Disc golf comes to UMass

Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013

AMHERST — As discs fly through the air on a section of the University of Massachusetts campus, the metal clinking sound of a chain basket signifies a successful shot.

“Hitting the chains is an addiction,” Brian Giggey said.

Giggey, a disc golf enthusiast, spent the past three years working with campus officials to design and create a disc golf course and turn his passion and profession into a reality.

Orchard Hill Disc Golf is what he termed “a labor of love.” “The point is to promote the sport,” said Giggey, who runs Explore Disc Golf in Amherst, which designs disc golf courses, rents out discs for players and offers a mobile disc golf experience at festivals around the country.

After pitching the idea in 2010 as he was graduating with a master’s degree in landscape architecture and regional planning, Giggey said he is pleased to finally have a place in Amherst people can play one of the fastest growing sports and to appreciate the natural beauty of the surrounding area.

The university bought into the project to make the area between the dormitories at Orchard Hill and Sylvan safer. For many years, the land was essentially abandoned and overgrown. Originally part of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, it earlier had been transformed into an equestrian course, but was no longer being used.

Giggey said the course is ideal for those just learning to play the sport, which is different from traditional golf with players using clubs aiming to land balls in a hole.

“It’s not hippie golf, it’s not Frisbee golf, it’s a very competitive sport, and it’s beginner friendly, if you want it to be,” Giggey said.

The course is set up so that it is not too challenging to shoot at least par.

Giggey hired a consultant to make sure the course wouldn’t interfere with any of the wetlands on the site. Earlier this year, the Amherst Conservation Commission gave him permission to build trails so long as they were at least 30 feet outside the wetlands.

With approvals in hand, the disc course broke ground last month. At each hole, Giggey and his assistants installed baskets from Innova Disc Golf, one of the more prominent disc golf equipment manufacturers.

These heavy duty baskets, bolted into a concrete base, cost about $375, with another $25 needed to secure them in place.

Small signs list each hole’s par, based on how many throws it should take an average person to land the disc in the metal tray or be supported by the metal chains holding it up, the length of the shot and the elevation to which a player will be throwing. There is also an aerial diagram and beginner tips.

“Everything is very similar to traditional golf,” Giggey said.

The total cost of building the course was around $2,000. Innova provided a matching grant that reduced the cost of the nine baskets by half, and Pure Flight, an Amherst store specializing in disc golf and Ultimate, sponsored half of the course. The New England Flying Disc Golf Association also assisted.

Giggey hopes this gives people an incentive to both play but also appreciate the site.

“We’re moving people through the landscape, not stuffing holes side by side,” Giggey said.

Smaller signs near the holes have write-ups about the landscape that promote environmental education.

During the design process, Giggey had to demonstrate how such a course would be used. He was helped by the formation of the UMass Disc Golf Club.

Cole Theriault, president of the club, which was founded in 2011, said his team will benefit by reducing commuting time to existing courses, such as in Northampon at the former state hospital grounds, and will improve the play of members. It may also serve to inspire younger students.

“By having the course on campus, it will also give incoming freshmen a new opportunity to meet people with similar interests, or if they don’t already play, an opportunity to pick up a new hobby,” said Theriault, a senior from Ashburnham.

The team recently qualified for national championships that are being held at Hippodrome in North Augusta, S.C., this weekend.

Phil Beaupre and Hank Kerle, both of Belchertown, heard about the course because they know the owners of Pure Flight.

“It’s a pretty open course, not bad for someone starting out,” said Beaupre, who has been playing for 18 months.

Kerle said it was an entertaining course as he competed with Beaupre. “We’re scoring, but having fun.” Kerle aid.

The course is already well used by others, Giggey said, with a league playing once a week.

Being on UMass property and distant from public parking may be a hindrance, but Giggey believes a number of those using the course will ride their bicycles. There are also smaller informal parking areas, and anytime after 5 p.m. most of the nearby parking lots can be used free of charge.

He eventually would like to expand the course to the Sylvan Forest on the opposite side of Eastman Lane, which could make it a full 18-hole disc golf course.

Giggey recently got a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association to distribute discs to local schools. He said the course could make an ideal field trip, not only for the exercise people get from walking and playing, but also through the educational aspects.

“Anyone can play,” Giggey said. “It’s a very accessible sport.”


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