By Greg Ellison
(July 15, 2021) Disc golf will get a trial run at Stephen Decatur Park next month, following the Berlin Town Council’s 3-1 vote Monday to allow three events to take place on an 18-hole course at the site.
Local disc golf pros Austin Widdowson and Shawn Johnson, both members of Eastbound Disc Golf, presented their plans to the mayor and council and said the park was large enough to handle two courses, one for beginners and another for advanced players.
Councilmember Jay Knerr voted against the measure, while Councilmember Dean Burrell was absent.
“We’re trying to make a name for disc golf in Berlin,” he said.
In early May, the duo vetted the proposal with Berlin’s Parks Commission, which endorsed the concept despite certain reservations.
Maintenance, safety concerns for park patrons and encroachment on private property were issues mentioned by the Parks Commission.
Johnson, who was reared in Snow Hill and moved back to the region last fall, had helped establish a disc golf club at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville, a 288-acre site operated by Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks.
“With one or two discs, you can enjoy this sport,” he said. “It’s not about tee times, it’s about availability.”
In terms of potential injuries to other park users hit by flying discs, Widdowson said the odds are better to be struck by lightning.
“In all of the years I’ve played, I’ve never seen a person get hit with a Frisbee,” he said. “It’s very distant and you’re throwing off into the field.”
The intent is to peacefully co-exist with the larger community and minimize impacts.
“We are trained to be courteous to others,” he said. “If there are blind spots, we will have signage.”
Widdowson said project organizers are hoping to function as ambassadors for the park and would help clean up overgrowth.
“There’s vines taking over tress back there,” he said. “We want to leave it better than we found it.”
Widdowson said all course apparatus purchases would be financed with grants and donations.
“We’re looking to 100 percent donate all the hardware and equipment,” he said. “There would be no cost to the town.”
Johnson said disc golf organizers are aiming to hold test runs at the site, including three events on Aug. 1, 10 and 22.
“After those events we will confer back with the core group and member base and submit a final layout,” he said.
Mayor Zach Tyndall asked if approval was being sought for the larger project or just a pilot phase in August.
“Right now we would like overall approval but we want to be forthcoming with how to implement it,” he said.
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood highlighted safety issues related to disc golf courses.
“Parks are closed at dusk, but kids could linger,” he said. “I’m concerned from a risk perspective because of the moving parts.”
Fleetwood said based on background research, the potential exists for young children to suffer strangulation if entangled by chain-link disc baskets.
Tyndall admitted certain risks are involved tied to disc golf but noted other park equipment could also present dangers.
Johnson also cast doubt on liability issues stemming from disc golf courses.
“I don’t personally know of any incidents,” he said.
Fleetwood asked about insurance requirements.
“Who is absorbing the risk?” he said.
Johnson said the onus would be on the municipality.
“At the end of the day, we want to donate this course to the town, so I guess the town would,” he said.
Tyndall said long-term plans for course installation might need to be slightly delayed.
“It sounds like we have some questions, risk profile-wise, that we should figure out on our end,” he said.
Hoping to confirm insurance needs before establishing a course setup, Tyndall suggested permitting Eastbound Disc Golf organizers to stage three events next month and reconvene discussions afterward.
“At that point we should have risk issues figured out and maybe we can reach a long-term plan,” he said.
The council voted to require town event applications for three dates in August, while also requesting confirmation of liability insurance.
Tyndall said the pending disc golf gatherings would provide elected officials and staff an opportunity to observe the sport up close.
“We get to see this in action,” he said.
Tyndall suggested that Widdowson and Johnson appear before the council on Aug. 23 to determine what happens next.
Councilmember Troy Purnell said a firm decision would likely be reached at that point.
“By the time you get to the end of that, we’ll know if we like it or we don’t,” he said.