Disc Golfers vs. Naturalists or Disc Golfers and Naturalists at McArthur Island

I have followed the recent debate about what to do with the old McArthur Island Golf Course with some level of interest given that the park is in the neighbourhood I live in.  While I golfed a few times at McArthur Island, I wasn’t surprised or disappointed that it closed down.  Golf is a declining sport in many ways and there is a saturation of golf courses in the Kamloops area and while the course was a beautiful and accessible setting, it was pretty boring to play.  My more recent interactions with the course have been mainly by virtue of running, walking, cycling, or rollerblading on the trail that goes around the course and hoping that one of the golfing hacks would not spray a shot wide or long onto the trail which was certainly a distinct possibility.  Let’s say it helped me go faster…

Regardless, with the closure of the course, the City has been left with a valuable asset.  Like I said, the landscape is beautiful and I’ve seen a variety of wildlife there, especially deer.  In order to determine what should happen with this land, the City sought input from the public.  There was a report back to Council this week indicating that there was significant support for a nature park and some fairly lukewarm support for a disc golf course and then a variety of other ideas.  Ultimately City Council instructed City staff to work with the Naturalist Club and the Disc Golf Club to determine if there is a way to co-exist.  This makes me happy – while I am not a passionate disc golfer, it definitely is the idea I support the most for a number of reasons:

  • Disc golf is a really affordable sport. While I don’t know the exact cost of a disc golf course, I’d be surprised if it was much more than $30,000.  The targets (disc catchers) are relatively simple pieces of equipment that need to be encased in concrete in order to stay upright.  Add in some signage and tee box mats and you’re pretty much ready to go.  I saw one local writer suggest that the local disc golf players fundraise for this in much the same way that the skateboarders did for the skateboard park at McArthur Park.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with this sentiment, trying to compare the two creates a false equivalency – the skateboard park is likely 10 – 20 times more expensive than a disc golf course.  A player can get away with having one disc which costs about $20.  It is a really affordable form of recreation which is important given that the course would be nearby to one of the least affluent neighbourhoods in Kamloops.
  • The existing Rose Hill Disc Golf Course is great, but it’s in an area of town that isn’t hugely accessible. Getting to Rose Hill is not impossible but it’s also not great while McArthur Island is within walking distance of likely over a thousand people and nearby to Norkam Secondary.  This is a great recreation opportunity for a lot of people.
  • It supports our City’s brand as a Tournament Capital – Kamloops has chosen to distinguish itself with its high quality recreational facilities and use this as an opportunity to attract people to visit and live in the community. A course on McArthur Island makes sense as one of our key tournament facility hubs in Kamloops. Disc golf is one of those activities that help contribute to quality of life in a community and attract the creative people that we want to live in Kamloops. While it is unlikely that people will choose to move to Kamloops solely because there is a disc golf course, it certainly is part of the package of attractions.

The other question is can a disc golf course co-exist with the naturalists vision.  In my mind, without a doubt.  When I played at Rose Hill, it was definitely a natural area.  It’s not irrigated, there were trees down on the ground, it wasn’t manicured – the natural systems were not suppressed through rigorous upkeep and pesticides.   The Rose Hill course design worked with the landscape it was offered, not against it, and adjusted when the pine beetle epidemic devastated the area.  I’m pretty sure there are still deer, bear, cougars, and other wildlife in Rose Hill despite the disc golfers.

And let’s be honest, we are blessed in Kamloops with an abundance of natural areas all throughout the city.  We have Peterson Creek, Kenna Cartwright, Valleyview Nature Park, Batchelor/Lac Du Bois, Airport trail, Barnhartvale Horse and Hiker Trails and Pineview among others.  Go further afield and you have Harper Mountain, Paul Lake, Lac Le Jeune, McConnell Lake, Stake Lake and Sun Peaks.  Even in the vicinity of the golf course, there is the Rivers Trail and you can wander out onto the river banks and you are next to the slough.  This area will inevitably become more natural with the closure of the golf course and presumably the ending of landscape interventions such as irrigation, mowing, and pesticides.  While I am definitely not against having more naturalized areas, I think we can have natural areas that co-exists with another use.

Is there a safety issue with flying discs? Potentially, I’m not going to lie – someone could get hit with a disc and I’m sure it happens from time to time but once again, this is not regular golf where the speed of the ball, the length it flies, the level of coordination required to make the ball go straight, and the difficulty in seeing the ball once it’s shot can contribute to some significant safety issues.  Disc golf holes are usually measured in feet and a longer hole is about 400 feet, or about the length of a relatively short par 3 hole in golf.  A disc golfer is generally going to be able to see if there is someone standing between them and their target and be able to see if their disc, once thrown, is going to put anyone in danger of being hit.  The average recreational disc golfer can maybe throw the disc 150 feet and even if they go off-line, it is unlikely to be significant enough to put others in real danger.  Frankly, it will be much safer than having multi-use pathway going around a regular golf course that is being played by drunk hacks with no sense of aim.

The reality is that disc golf is still a relatively niche sport in Kamloops.  While there is definitely room for growth and latent demand for a more accessible location might increase its popularity, I would guess that on a good day it might attract 100 – 150 people but on many days it might attract 50 or less.  There is going to be lots of room and time for leisurely walkers and disc golfers to accommodate one another.

Finally, let’s recognize that a bigger conflict in Kamloops is likely between mountain bikers and hikers and they have managed to figure it out.  Certainly disc golfers and the naturalists can work together along with the City and create a truly stellar park area.

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