RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Huge live oaks by a pond, a wide grassy area and just enough forest make Southeast Park the ideal spot for a disc golf course.
That’s what disc golf enthusiasts in the area thought when Columbia opened the new park and tennis center in 2006. After years of discussions, months of planning and modicum of construction, the professional-grade course at the park gets its tournament debut today.
Southeast Park, long popular among tennis players and dog walkers in the Hazelwood Road area off Garners Ferry Road in Lower Richland, now has another user group.
It’s the fourth public disc golf course in the area, and the third on property managed by the city of Columbia. The other local courses are at Earlewood and Owens Field parks in Columbia and Crooked Creek Park in Chapin.
The new Southeast course is longer than the others, its holes measuring nearly 7,000 feet compared with about 4,800 feet at Earlewood and Crooked Creek. And it’s designed to add additional options on seven holes that would stretch the distance to more than 8,000 feet.
“The goal was to challenge top players and still make it accessible to people who had just picked up a disc for the first time,” said Scott Wallace, a Columbia resident who designed the layout. He got plenty of help from Chapin’s Alan Beaver, a member of the Disc Golf Hall of Fame who spearheaded the development of many of the public courses in Charlotte while working for the parks department there.
Disc golf is formatted like traditional golf, with players starting at tee areas and progressing to target areas. But rather than hitting a ball with a club, players toss a Frisbee-like disc. And rather than a hole on a green, the target is a raised metal basket. For traditional golfers, spending time in the woods is a bad thing. Disc golf courses, by contrast, meander in and out of woods on purpose.
Wallace looked at aerial maps and walked the 62-acre park hundreds of times to get a feel for the topography and vegetation.
Disc golf advocates felt the mostly natural, undeveloped park was the ideal venue for disc golf, and parks director Jeff Caton agreed. Council member Leona Plaugh backed the idea and even walked the terrain with Wallace during the planning process.
Wallace and Beaver donated their expertise, and the city paid $7,700 for the baskets and concrete. Caton sees it as a bargain, considering the use the public will get from the course and the economic benefits when it draws tournament players from outside the area.
The course steers clear of the park’s 16-court tennis complex, but it incorporates an open field designated for activities such as soccer, football or flying a kite. Golfers will have to cross the field on the 17th and 18th holes, which measure 744 and 649 feet. Shots on the eighth and ninth holes will have to slip under the canopy provided by the stately live oaks on the eastern edge of the park’s large pond.
Diehard disc golfers have tested out the course as it has slowly taken form the past eight months. Temporary baskets were put up for a small tournament in June. The permanent baskets began to be installed in late summer.
The last of the concrete tee pads — designed to prevent erosion in the most highly used spots — were being completed by city workers Friday, just in time for this weekend’s Physical Flight Point Series tournament.
The first event “is not so much about the tournament as much as to let (the top regional players) know about the park and the course,” Wallace said.
While newcomers to the sport probably should wait until after this weekend’s tournament to try out the course, it will be open to the public and play will be free.