Park officials say Disability Act rule could make course too costly

Rob Cole knows how to have a good time on a budget.

He’s a disc golfer, and often enjoys throwing his way around local courses like the one at Feeney Park in Murphys.

Cole, who lives in Angels Camp, dreams of spreading the sport. So he and other disc golfers jumped at the chance to work with the San Andreas Recreation and Park District. Cole even helped design a course for Alex Quinones Park, a site already popular for its hilltop ball fields.

The whole project was to cost less than $5,000 for 18 holes. Almost everything was to be donated. Cole and other volunteers organized through the Facebook page, Hwy 4 Disc Golf, decorated recycled propane tanks to serve as the bell portion of tone poles – a low-cost alternative to the chains and baskets used as holes in typical disc golf courses.

Officials with Calaveras County government, which owns the land where the park

is located, gave their initial

blessing.

Then someone wondered if the project would have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Zachariah Collom, an analyst with the Calaveras County Public Works Department, and Jeff White, director of the Building Department, called the U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees ADA compliance.

“The DOJ did make a determination that a disc golf course has to follow the regulations for a regular golf course,” Collom said.

Federal guidelines expanded in 2010 to cover recreation say that “Newly constructed and altered golf facilities must have either an accessible route or golf car passages with a minimum width of 48 inches …”

Translated, that means a path, probably paved, is required that motorized wheelchairs could use, to every teeing ground. Collom emailed out the news to the disc golf enthusiasts early this month.

“It is basically going to shut down new courses going in anywhere,” said Rocky Bridges, another disc golf enthusiast and volunteer involved with several courses in the area, including the one at Feeney Park.

More than San Andreas is at stake. Volunteers were working on a number of proposals, including one to install a disc golf course at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds south of Angels Camp.

The sport is booming in popularity, players say, and regularly draws people from outside the region to play here. In addition to existing courses at New Hogan Lake, White Pines Park and in Murphys, there’s also a course at Bear Valley in nearby Alpine County. Bridges said that in April, 65 people showed up for a one-day tournament at the Feeney Park disc golf course. He believes Calaveras County can become California’s top disc golf destination.

“Our goal, as Hwy 4 Disc Golf, was to make this county the most disc golf courses per capita,” Bridges said.

The emailed news about the ADA requirements may have killed that dream.

“There is no way the San Andreas Park and Rec board’s annual budget could even come close to making the paths around the park to make a nine hole or an 18-hole golf course,” said Matt Brock, a member of the San Andreas Recreation and Park District Board who has been trying to help the disc golf enthusiasts get the course constructed at Quinones Park.

Park advocates and disc golfers are still struggling with disbelief over the DOJ saying that disc golf must comply with the same rules at ball golf.

“Ball golf is a pay-to-play sport,” Cole said. “Disc golf isn’t.”

Other differences disc players cite: Traditional golf is done on highly manicured fairways and greens, in settings with golf cart paths, clubhouses and irrigation. Disc golf is done in the woods, sometimes with no infrastructure at all other than designating particular trees as the “holes” that discs must strike.

“It is about rocks and trees and uneven ground,” Cole said.

Said Bridges: “If they ever get their head together at DOJ and just think about it, it is not ball golf. It is actually prohibited to use golf carts at disc courses.”

Park and disc advocates have not given up. They still hope to persuade DOJ to adopt a more moderate position that might make it possible for only one or two holes to be ADA accessible, or that except for the word “golf” in its name, the disc sport bears little resemblance to the ball sport.

“I let my buddies know in Stockton and Modesto,” Cole said of the heady months when the San Andreas disc course appeared poised for construction. “They were all so excited to come play in San Andreas.”

Cole said he believes disc players will find a way to overcome the hurdles.

“We’ll overcome it because we love our sport so much,” Cole said. “A course is going to go in San Andreas.”

​Contact Dana M. Nichols at dana.calent@gmail.com or call 498-2052.

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