In 2011, the PGA of America hired the prestigious Boston Consulting Group to study the challenges facing the game and help develop its Golf 2.0 initiative, which is intended to resuscitate the stagnant golf industry. Perhaps the PGA should have consulted with Tim Bishop, the professional at Petersham Country Club. Bishop and his staff have embarked upon a bold and innovative strategy for generating additional revenue necessary for the survival of the club: the creation of a disc golf course at the 9-hole Donald Ross layout.
The course, Ross’s Run, is the only disc course in New England to share space with a golf course. The 18-hole course, which utilizes space in the woods on the periphery of holes and shares some of the fairways of the golf course, opened in April and has received rave reviews from “discers” (disc golf enthusiasts). The course is also meeting revenue targets.
Bishop explained that the name of the course reflects Donald Ross’ influence and also honors a longtime member of the club, Ross Yanco, who passed away last year. He said that the famed designer would probably like the disc course, which incorporates his philosophy of working around natural elements of the landscape. Some holes on the front nine wind through narrow gaps in the trees. “The front nine is tight and technical, but the back nine opens up and uses more of the golf course,” said Bishop. Ross’s Run plays to a par of 57 (most of the holes are par 3s).
The notion of creating a disc course occurred to Bishop last year when he heard about a large disc golf tournament, the Vibram Open, which is held at Maple Hill in Leicester. He consulted Kevin Donahue, a member and the CEO of Quabaug Corporation in North Brookfield, which manufactures discs for Vibram. “I said to Kevin do you think we could build a disc course here at Petersham? We’ve been struggling to attract golfers.”
Bishop was not in a position to pay the $10,000 a disc course designer demanded to design a course. So he and Glenn Hause, the superintendent at the club, tackled the job themselves with advice from Steve Dodge, who had experience with disc golf. “Glenn and I laid out the basic tract. Steve liked some of the holes but gave us a blueprint of what discers are looking for,” said Bishop. He credited Hause’s enthusiasm and energy for sustaining the project. “We had a mild winter so we were able to clear some trees and brush,” noted Bishop.
Serious disc golfers carry backpacks with as many as 24 discs of different sizes and performance characteristics; some are used for long throws from the tee, others for short “putts.” The holes are baskets with suspended chains that trap accurately throw discs and allow them to fall into the basket.
The rules of disc golf are adapted from regular golf. A lost disc (a not uncommon occurrence) results in a stroke-and-distance penalty, while a disc that travels out of bounds may be played from the point of exit with a penalty stroke.
Bishop said that his members have enthusiastically supported the advent of disc golf. “It was an easy sell, because they understand the need for revenue if the club is going to survive,” said Bishop. “They think it’s great – they like seeing the place busy, with more people hanging out on the deck. The attitude here is what makes this possible. We try to think outside the box, and do things that are different and unique.”
Golfers and discers appear to be coexisting harmoniously. One couple playing golf seemed intrigued by the discers, and werecurious to learn more. A number of signs warn golfers of “disc crossing.”
Bishop hopes to host a major disc tournament at Ross’s Run. Other ideas are “ball and chain” tournaments, in which contestants play nine holes of regular golf and nine holes of disc golf, and a “no sweat triathlon” consisting of golf, disc golf, and curling (the Petersham Curling Club adjoins the course). Bishop noted that one of disc golf ’s attractions is that it is less expensive than regular golf. A round on Ross’ Run costs $6 ( $10 for unlimited play). Disc golfers may also rent golf carts for $10. Playing 18 holes of golf with a cart costs $25. On the other hand, losing a disc (which can cost $16) is more expensive than losing a golf ball.