Fly right 

City and disc golfers look for ways to make courses safer for passersby

click to enlarge Flying discs could injure nearby walkers. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Flying discs could injure nearby walkers.

To see someone hurl a disc at 50 miles an hour or better through low-hanging branches toward a smallish chain cage "hole" is awesome.

While it's not the biggest sport in the region, disc golf is played by thousands on the city's three courses. But the most popular and oldest course lies within Cottonwood Creek Park in the northeast part of the city, established in the early 1990s, where flying discs are profuse.

Considering discs reaching 70 mph can split the skin and deliver a concussion, the Cottonwood course is coming under scrutiny due to its proximity to walking paths.

"There's an inherent risk to playing disc golf. People can get hurt with this," says Kurt Strauder, president of Cottonwood Creek Disc Golf Club. "It's not like throwing a Frisbee® to your buddy on the beach."

Changes over the years have prompted the city to consider redesigning it. Some say tweaking the existing course would work, while others wonder if it's time to scrap it and start over. That might not be a big deal for most residents, but for golfers it's important.

"It's a serious sport," Strauder says. "People say, 'I play real golf.' I say, 'Wait a minute. We're real too. Just different.'"

In fact, the sport can be highly sophisticated. Players amass arsenals of 10 to 20 discs each — for driving, putting, hooking around obstacles and gliding great distances. So at Cottonwood — the most popular local course where hundreds of players make thousands of throws a day — safety issues arise. The course abuts a popular trail where flood control projects in recent years raised the berm and pushed the walking path closer to the golf course.

Last month, safety concerns voiced by Strauder and others prompted the Parks Advisory Board to remove four baskets, or holes. Within days, the holes were reinstalled in different places with warning signs advising golfers to not throw when people are on the trail.

But that's apparently a temporary fix.

"Park staff has offered to work with the Cottonwood Creek Disc Golf Club and the broader disc golf community to collaboratively redesign the Cottonwood Disc Golf Course via a public process that would take place this winter," Parks spokesman Chris Lieber says via email. "Knowing that this popular course is used by many disc golfers in our community, we believe it is important that the redesign process include opportunities for community input."

That could prove contentious. As Strauder points out, when the Cottonwood course was set up, few houses bordered the park area. Now, they nearly surround it.

The city's newest disc golf course, near El Pomar Youth Sports Complex on the city's south side, didn't draw much opposition because residential development is sparse, Strauder says. But a new course near Rampart High School, to be created in the next month, sparked protests from some neighbors and led to adjustments of basket sites, he says.

Disc golfers, Strauder says, support a redesign at Cottonwood, but they worry that a full-blown public process could result in a pared-down course or no course at all. It should be noted that both Strauder's group and the much older Pikes Peak Flying Disc Club contribute money and labor to purchase baskets and maintain the courses. The Pikes Peak group didn't return a phone call seeking comment, but Strauder stresses the city's Parks Advisory Board is supportive and worked to assure the Rampart course is a "go."

Jim Coonradt, a Cottonwood Creek Disc Golf Club member, favors adjusting the course and has even mapped out a proposal.

"This course is a victim of its own popularity," he says. "It gets really crowded." Coonradt thinks some changes to the course's mid-section — holes 4, 5, 6 and 7 — would make it safer without redoing the whole thing.

The bottom line, Strauder says, is the city needs more courses. "If you have enough courses, you won't have the problems," he says. "You can only put so many rats in a hole."

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