With the construction of a San Andreas disc golf course halted by federal law, supporters are working through shaky terrain toward the completion of the course.
“We were going to put this whole course together for nothing,” said Jim Kavanagh, director of the San Andreas Recreation and Park District, which leases the land where the course would be built. “It’s something to do that can draw people to the community.”
Just before construction of the holes was set to begin, Calaveras County officials inquired with the U.S. Department of Justice to see if the course – which would be built on county-owned land – would need to meet certain standards to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ determined it would need to meet the same regulations as a traditional golf course: New or altered golf facilities need a pathway accessible to motorized vehicles.
But disc golfers don’t think the same rules should apply.
“There’s nothing in the ADA that specifically addresses disc golf,” said Rocky Bridges, who was instrumental in establishing an 18-hole course at Feeney Park in Murphys. “It was easy for ball golf.”
And he said disc golf courses are unlike the manicured, flat fairways of traditional “ball golf.”
“We use all the terrain that’s unusable for anything else,” he said, referencing courses’ rugged terrain and natural obstacles like trees and shrubs. “It’s not the same game. … Golf is what they’re looking at.”
Bridges reached out to the Professional Disc Golf Association, informing officials of the complication in Calaveras.
“They had never dealt with this before and they’d never heard of it,” Bridges said.
Other proponents have tried contacting the DOJ with little success.
“One of my phone calls reached an answering machine that basically said, ‘We’re busy; call again next week,’” Kavanagh said. “With that, I thought, ‘Let’s try the wheels of government.’”
So he contacted the office of Calaveras County’s congressman, Rep. Tom McClintock. Kavanagh said he spoke with congressional staff person Bryant Milesi, who has periodic office days in San Andreas.
Kavanagh said he broached the topic more than a month ago.
“Bryant said the wheels of government are somewhat slow,” Kavanagh said.
In an effort to move forward with the San Andreas site, a group of Highway 4 disc golf supporters asked District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway to write a letter to the DOJ.
But she wanted to hit the course first.
She said she had two motivators for experiencing the game firsthand: to learn how to play the game and to see what ADA-compliance options may be feasible.
So Callaway set out Sunday evening at Feeney Park’s course for an all-women’s game with two avid disc golfers, co-owner of Sierra Nevada Adventure Co. Jill Seale and Murphys resident Terri Strunck.
“I’m not one of those young dudes out here,” said Strunck, 68. “I just like to go out, get some exercise and laugh a lot.”
Callaway got a feel for the game at the Feeney Park course, which surrounds sport and activity fields and makes use of the park’s edges.
“If you look at disc gold courses, it’s sort of opposing goals: You want it to be level for everyone, but you want it to be challenging, too,” Seale said.
Strunck said she often plays at the Feeney course and sometimes modifies it to play with her bad knees.
“I don’t want people to think it’s just all the young kids out here,” she said. “But this is so not like golf other than the name.”
After playing a round of disc golf, Callaway said she understood the dissimilarities.
“If you have to make this a paved pathway or take away the obstacles, you take away from the integrity of the game,” she said. “But what if we come up with some options?”
She said she plans to draft a letter to the DOJ, “to get across that disc golf generally cannot be made totally ADA accessible” and hopes there may be an alternative to meet standards at the San Andreas site, such as a modified or shortened course.
“All I’m saying is these are the cards we were dealt,” she said. “How do we take these cards and deal a different deck? … If it didn’t happen here, it would have happened somewhere else.”
Several other potential courses are in the works, including at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds. Fair CEO Laurie Giannini said the fair board will discuss the possibility of a course at its August meeting.
“I need to find out if the area would have any ADA issues,” Giannini said. “I know the board would like to move forward.”
The progress of the proposed Frogtown course was supported in a letter from Lisa Boulton, executive director of the Calaveras Visitors Bureau.
“Disc golf is becoming popular in Calaveras County,” she said. “It’s just good fun, family recreation that adds to our tourism attributes.”
The Visitors Bureau’s website features a section dedicated to the game and its course options, which currently span the edges of Feeney Park, New Hogan Reservoir outside Valley Springs, White Pines Park near Arnold and Bear Valley Village.
“It’s becoming quite a draw to the area,” Boulton said. “We’re becoming a little bit of a disc golf mecca in the foothills.”
Contact Alicia Castro at email@example.com or call 498.2053.