Austin, Texas has always maintained a reputation as a different sort of Texas city, proud of it’s originality and unabashedly weird. This sort of friendly, incubating atmosphere has fostered countless subcultures over the years and one particularly expansive and successful offshoot is Austin’s disc golf community. Disc golf is a sport with modern roots going back to California in the 1960s; it involves throwing modified Frisbees around various obstacles into designated baskets according to rules very similar to traditional golf. Disc golf arrived in the Austin area shortly after it’s California debut and has developed a strong following. The Austin area has around 20 disc golf courses within a 30-minute drive, multiple enthusiast clubs and one of the world’s largest disc golf stores.
Historically, Austin’s Pease Park and disc golf have gone hand in hand. The park opened its disc golf course in 1989 and the course’s central location and proximity to campus attracted large amounts of disc golfers. Too many actually, according to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. The heavy amount of foot traffic around Shoal Creek led to erosion issues, which threaten trees along the shoreline and expose wastewater pipelines. The bank loss and compacted soil were also taking their toll on the park’s natural ecosystem. The Austin PARD opted in 2010 to close the course to prevent further damage and allow groups such as the Shoal Creek Restoration Project uninhibited access to recuperate the area. However, acknowledging the high demand for disc golf in Austin, the PARD initially promised to open a new course as a consolation.
The new course was planned to adjoin a southeast Austin park, Roy G Guerrero Park on the south side of Lady Bird Lake. The proposal involved using 7 acres of existing parkland and 28 acres the city bought in 2007 and had yet to develop. The momentum of the project ground to a halt when it met resistance on two local fronts. The first opposition was support of developing the land into neighborhoods, which while not coinciding with the PARD’s intentions did make sense under the original zoning of the land. The second argument against disc golf came from nature advocates, who believed that the stress on the ecosystem seen at Pease Park would also occur at this new course. Specific worries about the health of the historic Pecan and Heritage trees in the area spearheaded this argument. These claims are representative of more general trend in the Austin area to set aside nature preserves, a trend that has seen remarkable success in the greenbelt system.
Now the new course is in limbo, the PARD has chosen to study the issue before moving forward and an advisory committee is weighing the practicality of other sites for a course. If environmental concerns are truly a priority, then perhaps time should be a more pressing issue in this case; the disc golf community in Austin has not shrunk, and by removing a popular course you are just channeling more traffic through the courses that remain. Personally speaking the current course at Bartholomew District Park off of east 51st looks worse in terms of erosion than Pease Park ever did. Furthermore, the damage to trees argument needs either better proof or to be debunked. The PARD’s reasons to close Pease Park did not include tree damage from discs, so how can this fear justify putting a new course on hiatus? If the danger is to the root system, careful course layout and the use of “out of bounds” areas can circumvent this problem.
I believe the solution moving forward requires the PARD to better promote their own mission, which is to serve the Austin community at large with quality “recreational, cultural and outdoor experiences”. Right now the disc golf community in Austin feels marginalized at the expense of smaller local interests. While local groups must be considered and protected, they cannot have an undue share of influence in how the city operates. Other disc golf courses are currently experiencing the high activity level seen at Pease and will experience similar fates unless the city acts to meet the growing demand for this recreational sport. The city of Austin is expanding and changing at an incredible pace and will continue to do well into the foreseeable future. Taking this into account, it is the duty of the city and its citizens to continue to protect and encourage Austin’s cultural identity.
It would be a shame for us to lose touch with the original ethos: “Keep Austin Weird”.
Chris Jaynes, Intern