Disc golfers seek OK to build course at MERA

By Dick Mason, The Observer February 25, 2011 04:26 pm

Brandon Wiggins participates in a disc golf event earlier in Union County. TRENT BRAY photo
Brandon Wiggins participates in a disc golf event earlier in Union County. TRENT BRAY photo

Proposed public 18-hole course would encompass about 20 acres in Mount Emily Recreation Area

The La Grande area may soon feature one of the top disc golf sites in Northeast Oregon.

A drive is being conducted to get an 18-hole disc golf course built in the Mount Emily Recreation Area at a non-motorized site east of Owsley Canyon Road. It would be only the second public

18-hole public disc golf course in Northeast Oregon. The other one is in Pendleton.

The Mount Emily Recreation Area Disc Golf Committee is seeking approval from the Union County Board of Commissioners to build the course. The disc golfers have submitted their request to the non-motorized MERA advisory committee. The advisory committee is set to discuss the proposal at its March meeting after which it may make a recommendation to the Union County Board of Commissioners.

Work on the course would begin once the final OK is received, said Ian Gregory, a member of the MERA Disc Golf Committee. The course would be paid for completely with private funds.

“We are not asking for any money at all,’’ Gregory said.

About $14,000 would be needed to build a course. The money is needed for metal pole baskets, signs and other items. Metal pole baskets are the big-ticket item since they cost more than $300 each.

A portion of the money needed for the course would be raised via a fundraising tournament, said Trent Bray, a member of the MERA Disc Golf Committee. Bray played a major role in introducing disc golf to Northeast Oregon when he moved here from Western Oregon in 2001.

Bray set up Camp Black Dog, a private course in the Morgan Lake Road area in the spring of 2004. Bray introduced Gregory to disc golf at Camp Black Dog.

Bray and Gregory believe the proposed MERA site is ideal for disc golf because of its diversity. Its features include varying elevation levels, natural obstacles and accessibility.

“I am very excited about its potential,’’ Gregory said.

Bray goes a step further.

“It could potentially be one of the best courses in the Northwest,’’ he said.

Bray said many people take disc golf tours of the Northwest, playing the top courses. He believes this could be a course many people on such tours would flock to.

The course would be in an 18-to-20 acre area.

Disc golf is similar to regular golf, but instead of using golf clubs and balls aiming for a hole, players use discs and aim for a disc pole hole, according to the Disc Golf Association’s website. A pole hole is a pole extending up from the ground with chains and a basket where the disc lands. The object of the game is to complete each in the fewest number of throws.

Disc golf is one of the fastest growing sports in America. Reasons for its growing popularity include its low cost.

“It is accessible to people of any income level,’’ Gregory said.

Another plus is the exercise people get while walking over soft terrain.

“You get a lot of exercise from low-impact walking,’’ said David Shaw, a member of the MERA Disc Golf Committee.

Places where people can play disc golf in Union County include EOU which has a course that is under 18 holes.

Interest in disc golf is high in the Grande Ronde Valley. Bray said that in 2010 about 70 people played in a local disc golf league. Tournaments were conducted at a number of temporary courses plus a permanent one at EOU that has nine holes. The course at EOU is the only public one in Union County.

Nineteen of the league’s participants in 2010, 27 percent, were women. This is an unusually high percentage, said Elizabeth Shaw, a member of the MERA Disc Golf Committee. Shaw earlier played disc golf in Eugene while a student at the University of Oregon. She said the percentage of women who play disc golf there is less than in the Grande Ronde Valley.

Shaw and Gregory hold the distinction of being founding members of the University of Oregon disc golf club. Shaw, like Gregory, learned how to play disc golf from Bray at the private Camp Black Dog course, which is no longer in operation. More than 150 people played at Camp Black Dog, including Josh Dowdy, also an active member of the MERA Disc Golf Committee.

Nobody on the disc golf committee has been working as long as Bray to bring the sport to the Grande Ronde Ronde Valley. He said few things would mean more to him than to get the proposed course at MERA up and running.

“Nobody wants a public disc golf course more than myself,” he said.