Adirondacks could become a premier disc golf destination

Lake Placid News intern Arthur Maiorella throws a putt at the Whiteface Mountain Disc Golf Course. (Provided photo — ORDA/Whiteface)

Thanks to the reporting of our summer intern, Syracuse University junior Arthur Maiorella, we learned more about his passion of disc golf, and we now realize that the Adirondack region is missing out on a huge opportunity. It could attract many more tourists by developing a network of well-designed and memorable disc golf courses.

Disc golf is like regular golf, but instead of hitting a golf ball from point A to B, a player throws Frisbee-like discs around a nine- or 18-hole course. There are tees at the beginning of each hole and raised metal baskets at the end to catch the discs. Like regular golf, the aim is to get from the start to the end of each course with as few strokes (or throws) as possible.

Unlike regular golf, however, disc golf courses require minimal upkeep, are usually free to play and the space is often mixed-use, such as a public park. Plus, developing disc golf courses is much less expensive than regular golf courses, and you don’t have to clear cut fairways and greens; many disc golf courses run through forested areas, as the trees and terrain make the play more challenging.

Who can play disc golf? Anyone. And it’s affordable; discs aren’t expensive, and many courses are free or low-cost.

“Disc golf has low capital and maintenance costs, has minimal liability issues, is environmentally sound, is played year-round in all climates and is enjoyed immediately even by beginners of all ages,” states the Professional Disc Golf Association’s website.

A visitor throws a putt at one of the 16 disc golf courses in the Aland Islands, located in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. (Provided photo — Rebecka Eriksson/Visit Aland)

After COVID hit, disc golf grew in popularity. There were about 8,400 disc golf courses in the world in 2019, according to the PDGA, and there are now more than 14,000, with more than 9,000 in the United States alone, according to UDisc’s 2023 Disc Golf Growth Report.

Why wouldn’t the Adirondack region jump on this bandwagon? There are only three disc golf courses in the Tri-Lakes region: Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake and BarkEater on Paul Smith’s College land. There is a ton of room for growth, for the benefit of residents and visitors.

Going the tourism route, key regions in the world have developed disc golf courses to attract visitors to boost their economy. Emporia, Kansas — known as the self-proclaimed “disc golf capital of the world” — is one. Another is the Aland Islands, an autonomous Swedish-speaking region of Finland located in the Baltic Sea.

Mats Adamczak, who was instrumental in developing 16 disc golf courses in the Aland Islands, gave a TEDx talk titled, “How disc golf saved our economy.” The government built the courses to make the islands a disc golf destination and boost tourism during the COVID lockdowns.

Adamczak said people traveling to play disc golf don’t want to only play one course.

A competitor throws a disc in July during the 2023 PDGA Masters Disc Golf World Championships in Flagstaff, Arizona. (Provided photo — Marking)

“I took part in a Finnish survey that showed that a normal disc golf player is playing at least 40 courses,” Adamczak said in his talk. “Then I thought, hmm maybe there are course collectors like the bird collectors.”

If Adirondack tourism officials were serious about developing disc golf as an economic draw, they’d have to work with public and private partners to create a network of courses. We’re confident this can be done, and for a fraction of the cost of developing regular golf courses.

What we’d need, if local leaders so chose, is to create an organization similar to that of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, which helps develop backcountry ski and mountain bike trails; Champlain Area Trails, which develops hiking trails in the Champlain Valley; or the Adirondack Rail Trail Association, which was instrumental in calling for the creation of the trail, is now promoting it and is working with public and private partners to make sure it’s successful when complete.

And, like we do with other sports — such as luge, bobsled/skeleton, ski jumping, triathlon, marathon running, rugby, figure skating, horse show jumping, etc. — the region could create a disc golf course that would attract national or world championship-level competitions. They did it at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont, which is hosting the 2023 PDGA Professional World Championships later this month. Why can’t we?

Anyone interested in building a disc golf course can find help on the PDGA website under “course development” — which includes assistance in finding a course designer.

Will the Adirondack region become one of the premier disc golf destinations in the world? It’s certainly possible. Only time will tell.

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