Hiking with a purpose: Idaho's disc golf course offers challenge

Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2000

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) -- It's tee time on hole three. The shot is a sharp downhill straight to the green, 403 feet away. Doug Smith looks out across the stretch, notes the breeze coming from behind him and selects a driver from his bag.

Then he's ready to launch.

With an impressive windup and a pounce forward, Smith flings his disc in an energetic burst. It spins out ahead of him, floats over the sagebrush and dry grass of the canyon and lands in a puff of dust near the target.

It's a great drive to the par-three hole, and Smith's friends congratulate him. One by one they make their own throws and head down the hill, trying to make par as they send their discs toward the metal baskets that comprise a ''hole'' in disc golf.

Later, practicing putts on the ninth green, Smith sends a few throws crashing into the chains that help catch the discs and keep them in the baskets.

''It's so cool to hear those chains fly,'' says Smith, who holds the course's low score among local disc golfers.

He says the sport is his way to relax. ''I'd have a lot more stress in my life if I didn't do this.''

''It's so peaceful being out here,'' agrees fellow disc golfer Randy Nordquist. ''It's nice to get things off your mind for a little bit, and just throw the discs.''

''This is unique,'' he says. ''It's one of a kind.''

Smith and Nordquist are a couple of the pioneers of the disc golfing in Pocatello. The two met on the course even before it was developed.

Nordquist and his two sons had set up nine holes with plastic pipes for targets in the hills behind their house. They were on that course one day and didn't know Smith was just around the corner from them.

''I threw my disc and it just about hit Doug,'' Nordquist says. ''He was out there scoping it out.''

Smith was tossing discs himself on the site of today's course, exploring some of the best angles for holes. He didn't know anybody else was out there.

''My disc disappears, and here comes another one coming back,'' he said. ''It was a different color and I thought, 'That one's not mine.'''

That meeting was in 1998. Since then the two have worked together with others on the course. Many of those first involved are members of the Portneuf Valley Disc Golf Club.

Nordquist has the title of trail master in the club, and his recent project has been using a rototiller to build trails throughout the course.

''It's not going to be long before I'm going to be too old to walk up and down these hillsides.'' he joked. ''I want something nice and smooth to walk on.''

Other work on the course has included brick tee pads on the front nine. The bricks were hauled up last year by a group of about 200 high school students doing a service project.

Signposts are up at the tees and signs are expected to be placed this spring. Plans are also in the works to build a small parking lot.

The course is a carefully-laid out 18 holes among the brush and junipers in the hills east of Idaho State University.

Without a parking lot, it's a little difficult to distinguish the entrance to the course but from the road you can see some of the yellow baskets dotting the hillsides.

The land was designated in 1998 as a course by ISU, which had recently purchased it and was trying to figure out how to employ the rugged area for recreation.

Smith and disc-golfing pal John Lee had an offer from the Professional Disc Golf Association in 1997. The PDGA would match the purchase of nine baskets by paying for nine more.

Smith and Lee found support in ISU director of campus recreation Doug Milder and assistant director of landscape and design Scott Campbell. Those two got the recreation department to chip in a little over half of ISU's money, and the Associated Students of ISU paid the rest.

''Those two are our biggest supporters on campus,'' Smith said of Milder and Campbell. ''This fit in so well with what they were trying to do.''

It's a different kind of course from the standard disc golf venue, which is typically in a grassy park among trees, and is usually much flatter.

The local course is very hilly in comparison, and the environs are wild. ''Coming out and playing on this course is like hiking with a purpose,'' says Philip Murphy, who started disc golf this spring after years of playing ultimate Frisbee and ball golf.

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On the Net: http://www.isu.edu/discgolf.

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