Disc golf sweeps through Lake Norman

By Aaron Burns

Adam Dummer approaches the first tee, picks up his driver and takes aim at his target in the distance. The 24-year-old Denver native isn’t playing golf in its traditional form.
He’s playing disc golf, a sport that in recent years has grown in popularity.
It’s similar to traditional golf: Courses have nine or 18 holes that are par three, four or five, and the main equipment used – driver, mid-range and putter discs – sound familiar to regular golfers.
But, it’s different.
Most golf courses have wooded area that players try to avoid. Disc golf courses are built to go through those same wooded areas, forcing players to adjust their shots around trees and bushes.
Another main difference is the price.
“You can go out and play a round at a park, and it doesn’t cost anything,” said Dummer, who has played the sport since 2007.
East Lincoln High alumnus Michael Johansen has played the game since 1998 and estimates he’s gotten well over 100 players throughout the Charlotte region to give the game a try. Many of them play regularly.
Johansen isn’t just a good disc golf recruiter.
He plays at a high level.
He finished fifth in the 2010 U.S. Disc Golf Championships and fourth in the 2012 Disc Golf World Championships, held July 14-21 at 14 courses throughout the Charlotte region. The latter tournament hosted more than 1,100 players.
Disc golf has been around since the 1960s but has grown in popularity in the past 15 years, especially around Lake Norman.
Bailey Road Disc Golf Course opened at Bailey Road Park in Cornelius in 2010. It hosted the amateur and grandmaster tier of players during the World Championship in July.
“It’s good to have courses outside of Charlotte like in Denver, Cornelius, Huntersville and the private course at Davidson (College),” Johansen said. “Players don’t have to go as far to find a course as I did when I started.”
Mooresville is also jumping on the disc golf bandwagon.
Town commissioners gave the Mooresville Convention & Visitors Bureau the green light in February to build a championship course at Cornelius Road Park. The course should open by Halloween.
Ron Johnson, chairman of the CVB, thinks the course has the potential to attract multiple tournaments annually, allowing the town to benefit from tourism dollars.
“Everywhere they’ve built a course close to an interstate, people just stop and play,” Johnson said. “We already have a large number of people that stay in our hotels that have a serious interest in disc golf, so I think it can only help. For the hotels, it’s just another amenity.”
Russell Schwarz, of Charlotte-based INNOVA Disc Golf, is designing the course. The town gave Schwarz guidelines for a full-out championship course, and he plans to deliver.
“I’ve been designing courses for a long time, and this is a really good opportunity,” Schwarz said. “I think it will get heavily used.”
Schwarz said elevation changes will be something golfers should be ready for when the course opens. His favorite hole, the par-5 18th, has a creek lining the left side and should make for one of the more difficult drives on the course.
“It’s going to be a real pain for people,” Schwarz said. “If you don’t use good course management, you’re going to be toast.”
Traveling professionals aren’t the only players local course constructors want to attract.
“People should realize that this is a sport you can play that gets you out of the house and keeps you active,” Dummer said. “My dad played golf for years, but now he plays disc golf with me.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s addictive.”

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