Disc golf course designer thinks that if he can build it, they will come
By Pete Smith
Anyone speeding up Hazel Dell Parkway as soon they enter Carmel could be forgiven if they missed the tiny sign marking the entrance to Hazel Landing Park.
At the intersection of 106th Street and Hazel Dell, it appears that 106th Street dead ends into the property to the east that at first glance appears to be a mining operation.
But look a little closer next time you drive over the bridge at Blue Woods Creek. And take a leap of faith that there is a road.
Because at the end you’ll find one of Carmel’s newest attractions – a championship-level disc golf course nestled in a secluded patch of woods along the White River.
The park historically contained little more than a boat ramp, but local disc golf course designer Dennis Byrne said he had been trying to build a disc golf course there for the past 15 years.
His dream finally came to fruition last July when he finished building the course after years of work.
This season will be its first full year of operation and its coming out party for many regional disc golf players – if they can find it.
Byrne says it was never his intention to make it a hidden treasure.
“We want people to see it and play it,” he said.
Byrne even envisions building a second course across the river in Fishers and connecting the two parks with a footbridge. It would be the perfect setting to hold championship-level tournaments.
And he would know. As president of the international Professional Disc Golf Association from 1993-94, he has traveled the country to promote the sport – even establishing the National High School Disc Golf Tournament.
It’s an event that Carmel High School’s team has won 3 of the past 4 years.
Byrne says he was introduced to the sport of disc golf during its formative year in 1983.
At the time he was in college in Sacramento, Calif., and he remembers using a Frisbee and having to make up his own course with friends.
When he moved to Indianapolis in 1986, he began playing in Washington Park. He eventually went on to design the disc golf courses at Washington and Brookside parks and gained national attention when they were used as part of the world finals tournament that Indianapolis hosted in 1992.
Byrne eventually decided to pursue disc golf course design full-time and formed The Disc Golf Company in 2009 after growing tired of laying off employees in his former position as an engineer with Yamaha’s marine engine manufacturing plant in Indianapolis.
Since then, he has designed all of Hamilton County’s disc golf courses – including two other Carmel courses at Lawrence W. Inlow Park and Northview Church.
“For less than the cost of a tennis court, you can have a disc golf course,” Byrne said of why he sees the sport gaining in popularity. “If you don’t have a place to play, you can’t play.”
‘I was hooked’
“Disc golf is exactly the same game as golf,” Byrne said with a laugh. “You just use a different instrument of torture.”
He notes that it has the same challenges related to wind and weather, and that tactics and strategy are important components that keep a player’s brain engaged to make it more enjoyable than just walking.
Byrne said an important attraction for the sport is that it doesn’t take much time or money to play.
A starter set of a driver, mid-range and putter discs can be obtained for about $9 apiece – if you know where to go.
The person to see in Hamilton County is Hamilton Disc Golf Pro Shop operator Matthew Boals.
The 47-year-old Boals has converted a former 17-foot U-Haul box truck into a portable store. He travels to league nights on Tuesdays at Dillon Park in Noblesville, as well as from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends when kids are out of school.
He said he got the idea for the mobile store while on a disc golf trek to Texas in the late ’90s and that this is his third year of operating the truck. He even gives 5 percent of the sales back to Noblesville Parks.
Boals said he just wants to give back to the sport he loves – a passion he was introduced to 20 years ago from an old neighbor.
“After three to four holes, I was hooked,” Boals said.
Where to start
Byrne said that disc golf also has growing appeal because it’s family friendly and parents can play with their kids.
“It’s a great life sport,” he said, noting that he still continues to play even with a hip replacement.
Yet the stereotypical player still continues to be a college student in many people’s minds.
“Perhaps because it’s fun and it’s affordable,” Byrne suggests.
Byrne recommends that people new to the sport obtain some discs and start of at the course at Inlow Park, which opened in 2011. Its open fairways will provide less frustration.
The next step is the beautiful course on the south side of Northview Church.
Byrne said the church built the course because its leaders wanted to welcome the public to its property. And they’ve even been known to bring out hot dogs and lemonade when large groups show up to play.
But just make sure to get some practice in before attempting to play the course at Hazel Landing.
“Don’t take a new player there,” Byrne warns. “They will hate you. They will hate the game. They will probably never call you again.”
The course’s trees are the No. 1 reason players cite for its difficulty. But there are also plenty of mosquitos and bugs, so make sure to bring plenty of spray-on protection.
“A local has named the last three holes on the course ‘Death row,’” Byrne said citing the difficulty of making par through the trees. “After the last six holes on the course, you’ll feel like you went down a dark alley and got mugged.”
Disc golf player Michael Stock of Carmel agreed.
“This course will beat you up,” he said, noting that it takes about 90 minutes to complete a game. “It’s longer than most.”
Player Sam Johnson of Noblesville advises people new to the course to try for good disc placement instead of aiming for a hole-in-one.
“The short distance are misleading,” he said.
But all of those reasons are what has made it a regional attraction for disc golfers in the know.
Said disc golfer Keith Hannah of Sharpsville, “It’s more challenging than almost all the other courses around.”
Defining his legacy
In addition to his other titles, Byrne is also Director of the Blind Disc Golf Association.
Yes, he found a way to include absolutely everyone in the sport!
And he said the course he installed at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is probably his favorite of all his courses.
The idea came to him during a demonstration event at Fort Benjamin Harrison state park. He had set up a temporary course when some Boy Scouts who had camped out nearby came over asked to play.
He went down the line, giving each boy a disc. But the last boy in line was clearly blind.
“I asked, ‘Are you going to play?’” Byrne recalls. “He said, ‘Yes.’ And so I gave him a disc.”
As Byrne watched, another of the boy’s friends would go down to the goal that had chains attached to it to help capture discs. The friend rattled the chains, and the sound alone was enough for the blind child to know where to aim his disc.
The idea inspired Byrne to eventually create the course at the Indianapolis school.
The way it works is players use a key fob to “activate” each hole of the course. That means that a series of audible pulses are transmitted from the goal and they can be heard from the tee. The discs also make a unique sound transmitted from a beeper, allowing players to find them on their own.
Signs at the beginning of each hole offer Braille instructions and tactile descriptions so that players are aware of any obstacles.
The course at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired was even built by that same Boy Scout Byrne met previously. Its construction was used to fulfill his Eagle Scout service requirement.
This is where Byrne sees his future.
He’s mastered the adaptive technology and is currently applying for a $250,000 grant to help replicate the technology for other blind schools throughout the country.
In a moment of reflection, he said he told his wife that he doesn’t want to be buried. He said he knows that his courses will be the legacy that he leaves behind for future generations.
Public Disc Golf Courses
● Hazel Landing Park
● Lawrence W. Inlow Park
● Northview Church
● Dr. James A. Dillon Park
● Morse Beach Park
● Asa Bales Park
● Cumberland Park
For more information about the disc golf league visit thehdgu.com