This is the first of a two-part story on the disc golf movement in Harrison.
Some things are simply meant to be amongst a growing sports world.
In the summer of 2011, Harrison Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) sports marketing director Matt Bell was looking for ways to add to the sports community and diversify the opportunities in the local area. He came across the sport of disc golf and began the pitch to put a course in the Harrison area.
Everything fell into place.
Bell contacted Russ Burns who is the owner/operator of Disc Golf Monkey in Springfield, Mo.
“Russ is the grand daddy of disc golf in this area,” Bell commented about Burns. “His tournaments are first class and his dedication is incredible. Russ is a very rare breed and is as good as it gets.”
In late July of 2011, Bell approached then president of North Arkansas College, Dr. Jackie Elliott and proposed building a course on the south campus of the college. Dr. Elliott gave it her blessing and the board of trustees approved to keep the course maintained once it was built. The next issue was to get the funding for all the necessary equipment and designing.
Things continued to fall into place.
Bell and Burns approached the Harrison City Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission (CATPC) and pitched the pros of having a disc golf course in the community. The commission voted unanimously to begin with the project on a trial basis while purchasing baskets and agreeing to have Burns design the course.
“Honestly, the project was almost too easy,” Burns mentioned about creating the course. “From start to finish, I was welcomed and allowed to design the way I wanted.”
Burns has designed over 50 courses in seven states including in Alabama, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Tennessee.
“Northark is special to me because of the beauty of the property that has so many features to play on,” Burns noted about his inspiration when designing the course. “The mix of terrain allowed me to design a very challenging course that tests all level of players. My goals were to design a course where players would come once and be challenged, and in awe of the beauty, they would want to come back to play again. I believe I was successful. It is definitely one of my favorites and I am thankful for the annual events because I get to keep enjoying the course.”
Start to finish, it took six weeks for Burns to complete the course. Upon completion near the end of September, he added Northark to the Disc Golf Monkey Tour and introduced the new course during the tour finale on November 12, 2011.
Sixty players were involved in the event with eight different divisions covering all different skill levels. Professional disc golfer Doug Wiegand of Springfield, Mo. won the two-round event with a five-under par 107.
Every year since the installment of the course, Burns has held the Northark Open in May. It is a very popular tour stop and has averaged more than 90 players per event.
According to the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) rules, only five players are allowed on a hole at any one time which creates a maximum of 90 players per event for an 18-hole course. To accommodate more players, Burns has used the practice basket as hole 6B and a temporary 7B hole is set out.
Recent contributions allowed hole 7B to be installed permanently. “It is a shorter shot that plays around a big beautiful tree that is next to the college’s green house,” Burns mentioned about the newest hole. “It can be played around either way so it is a potentially easy birdie hole for any player.”
There are several different throwing techniques for disc golfers and each one can be either challenging or incredibly helpful depending on the layout of the hole.
When asked about his design strategy, Burns commented, “I never intentionally design a course to be lefty or righty friendly. That said, often the land lends itself to one or the other. In my opinion, Northark is very neutral and has a great mix of holes that test all players equally.”
Burns refused to take all the credit for the work completed at the course and continually mentioned lots of help by Johnny Chism who is a Harrison resident. Chism is a fan of the sport and donated many efforts in the building of the course. He was also responsible for the redesign of a few holes that had to be moved due to the cross-country track being implemented. He also worked with the college and local businesses to add concrete tee pads and inscribing the posts for each hole’s signage.
Anyone who remembers the course back in 2011 knows that it looks very different than it did eight years ago. Chism worked with the maintenance department at Northark, the Harrison Disc Golf Society and many volunteers to continue developing the west side of the property to achieve what it looks like today. What was once a natural area is now more comparable to a park-like setting with nicely manicured grass.
“I like that we have a nice course and I enjoy doing outdoor stuff,” Chism commented. “It was enjoyable to work on it.”
There are many events during the year that are able to use the course to promote and encourage the growing sport.
At almost any time during the day, players can be seen trekking their way across the course. With the addition of league play over the years, the course stays busy accommodating players working on their game and playing friendly rounds of competition along with all of the events.