Disc Golf: Not Your Father’s Frisbee Game

The circled red areas show semi-horizontal ruts in the trees caused by disc golf discs.
The circled red areas show semi-horizontal ruts in the trees caused by disc golf discs.

Have you visited Mooney Grove Park recently? If you have, you have probably seen the park to be in fairly despicable shape. It’s true that the drought has significantly impacted the condition of the park and the health of the trees, but there seems to be another issue that is causing negative impact to the trees and surrounding grounds: disc golf courses.

What is disc golf, you ask? Good question. The people who play disc golf call it “the best sport you’ve never heard of.” It’s Frisbee thrown into baskets like a golf ball gets hit into a hole. It’s been around since the ‘70’s, when a guy near Watsonville created it using regular Frisbees.

Tulare County’s very own Parks and Recreation Manager, Neil Pilegard, was a card-carrying member of the Disc Golf Association until just recently, when he let his membership run out, according to emails uncovered through The Real Mooney Grove Project’s Public Records Act investigation.

The discussions in the emails detailed soliciting sponsors for tournaments at Mooney Grove Park during county time. Another park under his jurisdiction, the Kings River Nature Preserve, up near the north Tulare County border, by Kingsburg, boasts a Pro Disc Golf Course, which seems very out of place for a nature preserve. It seems that something involving a man-made structure or edifice at a nature preserve, should be something that enhances the visitor’s experience at the preserve, like a hands-on museum for kids, or walking trails outlining the vegetation and habitats of indigenous creatures, not a disc golf course which does none of that.

Although disc golf, also known as Frisbee golf, seems like it would be harmless, there have been multiple environmental impact studies showing that disc golf discs are damaging to trees beyond repair or salvage. Since June 4, there have been no less than 30 trees removed from Mooney Grove for various reasons: damage, drought, insect infestation and etc.

When Jean Rousseau, chief administrative officer, and John Hess, senior administrative analyst, were asked about the trees being removed in the park, neither man stated that they had been made aware of any damage done specifically by disc golf discs. However, both men agreed that the information provided was worth investigating further.

Hess stated that the disc golf courses have been in Mooney Grove for about 10 years.

He agreed that what might be happening now is the impact of the disc golf coupled with drought conditions, but he needed to physically go out to the tree locations and check them out for himself. Rousseau acknowledged that the discs used in disc golf are definitely more capable of causing damage than a regular Frisbee, and are significantly more difficult to throw, but he had not heard of the negative impact before.

Although both men are very busy and have seemingly missed this concern until now, the information about the negative environmental impacts of disc golf courses has been out there for a while. The Santa Cruz County Parks Commission outlined some concerns about disc golf courses at their parks in the report titled “Pinto Lake Disc Golf Course Concerns: process for Approval, Environmental Impacts, and Current Management, June 30, 2012”.

An excerpt of the findings states:

We have observed and photographed trees with severe bark damage from discs, seasonal creeks trampled by players, and acres of vegetation that have been entirely removed from sloped hillsides, sending sediment and agricultural run-off into the lake. Areas of the lakeshore marked as out-of-bounds are continually being disturbed by players looking for and retrieving mis-thrown discs.

And the concerns are noted in other places in the country as well. In 2011, the International Journal of Sports Management, Recreation and Tourism, partnering with the University of Tennessee, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport Studies, stated the following:

Despite the popularity of the sport, environmentalists have voiced concerns over the environmental impacts (LeClerc, Che, Swaddle, & Cristol, 2005; Lawrence, 2010). In spite of many environmental advantages disc golf seemingly has over traditional golf (e.g., no chemicals needed to keep the field green, no cutting of trees in order to design the course), there have been some recent environmental concerns associated with the sport (Estrella, 2005; Gascoyne, 2005; LeBlanc, 2006; McCaughan, 2004). For instance, some disc golf courses in California have already been closed because of the environmental problems associated with excessive use and lack of a management plan. More specifically, some of the disturbing concerns are destruction of undergrowth plants because of high foot traffic, damage to the bark of the trees from discs, and soil erosion and compaction. These concerns introduce new challenges to sport managers and planners of outdoor sport activities in urban settings.

The University of Tennessee report notes that soil erosion was found in every sample. The significance of the erosion depended upon the type of soil, but it was found nonetheless.

Mooney Grove Park is first and foremost an oak preserve, but our precious oak trees are being destroyed and not properly preserved. It would seem that if disc golf is causing damage to our precious trees, then it needs to be removed from the park, not the precious oaks that were entrusted to the people of Tulare County to protect and preserve.

Amy Dickinson Campbell is a Visalia resident and a member of The Real Mooney Grove Project.

17 thoughts on “Disc Golf: Not Your Father’s Frisbee Game

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  1. How about instead of disappointing disc golfers all over the country that come to Mooneys Grove to play and compete, and taking money from the city that comes in from big tournaments, you just install protective screens in front of trees being hit by the nearly harmless plastic discs they throw. This is common practice in disc golf courses in areas where trees need to be protected. A few dents in the bark of these trees does not mean the sport needs to be taken out of the park. How about working WITH the local golfers instead of trying to bad mouth them and get them kicked out. Disc golf brings people and money into the parks. Use some of it to install said protective screens and you make everyone happy. Not just the environmentalist (which a lot of disc golfers happen to be) work TOGETHER with people. Not against anyone. This article sounds more hateful than productive.

  2. Mr Disc Golf Are you too afraid to reveal your identity? And why do you feel Mooney Grove should be sacrificed for the sake of “disappointing disc golfers” the discs have been proven to be “damaging ” not harmless, and dents in the trees MEANS TAKE THE DISC GOLF OUT OF THE PARK There are ALOT better ways to bring people to the park, and PLEASE, all that tons of money that disc golf brings to the park??? Really, since when? and again Better and more productive ways for the park to make money IS THIS NEIL PILEGARD ?? HA HA CAUGHT YA

    • Mary, I guess we should get rid of woodpeckers then too because they put holes in trees, or lawnmowers because they hurt the grass by cutting it, or maybe we should get rid of winter because it makes the pretty trees lose their leaves.

  3. I appreciate your concern for the park and it’s long term well being. I am not able to locate many of the sources you have referenced in this article. Would you be able to provide URLs for those sources, or provide some additional details which might aid in finding them?

    • EnvironmentalImpactStudy-DiscGolf-UofTN.pdf
      pinto-lake-disc-golf-environmental-impact-report.pdf
      There you go.–Ed.

  4. I travel to this area solely for the purpose of disc golf once per year, and always make a stop at Mooney Grove, staying the night in the Visalia area. There are ways to protect the Oak trees while leaving the disc golf course intact, but it seems the writer failed to mentioned those alternatives. Hopefully the county does this research before contemplating pulling out the course.

  5. This article borders on the ridiculous. Leave it up to an advice columnist to write an article so fully dependent on cherry-picked information, hearsay, and mistaking correlation with causation.

    “Since June 4, there have been no less than 30 trees removed from Mooney Grove for various reasons: damage, drought, insect infestation and etc.”

    But let us blame it on the disc golfers!

    “It seems that something involving a man-made structure or edifice at a nature preserve, should be something that enhances the visitor’s experience at the preserve, like… walking trails outlining the vegetation and habitats of indigenous creatures, not a disc golf course which does none of that.”

    The author clearly does not understand disc golf by that last comment alone. Some of the most glorious natural habitats I’ve witnessed have coexisted, and indeed been enhanced through the installation of disc golf courses; in fact, many natural locations I’ve personally visited would not even be accessible or used without disc golf being present.

    Many, if not all, of these courses have existed decades with little to no impact on the surrounding land.

    The author is a busy-body NIMBY who needs to think and reflect before spouting off; I expected way better from an established, professional writer. But I guess that’s what you get when you need to support yourself through writing…less sensationalism and more facts and common sense, next time Amy.

    Please AND thank you!

  6. Disc golf does not destroy nature. Sure a few trees may be taken down here or there, but same goes for normal public parks. Disc golf provides a low cost, healthy activity for all, as well as getting people to enjoy the nature surrounding them. I live way up in the middle of huge forests, and I promise you the surrounding disc golf courses are not killing trees. Some courses its impossible to find a misfired throw due to the abundance of healthy vegetation.

  7. I’ve read this article and recomposed this comment twice now. It is apparent that Ms. Dickinson-Campbell has no real world experience with the subject matter in her article. The photographic evidence shown is likely from mowing equipment (bottom of tree). It’s sad to see that articles like this are the new normal for journalism. No longer do authors do actual research on the subjects about which they wright, instead they peruse the depths of the internet for information that supports their claim while ignoring that which doesn’t. Having personally discussed the concern of erosion control for my local disc golf courses with actual parks department staff I can assure the author (and anyone else reading this) that no tree (save newly planted saplings) in any of these cities has ever been destroyed, let alone damaged more than superficially, by a disc golf disc. If the author is so worried about soil compaction I would recommend laying down wood chips around the tee boxes and baskets. This has done wonders for compaction issues at my home course.

    As for as the how the article was written and directed – ignorance is not and excuse for poor authorship and may the journalistic gods have mercy on your soul.

  8. It’s important to note that in the University of Tennessee paper that Ms. Dickinson-Campbell rips from without the use of quotation marks five of the six sources cited are half-baked “news” and opinion pieces like her own. The fifth source (LeClerc, Che, Swaddle, & Cristol, 2005) deals with ball golf environmental impact. These sources are more befitting of a high school MLA paper entitled “Why I Think Disc Golf Is Very Bad” as opposed to an academic peer-reviewed journal article.

  9. So where is the article that would show the counterpoint and truth to this fictitious piece of slander and stupidity? it seems like no research was presented and since Amy is obviously opposed to disc golf and a representative of an opposing faction that does not understand how disc golfer can actually HELP maintain a course and preserve the environment when correctly engaged, and shows that by saying she has exposed emails by a parks person who actually plays disc golf, as though is somehow going to sway anyone when Amy has the reverse obvious bias? is this news? no. Does this community care about this park? I’m guessing yes.so work with your local disc golfers, not against them. Disc golfers can be a great help to a park, not a hindrance.

  10. Dear Amy,

    I would like to say that I regularly play a course that is over 25 years old and the trees are thriving. In fact all of the vegetation is thriving. You clearly have some sort of bias against disc golf and your so called “findings” are garbage. This is a poorly written opinion piece and you should be ashamed of your work.

    Disc golf is a fantastic way for people of all ages to get outside and exercise. It is also inexpensive when compared to ball golf allowing more people the opportunity to play. Removing the Mooney Grove Park disc golf course would be a huge mistake for the Visalia community.

  11. As someone who loves the hobby of disc golf, and who professionally educates the public on threats to the natural world, let me see if I can help.

    If you believe that disc golf is in the same league, sport, sentence, or universe as many other things humans do, that negatively affect nature, you need a very serious education. That isn’t an attack, just a fact. The trees you showed pictures of, those are not disc impacts, discs cannot transfer as much force as is needed to cause those dents, not even with years of hits. Disc golfers love the nature aspect of playing. At my local course we work with the parks to establish the areas that need to be protected to keep the wildlife habitat stable. Stable enough to support all the native species, including the hawks and owls. (Raptors are usually the first species to leave an unhealthy environment) Not once have we had problems with the disc community not supporting these initiatives. We love the natural look of our parks. So why then did you attack us over ball golf? Living in California, I would have assumed you were aware of the water shortage? Have you compared the water used for ball golf courses and disc golf courses. I’ll give you a hint, water usage for disc golf = amount of water players drink. That’s just about it.

    You want to see a real change in your community? Do you want to write a real article worthy of recognition? How about an article on how far solar power has come on the last decade, what it’s practical applications are now and in the future, and finish with an inspiring voice centered around how California could be a leader in clean energy with its use. We’ll even help you edit it. Clean energy would help the world around you, including the oak trees. Oak trees much prefer rainfall over the concern of a small piece of plastic weighed in grams.

  12. This woman is making false accusations to support her own agenda. Her Mooney Project site, which appears to be written about as well as this article, exposes her true motives. Her group is trying to take possession of the park away from it’s current trust citing violation of the Mooney heirs reversion clause. Despicable this type of propaganda would be posted as anything other than an OP ED.

  13. Hi, I’m Amy’s ex-boyfriend, and I have to state a few things:

    1. We broke up well over a year ago
    2. She hated that disc golf meant more to me than she did
    3. Since that time she has non-stopped harassed me on MySpace (which I can’t figure out why since like no one uses that site anymore)
    4. She has vowed to destroy the reputation of us disc golfers, even going so far as lying about me to my shift manager at Little Caesers.
    5. I still love her, but her ten cats are a pain in the ass.

  14. LMAO! Only in California do overwrought, pseudo-environmentalist plastic shaman like Amy Dickinson-Campbell have the temerity to blame a harmless (and all-but obscure) sport like disc golf for the “destruction” of the trees in a park. What useless tripe.

    Amy should try writing about REAL problems….like WHY so many people DON’T think Bruce Jenner’s a “hero” for buying some boobs and changing his name. You know….important stuff like that.

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