Scout hopes to build New Milford disc golf course
NEW MILFORD — Greg Winkelstern stood in the middle of an empty field at Clatter Valley Park this week and pointed to an area he thinks would be perfect for playing disc golf.
The 17-year-old hopes that by next summer, the area will be filled with people throwing the flying discs around a brand new course.
“It’s a beautiful New England area,” Winkelstern said. “It’s a great park to come to. I knew there was a great spot that was unused and wanted to check it out to see if it would be a good course.”
He said the park is generally only used by hikers, people walking their dogs and a cricket club. Scouts will also camp and hold events there.
Winkelstern decided to create a disc golf course after he and a friend played the sport while on vacation in Rhode Island. Winkelstern, who had never played it before, loved disc golf and is now promoting it through his Eagle Scout project.
When he and his friend returned to town, though, they couldn’t find any courses nearby that were in good condition.
Disc golf is very similar to traditional golf, except players use specific flying discs instead of clubs and golf balls. Players move through a course, completing each hole in the fewest strokes, or throws. The holes are often elevated metal baskets.
“The overall goal is the same,” Winkelstern said, adding the two sports’ courses have similar components.
The proposed course would cover about 15 acres of the park and include nine holes. Each hole would have a beginner and advanced tee pad.
Winkelstern said this lets people of all ages and skills play, but also allows for 18 holes if a round is played from the beginner pads and then the advanced ones. He said the site also offers a nice mix of open space, wooded areas and water features, such as ponds and creeks.
“You don’t want just flat land or all hills,” he said. “Variety makes it interesting for the players.”
Daniel Calhoun, the town’s parks and recreation director, said the parks commission is supportive of the course but noted Winkelstern still has to get land-use approval from both New Milford and Bridgewater, where most of the course is proposed. He also has to raise money and get final approval from the commission.
“Greg Winkelstern has a very large project ahead of him if he can conquer the hurdles that await him,” Calhoun said. “Greg is a very focused Eagle Scout candidate and we all wish him well on his proposed project.”
Winkelstern already started working with a Texas firm that is highly-regarded for its course design.
Before he can proceed, he needs to raise $20,000 — half of which would go toward paying the firm. The other costs would cover the tee pads, signage, baskets and other materials.
“It’s a great game,” he said. “Hopefully, like ultimate, the other disc sport, the popularity will grow.”
Disc golf was formalized in the 1970s and membership in the Professional Disc Golf Association has grown to more than 87,000 members. Around 31,000 are active members — about six times as many as there were in 1999. The number of PDGA events have also grown from 335 in 1999 to 2,590 in 2015, according to the association’s website.
Flying disc sports, such as disc golf and ultimate, were granted full recognition by the International Olympic Committee in 2015, meaning they may someday be included in the Olympic games.
Winkelstern said the growing popularity will also help bring more people to New Milford, which could result in economic benefits for local businesses.
“There’s not many courses of this level that are nearby,” he said. “Not only will it bring disc golf players from New York and Connecticut, but the designer’s name will also put New Milford on the map for this.”
Winkelstern said he is excited to finish the project, even if it isn’t completed by his 18th birthday on May 26 — the deadline for his Eagle Scout award.
“I want to educate people and help excite them,” he said. “I’ll be please with myself if I get it accomplished.”