Are you tough enough?

For members of the Western North Carolina Disc Golf Club, Saturday, May 5, may well be the sweetest day in the organization’s history.

Man with a plan: James Nichols, designer of the Richmond Hill disc golf course. photo by Sam Wardle

At 8 a.m., both professional and amateur disc golfers from across the country will tee off for the first official round at the brand-new Richmond Hill disc golf course.

It will have been a long time coming.

Last June, the previous course—known as one of the most challenging in the region—closed. A nearby National Guard base wanted to use that portion of the large, forested Richmond Hill Park to expand its operations, and the city cut a deal. Disc golfers were told they could set up 18 holes in a different part of the park, but it proved to be a lot more complex than that.

James Nichols, a driving force behind the WNC Disc Golf Club who designed the original Richmond Hill course, submitted seven different proposals for the new course, all of which were rejected on environmental grounds. An original plan for the park, which included ball fields and a large paved parking lot, was scrapped for the same reason after construction caused erosion problems.

In the months following the course’s closing, many enthusiasts began searching for a new place to fling their Frisbees. “Most people thought it wouldn’t happen,” said Nichols. “It was only a core of the Western North Carolina disc golfers that believed in it.”

Doubters aside, on a rainy, blustery afternoon earlier this spring that dream seemed a lot closer to realization. Nichols’ eighth design had been approved, and more than a dozen disc golfers mobilized for a run-through on the new course, playing and cleaning up the fairways as they went.

Eric Marx, an Asheville pro who’s placed high in national rankings, said the dedication displayed by local enthusiasts is nothing unusual in the disc golf community.

“The majority of the nation’s courses are the direct result of the effort put in by the local disc golf community,” he said. Ironically, noted Marx, local governments often support the construction of little-used tennis and basketball courts, while it often takes a degree of arm-twisting to get officials behind disc golf courses that ultimately see heavy use.

WNC Disc Golf Club President Nathan Keller has been working with Nichols and others for months to get the course ready in time for the Mountain Sports Festival. “It’s all about spreading the love of the game,” he said. “Just having a place where 600 people a week can come.”

There will be a lot more people than that on the course for the Mountain Sports Festival weekend. Recent years have seen some of the finest professionals in the sport come to Asheville for the tournament and to test their mettle on the obscenely hard par-57 course.

The notorious difficulty of the old Richmond Hill course led one world-class pro to complain bitterly about the design. Yet Nichols suggested—with evident satisfaction—that those who thought the course was tough before ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“There’s going to be a lot more up and down than the last course,” he said. “This is a professional-level course.”

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