunnel shot through a corridor of trees on hole 12.
It’s entirely possible that disc golf is simply the right sport at the right time. With water quality an ever-present concern, courses for disc golf seemingly generate little in the way of runoff compared to their heavily manicured counterparts.
And as the workplace itself becomes more casual, it’s small wonder that a sport rooted in the hippie Frisbee culture of the ’60s and ’70s would take hold.
The number of disc golf courses nearly tripled between 2008 and 2018, according to the PDGA.
Yes. There’s even a Professional Disc Golf Association now, too.
Meanwhile, the popularity of traditional golf is in serious decline. According to a report last June by the National Recreation and Park Association, there were 6.8 million fewer golfers in 2018 than in 2003, a drop of 22 percent. That is causing 200 golf courses to fail in a typical year, according to the NRPA.
The sport of golf has come to be seen as too costly and, maybe worst of all, too time consuming for people in the 21st century.
Rohner, who works as a cellular specialist at Jefferson Telecom, spent all of about $22 this past summer on a three-disc starter set, which included a driver, a midrange disc and a putter. Like clubs, the discs are designed for different variables.
“It looks to me like it’d be a lot of fun,” Hammen said.
Best yet, there are no fees to play, making the sport accessible to all.
Credit for the idea of an 18-hole disc golf course at Daubendiek Park rests with Mitchell Rainey, a former employee of Steve Kohl’s at American Athletic Inc./Spalding. Rainey has since moved to Arizona, but not before drawing up a preliminary design and pitching Hammen on it last spring.
“We could see it was a great opportunity for the community,” Hammen said, adding that disc golf has emerged as a great form of recreation during the pandemic.
Along with grants, Hammen, Kohl and Rohner are also seeking donations for the project, including different levels of sponsorship. (Full sponsorship of a hole costs $1,000.) Donations can be made at the Greene County Community Center.
While they say disc golf offers four-season recreation, the Arctic weather this past week locally would have tested even the most hard-core of disc golfers.
Kohl and Rohner were up for throwing a couple of discs around at Daubendiek Park this past Friday for the sake of a photo, but 10-below is 10-below.
“Summer will be here before we know it,” Kohl chattered.
After a few minutes, everyone decided to make a beeline straight for the disc golf equivalent of a clubhouse — their cars.