I like the course that is out there. Why is it being changed?
There are quite a few reasons for the changes. The current course was built as a bit of an experiment and was done so with the knowledge and input of the DNRC. This is State Trust land that has been legally designated as land that is to be used to raise money for our public school systems. Over the years the local population has grown and the number of players in America has exploded. As a result at Smith Lake there have been impacts from overuse such as litter control and soil compaction. The DNRC has had to address these issues and as a result land that should be managed for a profit is a cost to them. To meet the quota of money the DNRC has to raise off State Trust Land they also sometimes have to sell land. They told me this for a reason. The land this course is on is very valuable and would allow them to sell the least amount of land for the most money. Other groups, like the Legacy Partners which manage the Whitefish Trail have also been interested in putting in a trail-head where the current course starts and have had public hearings to do so. The Legacy Partners have strongly supported us. But to start for safety reasons the DNRC wants one or the other activity. What I’m saying is if we did not work with the DNRC and meet their requests a trail would have likely closed the area to disc golf. We are working with the Legacy Partners and strongly support their trail system and hope to integrate the trail safely through the new course once we have final approval.
The WDF has been approaching the DNRC for 13 years to work out a better disc golf solution. When there have been issues at Smith Like we’ve also been the ones they call. It is not the fault of the DNRC there are no disc golf courses in this beautiful Flathead Valley and this has been made clear by the DNRC. We have mapped courses in other local areas and spent oodles of time trying to find a spot. Around 3 to 4 years ago the DNRC reached out to us and felt the best place would be at Smith Lake. It’s become known as a place for disc golf.
One big issue the DNRC wanted addressed was parking. After assessing the area a couple times with managers the only spot that would meet the future parking requirements were near the top of the Smith Lake Road where the state parking lot is for the lake. Designing a course that played up to this area and back was challenging. The major issue is the plateau type rise where the hillside that runs the length of the course is silly thick with trees and vegetation. In year 2 or 3 we hope to develop a dedicated overflow disc golf parking lot just prior to the current Smith Lake parking lot.
In the final 9 holes 3 of them are original holes. 3 of the holes use old greens or fairways in new ways. And 3 of the holes are new but short and in the trees to preserve the spirit of the original course.
From the disc golf perspective there were a few issues that also needed to be addressed:
- Safety: This is always the first concern of any publicly used area. With increased player numbers and holes having t-boxes very close to previous hole targets I’ve been hit by a disc and I’ve seen others hit by discs. This will only get worse with more players. The DNRC wanted a group to take responsibility for the actions of the people that play disc golf out there. We took that responsibility and hope the course is respected. The DNRC does not want to be sued as a result of disc golf.
- Targets, T-Pads, and Signs: Without a legal agreement with the State of Montana we have not been allowed to put in real baskets, t-pads, and any type of signs. The game is a lot more fun throwing off safe and flat t-boxes with a rubber mat surface. The game is a lot more fun throwing at baskets, and with DGA Mach 3s we have the highest of quality and performance.
- Broader Shot Types: The game of disc golf has a lot more shot types than what is at the current course. Having to map the course up to the Smith Lake parking area brings the player into some more open areas. Disc golf uses the terrain. This terrain opened the door to some longer more open shots. These holes require learning more shot types, like shots that go right, go left, fly like a Z, and ones that fly like a S. The new course demands all types of shots and brings more advanced disc golf to the area now that is’ had a entry level course for 15 years.
- Having a Kiosk, Course Map, and warm up Practice Basket brings our local course up to higher standards you’ll see at any top course.
- Address litter and environmental issues. We need to put signs up asking people to walk single file in areas and to not liitter. The WDF is a private organization that is keeping this course 100% free and open to the public, forever. Those of us that are the WDF are the one held accountable for litter, and we have been for years. Through signs we can let people know if we don’t please the DNRC the course goes away and litter can’t be tolerated.
- Aesthetics. The time has come where our disc golf course should be as beautiful and clean looking as the Whitefish Trail. People who stumble upon it should see something that looks nice and respectful not posts in the ground with old strap metal taped to them.
Why is the course 27 holes?
There are several reasons:
- It’s been 17 years of finding a place to put a course in that is dedicated to disc golf compared to in a park. The disc golf population in America is huge, and it’s growing fast hear. With only one course we wanted it to accompany as many players at once as possible.
- The course is a bit of a drive for a lot of people in the Flathead Valley and disc golf plays faster than traditional golf. We wanted someone making the drive to have as much disc golf to play as possible.
- I discovered disc golf in the late 80s at a course called De La Veaga. It was one of the first courses in the country. It’s 27 holes, it’s hard, it’s way before it’s time in terms of difficulty, and it holds one of the country’s biggest pro tournaments year after year. It was busy back then and it’s busy today. While one might see words like “long” or “technical” it’s also one of the funnest courses a person can play. The natural beauty and strategic nature of the holes makes the course blast to play for everyone. I hope to capture that spirit at Smith Lake. Believing a course has to be 18 holes is not thinking outside the box.
- As a result of being 27 holes the course has a few crossing points where players can skip 5 to 10 holes and jump ahead or loop 10 hole sections twice. It has several spots to shorten your round if you don’t have time for 27. And hole 17 and 18 finish right by hole one. Holes 18 to 27 also play back to this same spot. A person short on time could spin a quick lap on 18 to 27 for example.
Is this course free to play?
Note: All players and people using this land are required to buy an annual State Land permit from the DNRC. The Sportsman Ski Haus and the local forest service offices sell these permits. We will be putting a scan-able QR code on our kiosk to allow players to directly buy a permit on their phones.
Is the Whitefish Disc Federation a club and how to do I join?
We are not a club. However there is a great and energetic club formed around the Flathead Valley. We, as a broader disc golf community, face great challenges in this area. One looks around and sees lots of land but finding a place for a course has not been easy. It is important that we work together have a community across the Flathead Valley.
The Flathead Valley Disc Golf is a group that formed as a 501c3 to promote the growth and community of disc golf in the Flathead Valley. We ask you join their club. We hope over the next year they will not only be running a league at Lawrence Park but one at Smith Lake as well. If more Whitefish disc golfers join the club our numbers and chances of more dedicated courses will improve. So please join the FVDG today! Click the following link to learn more: http://flatheadvalleydiscgolf.org/ .
The WDF is a non-profit LLC formed by Roger Petersen, Ken Deeds, and Neil Staves. Roger loves disc golf, witnessed the building of Pattee Canyon in Missoula, and developed the McNarnia course with 18 baskets on his private property. Neil is one of the owners of the KOA and with the teamwork of his brother Walt built the Buffalo Bob’s course. Ken Deeds worked with the city of Kalispell to upgrade and rebuild Lawrence Park and has been a competitive disc golfer for 25 years and has 30 years of playing experience. Ken has worked on development of 10 courses throughout his career. The WDF is the 3 of us taking responsibility for disc golf in the Smith Lake area. We simply want to bring a great activity to our community. We are here to do the ground work that ensures we raise $2000 a year to keep this course going.
Will Dogs be Allowed?
Yes but you will be required to control your pet. If you have a trouble dog it will need to be on a leash. You will be responsible for your dogs actions at the course.