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Messiah hopes to engage public with new campus disc golf course

The game quickly becoming a world-wide phenomenon found a place at Messiah College this summer. Completing each hole in the fewest number of throws with the target of an elevated metal basket, disc golf tops the lifetime fitness chart and is the perfect sport for all ages, shapes and sizes. By installing a course at Messiah College, students, alumni and faculty members hope for players to engage in the beautiful campus while getting great exercise.

As many question the exact birth of this game, most experts give credit to George Sappenfield. Discovering that kids could play golf with Frisbees in 1965, Sappenfield presented the idea to Ed Headrick, an employee of a Frisbee company. Gaining popularity, a group in Rochester, NY held the first national disc golf championship in 1974. Two short years later, Headrick, deemed the “Father of Disc Golf,” started the Disc Golf Association. Today, the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) governs and sanctions rules, tournaments and its 40,000 members. The PDGA predicts 8-12 million people play the sport, estimating a 12-15% annual growth rate. With 3,485 courses world-wide, disc golf continues to spread around the globe.

Originally starting as an “object course,” players would target trash cans, light poles and tires as their holes. Today, cities or parks house the course, using woods and terrain as an extra challenge. Similar to the game of golf, players must take each throw from where the last throw landed and the lowest combined score wins. The appeal of the game stems from the accessibility and affordability of the sport. Participants do not need to pay, have a tee time or play the whole course at once. It also serves as a great physical activity, providing upper and lower body conditioning, aerobic exercise and little risk of injury.

Messiah College, recognizing the diverse appeal of the sport, decided to build its own course on the college’s 471-acre campus. The course, free and open to the public, has a mix of par 3 and 4 holes, concrete tee pads, a highly-technical wooded section and the option to play six, nine or 18 holes. Anthony Caito, manager of Messiah’s Collaboratory and member of the PDGA, informally polled students about having a disc golf course on campus a year ago. After receiving high levels of interest, Caito drafted a proposal, got approval from the administration and construction began this summer.

“The course design process has become much more than a creative technical endeavor; it has become an educational service-learning opportunity for students, faculty, employees and community members,” says Caito.

Engaging these students, faculty, employees and community members stands as one of the main purposes in constructing the course on campus. Making it easily accessible, students can borrow a disc from the Larsen Student Union or purchase a couple of discs in the campus store. Scorecards and maps can be found at hole 1 next to the covered bridge. Administrators in this project also plan to start a student club that will play weekly and host PDGA tournaments. Currently, a couple students practice on Messiah’s course and attend tournaments held in the area.

“We practice whenever we have a free afternoon and I am hoping to improve each time I go out. I think it’s good to have an activity on campus that nearly anyone can participate in; the course is designed in a way that any skill level can play, but will still challenge even the most experienced players,” says Dana Halteman ’13.

Additionally, the College hopes for players to experience more of the campus, providing scenic settings while enjoying the game.

“We had the space to develop a course, it is something all ages can have fun doing and it introduces individuals to beautiful parts of our campus. Walking is a wonderful exercise, especially when you add the challenge of hills and uneven terrain. It can improve cardiovascular health, strength and balance,” says Doug Miller, professor of health and exercise science and the Wellness Director at Messiah.

One alum of Messiah College, Keith Miller ’05, serves as a consultant for the constructing of the course. A top-level amateur disc golf player, Miller took a few trips to Messiah to tweak and think through the layout of the new course. He hopes that as a result of the course many new players will join the sport.

As for himself, Miller began playing disc golf as a child, with give-away Frisbees and trees as the target. After graduating from Messiah, he began to play at a course near his house. Introduced to the idea of a tournament when he saw a man playing with a shirt from one, Miller has won several major amateur tournaments and is currently ranked number five in Delaware.

Miller says, “Disc golf has a way of working itself into your bones. There’s something about watching a perfectly thrown disc as it turns over to the right, flexes slightly, straightens out and then fades back to the ground that is pretty breath-taking. I can’t wait to see the impact it has on Messiah’s student body.”

If interested in the course and disc golf at Messiah, visit and “like” the Messiah College Disc Golf Facebook page!

Story by Emily Mohler `13.

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