Tensions Soar as Damaged Trees Bring Disc Golf Course Under Fire
Recreation and Park Commission to Vote on Ban
April 27, 2005 3:33 PM
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted unanimously last Thursday to extend a temporary olive branch to the more than 100 people who gathered at City Hall on April 6 to voice their support for San Francisco’s disc golf course.
But the reported damage to the eucalyptus and pine tree branches at Golden Gate Park’s Marx Meadow, which houses the course, may lead the seven-member commission to close down the city’s only venue for the popular new alternative sport.
The commission agreed to hire an outdoor arborist to evaluate whether damage accrued from the discs is endangering the trees and whether the extra foot traffic is causing erosion around the trails.
In the meantime, a 60-day extension has been granted for the course, adding to an 18-month trial period that expired April 1. The course will now remain open through the end of June, at which point the commission will reconsider its use.
The conflict began in July 2004, when an arborist expressed concern about damage to the trees to the Recreation and Parks Commission. However, according to Greg Quiroga, president of the SF Disc Golf Club, players were not informed about the memo until October.
SF State technical and professional writing major Humberto Aviles has played at the course several times over the last 18 months and said he sees the threats to close the course as a class issue.
“You look at a regular golf course and the trees are all cut down,” Aviles said. “They dye the grass and waste tons of water, but nobody says anything.”
Disc golf uses the same basic objects and rules as traditional golf, except that a disc, slightly smaller and heavier than a Frisbee, is thrown instead of hitting a ball and metal baskets, positioned about three feet off of the ground, are the targets as opposed to holes.
Quiroga and the roughly 240 members of the SF Disc Golf Club campaigned for several years to bring the course to San Francisco. Members of the club volunteer to clean the course during bi-monthly work parties.
Some players have said that park employees have been unwilling to work with them on ways to minimize impact.
“We’ve put over $11,000 of donation money into the course,” said club member Kevin Prosser, who runs a silk-screening shop and printed dozens of T-shirts for the hearing that display a map of Golden Gate Park, with an arrow pointing at Marx Meadow and the words “Your Course Here” printed across it.
Funds raised by the club were used to install the baskets, to clear debris from the course and, recently, to put netting around the trees most often struck by players’ errant discs.
Ross Hammond, outreach director for the disc golf club, said that a lot of new players tend to miss the baskets and end up hitting the pines and damaging the bark, which can lead to insect infestation.
"Once you dent the tree, bugs can get in it," he said.
"Is the park meant to be a space for recreation or a conservatory for plants and trees?" Quiroga said. "It will be interesting to see what happens.”
According to the Disc Golf Association, the San Francisco course has been used by 5,000 people, who have played more than 80,000 rounds of disc golf.
Prosser said that club members had sent “thousands” of letters and postcards to the commission, asking that the course remain open and in Golden Gate Park. Commission member Lawrence Martin suggested moving the course to John McClaren Park and to expand the current 9-hole course to the standard 18 holes.
However, when Martin conducted an informal poll of the more than 100 disc golfers present, only a few supported moving the course. Most were adamant that the course should remain where it is.
Outside City Hall, many of the supporters said they were unsure what the temporary ruling would mean.
“I’ll keep showing up and doing what I can, but I’ve got no idea what they’re going to do,” said Aviles. “The worst case scenario is that I’ll just have to start driving to Berkeley again.”
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