Featured Stories


McCormick Park's rugged woodland course makes for difficult challenge

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - A hill looms behind the basket marking the fifth hole at the McCormick Park Disc Golf Course in St. Helens. Coming down the hill presents a birdie possibility, but get ready to make up for it on a difficult hole number six.Of the six courses over five locations chosen to host the 2014 PDGA World Championships, none are so new and so rugged as the course at McCormick Park in St. Helens. Originally approved by the St. Helens City Council in February of 2013, work parties began in late April, and as of November, around half of the concrete tee pads had been poured. The last of the 18 baskets were in place by late December, and with the world championships just a few days away, the friends of the young golf course have only to do a little clean up, check for hazards like poison oak and polish off the new tee signs by each concrete pad.

At the moment, though the group of volunteers has put in countless hours of work to ready the course, it's still a little fresh and will need some time to naturalize and settle into a weathered rhythm. Regardless, with the heavy lifting of clearing brush, installing the baskets and pouring the concrete slabs out of the way, not much should change by way of the course's layout.

The course at McCormick Park isn't one to take lightly. Holes range in length from the 194-foot hole five to the second hole, which stretches 456 feet as a par 4, and the hills and tight quarters are enough to challenge even the more experienced disc golfers. Using a typical Frisbee, such as one used for ultimate Frisbee or playing on the beach, isn't a no-no, but buying a simple set of professional disc golf discs makes the long tee shots far more possible.

Here's how the brand-new course breaks down:

Hole #1 – Par 3

Standing on the tee for the first hole at McCormick Park Disc Golf Course, players are presented with an early test. For experienced players and those using a professional set of discs, the initial shot over Milton Creek is little more than an afterthought. The water sits around 40 or 50 feet from the concrete with the pedestrian bridge to the left and the heart of McCormick Park to the right, but the distance is just far enough that inexperienced golfers might find it less risky to toss to the near bank of the stream and cross toward the hole on their second shot rather than lose a disc in the creek. The first hole finishes uphill with decently rough, rocky terrain but enough room between trees to easily reach the basket.

Challenges: Water hazard

Hole #2 – Par 4

The second hole is a lengthy par 4, resting along the creek with a view of the lawn at the center of the park. Play opens up immediately as the golfer climbs the slight hill onto the fairway, veering to the right and following the stream bank until the hole becomes visible around the corner. A few small trees protect the hole, but the biggest challenge isn't the obstructions, it's the length: 456 feet.

Challenges: Water, distance

Hole #3 – Par 3

After a solid walk down one of the park's many groomed gravel trails, the third tee will jump out of the bushes along the right side, between the path and the long bend of the creek. This hole, along with the first hole, has a larger water hazard than any other on the course. The tee shot isn't difficult, and the narrow fairway has space between the bounding trees, but if the players' disc goes awry to the right, they'll quickly be searching for it in the brush at the edge of McNulty Creek. Once the hazard is past, only a few trees protect the hole in the final third.

Challenges: Water, distance

Hole #4 – Par 4

At 319 feet, this par 4 is a definite opportunity to either hit par or go for a birdie, depending on your skill level and equipment you'll be using. The first several hundred feet are clear and open, with few obstructions to knock a good drive out of the air prematurely. The fairway bends to the right, where the fourth basket sits in a slight depression, protected on the right side by a reasonably thick stand of trees. Snaking a shot through here is difficult, but possible.

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - A path winds its way down the hill between the tee and the basket on the fifth hole, one of the most picturesque and birdie-friendly on the course.

Hole #5 – Par 3

One of the easiest and most picturesque holes on the course, hole 5 holds a chance at a birdie even for inexperienced players, provided they get a good drive off the tee. The reason: the 5th fairway drops off a cliff a few feet in front of the tee, which sits just 194 feet from the hole. The cliff face – more of a steep hill with a footpath running down it – is mostly clear of obstructions, making the small number of trees bordering the last quarter of the fairway the only real challenge.

Hole #6 – Par 5

Whatever ease is given players on the fifth hole is more than made up for on the sixth. It's one of the longer challenges on the front nine, heading down an open fairway before jumping up the same hill players came cascading down a hole earlier. Trees block the easy pathway up the hillside, and the hole itself sits perched atop a collection of rocks at the top of the hill. Use caution here, as a miss could send a players' disc flying down the other side of the hill.

Challenges: Length, elevation

Hole # 7 – Par 3

After a brief stroll at the park's edge, the pathway opens into the oak savannah that dominates the back half of McCormick Park, setting a far different backdrop for the seventh challenge. Instead of trees to watch out for on the first half of the fairway, players will be able to drive over a field of dry grass, turning slightly to the left to find the hole hidden behind a clump of oak trees and down a little hill. As easy as the field section is, the seventh hole is a long par 3 at 387 feet from tip to tip, especially if players can't make sense of the trees protecting the hole.

Hole #8 – Par 4

Perhaps deserving of a par 5, the eighth hole presents a unique setting for players unfamiliar with the course. The tee sits a little lower than the fairway, which slopes up and sharply to the right. As the fairway slopes down once again, players will have to veer strongly to the left to find the hole at the top of a hill, completely hidden until they're less than 100 feet away. Hearing the disc hit the chains with a score of less than 6 is a relief here. Watch for poison oak along the right side of the fairway as it turns to the right.

Challenges: Distance

Hole #9 – Par 4

The longest par 4 on the course, this time sitting at 484 feet, the ninth hole is fairly free of obstructions as long as players can keep their drive on the fairway. After climbing a slight rise, the course drops once again until the hole becomes visible in front of another swath of savannah. Little surrounds the basket by way of protecting trees, and once the hole can be seen from the top of the small hill, it's a straight shot.

Hole #10 – Par 3

The second half of the course begins with a simple 230 foot, par 3 that's more or less a single jump. The fairway narrows slightly, but players won't have to worry about bending a shot around any trees.

Hole #11 – Par 3

A narrow fairway greets golfers at the 11th hole, restricting options for where players plan to land their tee shots. Thankfully, 11 is a fairly short par 3, and though the hole is protected by surrounding trees, the middle of the fairway is open enough to facilitate an easy move through the center of the 11th challenge.

Hole #12 – Par 4

The first thing most players will notice about hole 12 is the strange tree blocking their way about a quarter of the distance down the fairway. A scribbled note on the old temporary tee sign claims that golfers who can squeeze a disk through the hole in the tree with a well-placed drive will be credited with a hole-in-one, but should they miss, there are plenty of things to be concerned with. At 471 feet, it's the second-longest hole on the course, dropping off a steep hill about halfway down the sloping fairway. Golfers should be careful when taking their second shot. A good toss can land near the tee, but hitting a tree could cost a player more than one stroke. A heavy tree cover protects this hole from unsuspecting tossers.

Challenges: Distance, trees

Hole # 13 – Par 4

Another long hole, this time 404 feet, the 13th hole winds along the creek and bends first to the left, then to the right before the hole becomes visible atop a small rise. There's not much tree cover around the hole itself, but getting there in decent shape requires some well-placed tosses to snake around the pair of bends. In spite of its close proximity, if water is a challenge here, you're doing it wrong.

Hole # 14 – Par 3

For those who have a decent knowledge of poisonous plants in the woods, there's one big thing that will stick out near the tee: stinging nettle. It's a leafy green plan that tends to grow in bunches and straight up, with broad, jagged-edged leaves in balanced bunches of four around a square stem. The main reason for the warning is twofold: keep the disc out of the bushes on this short hole, or you'll suffer more than added strokes. It's not a difficult offering, just a slight bend, sloping down and to the left where the hole becomes visible behind the tree line on the left side.

Hole #15 – Par 4

Getting to the 15th hole can be a little confusing, as it requires golfers to cross the breadth of the course, passing the fourth and sixth tees before finding the 15th near the edge of the park itself. The hole itself isn't too difficult. A flat fairway stays open until it glances sharply to the right, forcing golfers to swing around a small stand of trees and on to a “green” where the hole sits isolated.

Hole #16 – Par 4

Another lengthy trot awaits before reaching the 16th hole, which lies nestled and hidden from golfers walking between the second and third challenges. The 16th scoots through a narrow collection of trees before reaching an open fairway and bending to the left. Aside from a handful of small trees in the center of the fairway, the path to the unprotected hole is mostly clear and easy.

Hole #17 – Par 4

Perhaps the best place on the course to stop for a picnic, the 17th tee sits hidden in a corner at southeastern corner of McCormick Park. Trees provide a wall on either side of a long, narrow stretch of fairway before the challenge opens to a grassy field. At this point, heading toward the more open section of the field is tempting, but the hole lies to the left and at the back end of a small clearing. Once the hole is visible, and as long as strokes aren't wasted by going the wrong direction, this hole makes for an easy finish.

Hole #18 – Par 3

The second-longest and most complicated of the handful of par 3s, the final hole is as rugged as any section on the course. The fairway is also wider than any of the others, and though there are trees sticking out from the edges of the bushes, there is more than enough room to zoom down the fairway to the point at which the basket becomes visible down a small hill.