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Lake officials see dollar signs in offbeat sport with five-course 'disc golf trail'

June 04,2017 22:17

It's one one of the hazards of the increasingly popular sport, just as it is with regular golf when balls sail into water where gators lurk. But for disc golfers, there's no close-cropped grass or motorized vehicles. Central Florida officials see ...

When a gust of wind took Ashlee Conley’s Frisbee-like saucer into a lake on the 16th hole of the Lake Hiawatha Preserve disc-golf course in Clermont, the Kissimmee resident was too terrified of alligators to retrieve it.
“I love my disc,” she said. “But no.”
It’s one one of the hazards of the increasingly popular sport, just as it is with regular golf when balls sail into water where gators lurk. But for disc golfers, there’s no close-cropped grass or motorized vehicles.
Central Florida officials see dollar signs in the low costs of a sport some call “poor man’s golf.” Orlando recently completed a third course at Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake and Lake County is becoming a hotbed for the sport in which players fling a disc in hopes of hearing that final clink within a metal-chain basket.
Leesburg, Eustis and Mount Dora have recently approved new tournament-caliber courses with 18 holes and Clermont will review a new course within the next month, creating the Lake County Disc Golf Trail to further distinguish its sports-tourism footprint.

Cost for the three new courses is about $155,000, with about half being footed by the county. In comparison, Clermont spent $251,000 to renovate Hancock Park’s baseball diamonds for a college softball tournament this spring.
Putting them in doesn’t require a lot of heavy construction, either.
Robert Chandler, the county’s economic growth director, explained that to Leesburg commissioners recently in pitching a course at an old landfill site.
“You don’t need bathrooms,” he said. “You have places along the walking trail.”
Setting up a course can be as simple as moving portable chain-link baskets for holes. A permanent disc golf course isn’t much more: the metal basket is drilled into the ground and a concrete patio is installed for “teeing” off.

Using “driver” and “putter” discs to negotiate terrain, players maneuver discs around trees with a fling intended to curve to the left or right — sometimes only to see it taken by the wind.
In Conley’s case, a gust blew her disc into gator-infested waters.
“My backhand isn’t as strong as my flick,” she said. “It went in, and it was a nice flick, but the wind got it.”
Although players like woodsy courses, some Lake residents objected on environmental grounds about a nine-hole course at Hidden Waters Preserve in Eustis, which is owned by the Lake County Water Authority.
“There are possibilities of damage to the property as a result of that game,” said Tully Patrowicz, 85, of Mount Dora, a retired ophthalmologist. “[The discs] go off to the side, and they hit the trees, and so there’s damage to the trees.”

He said about 1,000 residents signed a petition against the continuation of that course, which the water authority agreed to close by the end of June.
Ben Champion, director of the Florida Disc Golf Foundation, sighed over the opposition.
“We hired an environmental consultant to go out there … and her evaluation is that there’s almost zero impact.” he said. “It’s become super political.”
But Lake cities are still looking to capitalize. If Clermont approves construction of another course in the near future, the county will build a $40,000 18-hole course at North Lake Community Park in Umatilla, completing the disc golf trail.
“Our goal is to one day host a world championship, which will bring over 1,000 disc golfers to Lake County,” Chandler said. The Lake County Trailblazer disc golf tournament was held over Memorial Day weekend, drawing about 100 competitors.
With investment in athletic complexes, Central Florida counties have sought to dangle sunshine and theme parks to entice sports conferences and tournaments from around the country.
Seminole County completed a $27 million athletic complex a year ago in hopes of tapping into the sports industry. The new facility has synthetic turf fields that can be interchangeable for baseball, softball, lacrosse, football and soccer.
Lake, meanwhile, approved $2 million in May to build a fieldhouse for its 21 professional-level beach volleyball courts at Hickory Point Park in Tavares. The growing sport held its first NCAA championship last year.
But for officials, sport tourism’s benefits are twofold.
“The great thing about it is that the courses will serve a dual purpose,” Chandler said in an email. “One, sports tourism driver, and two, community amenity.”
jruiter@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5927.

Florida Disc Golf Foundation,Lake County,Disc Golf

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