Chris Haag believes that hidden amongst the natural beauty of Detroit's Belle Isle park is an amazing course for disc golf -- and he's not alone.
The 30-year-old Detroiter is part of a crew that has been working to popularize the sport of disc golf in the city since 2011. In late April, the Detroit Disc Golf Club received a letter of approval from Keith Flournoy, Belle Isle's park manager, to begin building disc golf baskets on the grounds of a neglected traditional golf course that's located on the island. But even before that they were hard at work -- or play -- creating their own improvised course on the site. (SEE MAP BELOW)
The current course starts near Lake Tacoma on Belle Isle's southwest side, winds around the island and ends up not far from the James Scott Memorial Fountain. His crew has already fashioned 18 large six-foot-tall wooden posts spread out over a 32-acre expanse of terrain, including wetlands, willow trees and plenty of water. Those were put in place this winter to serve as makeshift markers for players.
Unlike many courses, the layout at Belle Isle is relatively flat, but it has trees, water hazards and other features that endear it to players. Haag, an engineering and energy consultant who has been playing the sport for about a decade, says his favorite hole at the moment is number 14.
"That one goes next to the covered bridge over the canal," he said. "I just think it's a perfect throw for somebody who is right handed, because you get to lay it up over the water, over the river, over the lake and then it drops back through the willow trees. And you have a really great shot at getting a hole-in-one, if you can get the curve right on it."
But the course layout is still a work-in-progress.
"The course layout seems to continually evolve," Haag said. "One of the things we noticed in the winter is that some of the areas get really wet. So we've taken the opportunity to rearrange it, so things don't get flooded in the springtime."
The Detroit Disc Golf Club is currently trying to raise about $10,000 to install metal baskets at each of the course's 18 holes, which cost about $450. Two were already donated by the Michigan Disc Golf Organization, which Haag's group hopes to intall over the next two weeks. As funding becomes available, they expect to install baskets every week or so throughout the summer.
After that they'll look into installing tee-pads, launch sites where players begin each hole, and other upgrades that could run them an additional $10,000 to $20,000. If all goes well, said Haag, the group might eventually expand to 24 holes. Comparatively, he estimates the cost of renovating the old "ball" golf course on the island at $7 million.
Other disc golf options in and immediately around the city of Detroit are limited. There is an existing course at Jayne/Lasky Park in Detroit near the city of Hamtramck, but it only has nine holes. Haag remarked that it isn't a very good course and doesn't have much of a following. Another effort to establish a course around the abandoned Brewster-Douglass housing projects that attracted a surprising level of support, but those plans were halted by the city.
Haag has seen a lot of new faces on the island over the last year and thinks the sport has a real future in Detroit. He is hopeful the establishment of the disc golf course will attract new people and get former players back in the game. Building a local community around the sport, he believes, is essential to the course's long-term health.
"If the park sees people are coming out there, enjoying it for themselves," he said, "they're going to see it as something positive for the city and the park. And it's more likely money will be put into it, and more likely it will be a long-time feature there."
The Belle Isle disc golf course is open everyday and free to play. Leagues play every Sunday at noon. For more information, visit the Detroit Disc Golf Facebook page.
This map shows the Belle Isle Disc Golf course.