Disc golf: Northark is as challenging as it is beautiful

Disc golf is great exercise and is as stimulating as much as it is entertaining. The course at Northark was an addition to the community that continues to offer expanding opportunities as the sport grows.

This is the second of a two-part story on the disc golf movement in Harrison.

The popularity of disc golf in Harrison increased significantly in large part because of the addition of the course on the South Campus of North Arkansas College.

Many people weren’t even aware of the existence of the sport, much less the creation of a course in the local area. As people began to explore and test out the new sport, a new appreciation along with new benefits began to be recognized.

Disc golf is great exercise and is as stimulating as much as it is entertaining.

The course at Northark was an addition to the community that continues to offer expanding opportunities as the sport grows.

“Disc golf can be played by people of all ages,” noted Russ Burns who is the owner/operator of Disc Golf Monkey in Springfield, Missouri, and designer of the local course. “It is free to play once you have a disc, making it one of the most inexpensive outdoor sports on the planet. There is not a more fun, all inclusive, challenging and inexpensive sport that a family can get into. Disc golf is for everyone.”

The course was completed in six weeks and has become a facet in the area due to the challenge of the course along with the beauty that is encompassed with the landscape.

“I like what is happening now,” Burns continued. “The sport is growing and courses are being added. It would be nice that the community become more educated on the sport. I would love to see the sport make its way into the schools.”

Popularity is definitely growing for the sport and the potential for school participation is a very real possibility.

The course has recently transitioned from an 18-hole to a 20-hole course due to charitable donations and volunteers from the Harrison Disc Golf Society.

The first hole begins on the east side of the tennis courts and flaunts its challenges early.

“As much as I love it, I also love to hate it,” Burns noted about the opening hole. “It is simply incredible. I have never played another hole like it. Starting off lower than the basket and shooting uphill is obviously not easy. Adding to the challenge, the left part of the fairway has a huge drop off that punishes any throw that catches an edge causing it to possibly roll out of bounds. The right side of the fairway is a wall of thick trees. If you are in them, a bogey is almost certain. There are two large trees that create a tunnel feel to the hole. Add all that up and it is tough!”

The second hole is a 284-foot par 3 that runs along the same ridge with a steep slope down the left side. A line of trees along the top of the ridge makes for a possible saving grace if a shot begins to fade left and can be stopped by the trees. The basket sits atop the ridge and can be a risky putt if shooting toward the hillside.

Hole 3 is a long downhill shot toward the parking lot on the south side of the campus. Chad Watkins of Elevate sports commented, “The third hole is just pure fun. It’s an open flex to hyzer shot with a tight out of bounds risk behind the basket. It can be a tricky if you go long, so drive it long and putt it short.”

The fourth hole can be difficult due to the basket being encompassed by a heavy area of growth with a small window that opens for the pin. The ideal disc placement is to drop the opening drive in front of the opening. Going left or right from the tee box can make for a tough shot at par.

The same wooded area poses challenges for Hole 5. There is a maze of trees from the tee box to the pin. A carefully thrown drive can put the golfer next to the pin, but hitting a tree can make for a long mid-range shot.

Hole 6 has devoured many bogeys and double bogeys. “When you step up to the tee, you cannot see the basket,” noted Danny Wood of Woods Disc Golf in Harrison. “There is a wide-open fairway leading to the wooded section by the basket on Hole 1 and a few healthy trees near the basket on Hole 5. The trick is to make it between these two sections and land on the hillside that slopes down toward the parking lot and tennis courts. You’d like to get as close to the basket as possible on the upshot without having a rollaway due to the slope of the hillside. The upshot is key and can determine the difference between a par or bogey.”

The practice basket on the north side of the softball field represents Hole 6b. “This hole allows you to throw from the maintenance shed over the access road to the practice target,” Burns mentioned. “This works well as the walk to Hole 7 is cut in half. The bonus hole also allows for a fun and elevated ace attempt.”

Hole 7 begins on the west side of the campus next to the parking lot and the beauty of the course comes into full view. The hole stretches 305 feet to the north with the basket located in an island of trees that can make for a tough birdie shot from a distance.

Burns commented about the next hole, “Several times we have had over 95 players at the Northark Open. To accommodate, we set out a temporary Hole 7b for the events. It is a shorter shot that plays around a big beautiful tree that is next to the college’s greenhouse. It can be played around either way so it is a potentially easy birdie hole for any player.”

The hole has been made permanent due to Burns and many other contributors donating toward a basket this year and the Harrison Disc Golf Society installing it on the course.

The eighth hole is the longest on the course and the first par 4. “Matt Bell gave me one design request,” Burns noted about Hole 8. “He asked that I make a hole that the distance was close to the world record. At the time, the record was close to 820-feet. The land worked perfect for it because the hole is all downhill.”

The opening shot from the tee box creates a challenge due to a group of large trees about 50-feet downhill from the pad. Once past the trees, it is wide open toward the basket.

Hole 9 moves from the large fairway into a canopy of trees. A long drive that gets past the Pioneer Trail can make for a potential birdie shot assuming the massive oak tree between the tee box and the pin isn’t in the way.

“The low ceiling on Hole 10 is maddening to stay under while trying to gain distance,” Watkins noted about the next hole. “The need to hug the right side of the gap can reduce your shot and makes this hole a favorite of mine.”

Holes 11, 12 and 13 are what the locals call Turkey Hollow. Each hole is a potential birdie opportunity and can be aced with the right shot. The 12th hole has the only “mando” on the course which requires golfers to shoot between a pair of trees with arrows marking the direction.

The 14th hole sits atop the hillside and offers a spectacular view of both the college and the surrounding wooded area. “Fourteen is one of my favorites,” Wood noted. “You have many options and no matter which way you prefer to throw, there is a lane for you. Being a decently long hole gives you plenty of challenges. It is always exciting to watch discs fly down the fairway on Hole 14.”

A large group of spaced-out pine trees awaits golfers on Hole 15. A long drive can get past the initial wall of trees for a birdie opportunity. Coming up short can create several obstacles for the approach shot and almost certainly eliminates a chance for birdie.

“Hole 16 is one of the most risk-reward holes on the entire course,” Wood mentioned about the next hole. “The tee pad and bench are placed close to the fence line which follows the fairway all the way down the hill past the softball field with a very tight lane. This par 4 could become an eagle if you can get your disc to ride along the path and down the hill to finish by the basket.”

“The hole has a considerably wide fairway that reaches as far over as the tee pad on Hole 17,” Wood continued. “Most people will throw down the middle away from the fence line which is an out of bounds area in hopes of staying away from the very thick wooded area on the other side of the fence.”

Hole 17 is the final up-hill shot. An open fairway leads to a group of trees that can impede the drive toward the basket. A well-placed opening throw can lead to an easy birdie opportunity.

“Hole 18 is a favorite for many,” Watkins exclaimed. “With perfect tree placements for both lefty and righty shots, this hole can frustrate if it’s not hit just right, or left as it were.”

The 371-foot par 3 is definitely a challenge, but can be aced with the right type of shot.

“This really is the best hole you could finish a course with along with one of the greatest views,” Wood proclaimed. “The final hole to the basket has trees on the right side of the fairway as well as the parking lot. One of the largest trees on the course is just to the left of center around two thirds of the way down the fairway. This hole is set up for one of the most iconic throws where a beautiful s-pattern throw would get you past all of the obstacles and plant the disc right by the goal.”

The entire course is a par 62 that reaches close to 7,000 feet. The Harrison Disc Golf Society hosts league events along with tournaments during the course of the year.

“It wasn’t until a friend of mine invited me out to play disc golf one afternoon with my son that I discovered the game,” Woods commented about the fun related to disc golf. “It was the most fun I’d had doing horrible at a sport. I was able to see the experienced people and what they could do with these discs. It was amazing being such a cheap sport sport to get into and something that my kids and I could play together. With most courses being free to play and very inexpensive, it is something the whole family can enjoy. I was hooked instantly.”

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