Ascot: The rebirth of a defunct golf course as a disc golf course
Back in late 2012, when I visited the site for the first time after 10,000 earthquakes had destroyed much of Christchurch city, and wrecked the Par-3 golf course at Ascot by way of liquefaction volcanoes and ruptured water pipelines, I was convinced it would only take a few months to get a DGC installed there. How wrong I was. But 7 years later, I was very happy to launch the Ascot Disc Golf Course.
The area which had sadly been essentially dead for 9 years is once again alive with golfers, enjoying the gently rolling, semi-links-style terrain, and they’re doubly enjoying the benefits of many decades of careful tree planting and maintenance by the Ascot Golf Club. I say “dead” because the location was fenced on three sides, making access tricky, and until the DGC install, it had only been used by occasional dog walkers, kids walking to and from school, and a few naughty locals riding little motorcycles.
In early 2013, when I first spoke to the people at city council, I asked permission to install a temporary DGC there, but all they seemed interested in was how I was going to pay the $50,000 a year it cost to mow the place. They just didn’t get it. I said to them, “You’re already spending 50K a year mowing a place no one uses. Give us a $1 lease, and keep mowing the lawns like you are, and we can enjoy the place and add value to your mowing dollars.”
But no. They simply couldn’t get it through their collective heads.
Later, in 2013 I was given permission to host the National Champs there, and designed a dynamite course with Simon Feasey especially for the event, only to be told late in the day that I couldn’t use it - again! So, I was forced to host Nationals 2014 at Jellie Park.
Fast-forward to 2018 when Christchurch club committee member David Rose approached me, asking if I’d mind if he tried again to get a DGC going at Ascot, and I encouraged him strongly to do so.
Well, if time is the fourth dimension, then timing is the fifth – and the most important! Because David’s enthusiasm and drive to push ahead with Ascot paid off handsomely, and as a direct result of his efforts, not only was disc golf put into the redevelopment plan for the old Ascot golf course, but we got permission to be the very first thing that went in! Thanks, Dave!
Now, permission to install a course is always the most difficult thing to achieve, and all of a sudden the club had a premium site for a DGC, but we were caught short with no cash to fund baskets or teepads.
I was asked by the club to design a DGC for Ascot, with special reference to the new redevelopment plan published by Council, see Figure 1, below. I was happy to undertake the task, despite feeling weirdly guilty about designing the first four DGCs in the city.
The new plan for the space actually made my job as course designer quite a bit easier, because it limited the available space, which might sound like a bad thing but isn’t. By far the most difficult course design is having a completely free hand in an unconstrained space.
The actual design of the Ascot course proceeded logically enough in my mind because I’m quite aware of the ability of the players in Christchurch, and the prevailing wind direction (The Leasterly-Easterly - Ouch!). The bolf course design had several large open fairways upwind and downwind, but I much prefer to offer disc golfers holes where cross-winds are more prevalent - and throws can be very exciting to watch.
And so, the plantings in between the fairways turned out to be perfect for disc golf, and with a “Solid Intermediate” and “first semi-serious course for Christchurch” design in mind, I set my sights on a course length of around 1,800 metres as my goal, but with a design that would challenge expert players to achieve birdies. I targeted a 6 or 7 under as a 1,000 rating, with a Par of 57, with 3 par 4s, where Eagles would require world-class play.
There were no sand traps on the original ball golf course, which seems strange considering the course is built on sand, but the nature of the plantings means the trees are often very wide with large low canopies, making ideal obstacles for disc golf, but usually with a 2-metre ceiling below them.
It seemed apparent from the outset that some Mandos and Drop Zones would be required, to force the player to achieve my intended lines, and to protect other teepads and fairways from drives in that direction.
I find it’s best not to carry or throw discs when I design a course. Because what I can and can’t do with a disc doesn’t matter. It’s what I can tempt players into trying that counts and I did as much as I could to offer some extremely difficult options for the power-throwers, that could pay off with an otherwise unreachable birdie, or even eagle.
There’s no OB except the park boundary, which I found, on the very first throw on the very first hole on the course, after confidently asserting OB wasn’t an issue on this course! You have to laugh, don’t you?
But that doesn’t mean you won’t get badly penalised for missing your line and ending up in the rough – much of which is embedded with blackberry, and all of which will cost you a stroke unless you are lucky, or talented, or both.
And despite the park having a very open feeling, the trees and hole designs constrain the player, for the most part, giving a feeling of often being forced into shots rather than selecting them – which is a very intentional design feature.
Ascot is my first attempt at a semi-serious permanent DGC; designed specifically to develop the skills of intermediate players, and all aspects of their game. And to punish mistakes with strokes. It tests shot selection, and shot creation, and decision-making because there’s plenty of trouble lurking almost everywhere at Ascot.
The difficulty of the holes and the overall length is somewhat reduced due to the requirement that Ascot be not just a Destination DGC, but a Community DGC as well. And the design very specifically brings the course together at several points so that school kids can easily play some holes on the way to and from school, and players with limited time can play several shorter versions of the course, by strategically skipping holes.
However, I have left scope for longer, championship-style tees on many holes, and so the course length and difficulty can be extended by players seeking a course closer to 2,000 metres (~6,600 feet) in length.
Ascot was designed to serve as the third, and most challenging DGC in Christchurch to date, whilst still encouraging local residents to take up the game. It is designed to reward and encourage newcomers, and won’t punish or discourage them unduly.
Intermediates and experts have differing challenges at Ascot. Intermediates will have their shot selection and accuracy tested, while experts will have their power tested, as there are several lines which cannot be exploited by anything other than Big Power.
Several holes will appear to be “Lefty-Friendly” to most right-handed players, but this is a consequence of intentional design, which promotes the use of Forehand throws for the typical RH player. With Ascot I have tried to produce a course which favours the well-rounded player above all others: handedness should be irrelevant, in my view.
Casual foot traffic in the area is now much greater than it once was, due to the removal of the northern and eastern fences which prevented access, but it has substantially less foot-traffic than most public parks, and so disc golfers are seldom interrupted during a round.
I am satisfied the design is suitable for its location, its prevailing winds, and the rapidly increasing ability of players in the city in 2020; It provides the sort of challenges which will allow Christchurch players to improve at the fastest rate possible, while yielding plenty of frustration and the impetus to improve, for all players.
The Course Hardware
Because the club had only recently officially formed when I began designing, there was literally no money available for tees or baskets, but I did not want to let that delay the installation, and so I approached some local businesses who generously donated the materials.
Adrian’s Fire Installers donated the galvanised chimney flues for the tone holes. Mitre 10 donated the steel waratahs, threaded rods, and nuts for them, while ViBlock donated the concrete blocks for the tees and the mandatories. Resene donated the paint. Thanks very much to them: they enabled a DGC at Ascot!
The design of the tone holes was largely based on two previous items built by buddy Hunter Harrill several years ago before we got baskets in at Jellie Park. It took a while to paint all the concrete blocks, and get the tone holes ready to go – but the cost was extremely low. My prototype tone hole cost around $15 to build, and so this is an extremely economic solution in any location where funding has yet to come, but permission has been granted for a course to go ahead.
The Future of Ascot DGC
The Christchurch Disc Golf Club will fund the hardware for the course just as soon as funds are available, and that should not be too far away, as the club has just applied for charitable status, and that will make it a far more attractive prospect for major donations.
The basket install is expected to closely resemble the existing design, and later additions will include alternative tees for some holes and secondary basket locations. Until then, you’re enjoying natural teepads and tone holes, which are I think, even harder to hit than a basket.
Lessons learned during the Ascot DGC process
Timing is everything! If the timing is wrong, even the best and most attractive site for a course can take many years to transform into a DGC. Political will is what is required at the local government level, and if that will isn’t present, creating it can prove to be difficult…
As with most things, installing DGCs is generally picking the low-hanging fruit to start out, and over time the more exciting opportunities present themselves in due course. It behoves us all to be persistent, and persuasive, but above all else, patient. Good things often take time.
Best of luck in your own efforts to install a DGC in your region, and I am very happy to offer you input into your own dream project if you feel it might help you. Call me any time during the NZ day; Call +64-210-69-58-69 overseas, and 0210-69-58-69 in NZ.