The sun shone bright as brothers Ethan Parker, 13, and Nate, 10, threw discs with their grandfather, Charlie Parker, at the new nine-hole disc golf course on the hillside behind Lolo Elementary School.
The two boys had been out a couple of times to the course, which celebrated its grand opening Wednesday evening. Charlie said he loved the sport because it was an equalizer, something he could play with his grandchildren.
As Lolo Elementary physical education teacher Brian Jacobson said: “It’s basically taking a walk and throwing a Frisbee, which makes the walk more fun."
Before the course’s grand opening Jacobson gave a tour of the course to Jay Reading, a multi-award winning disc golf champion in town for the Zoo Town Open tournament, and Shane Anderson, a member of the Garden City Flyers, a local disc golf club.
As they approached the course the three ran into Parker and his grandchildren who promptly challenged Jacobson and company. Their competition was friendly, with the players exchanging laughs as their throws missed the basket and high fives when they were successful.
The course was a passion project of Jacobson, but he said its construction was a team effort. Students and staff of Lolo Elementary along with the Garden City Flyers participated in the course’s planning and construction, which spanned two years.
“I’ve loved the opportunity to share something I love with my students,” said Jacobson, who has been playing disc golf — often called "folf" — for 12 years.
It was important to Jacobson that the land the course was built on would be protected, ecologically, and that the students felt ownership and responsibility for it. The school district owns 14 acres, on which the school and course are built.
During the planning process the school took classes out on the land to study the flora, fauna and wildlife that lived there. Scientists were invited to study the land and teach students about invasive plants and erosion. Students also went on field trips to the Blue Mountain Disc Golf Course to see the course’s layout.
The layout of the Lolo Elementary School’s disc golf course was informed by what they learned from scientists and other local disc golf courses. There are more than 50 disc golf courses throughout Montana, Reading said.
Jacobson wanted to ensure that vital native plants were not trampled on, and that the course didn't encroach upon the deer habitat on the property. He wanted to teach his students to be stewards of the land.
The baskets were installed on the course last summer, but the Lolo fire —followed by the long winter — delayed construction, Jacobson said. After five work days this summer, the course is complete with tee pads and signs. The project was finished just in time for Jacobson to take his students out to the course and begin teaching them the rules and etiquette of the game.
Jacobson said the student and family response to the course has been great. One parent emailed him, thanking him for the course. Her son had autism and preferred to play indoors, but after going through the course at school, he brought his mom out for a game of disc golf. She said her son fell in love with the game and it has been a great way to get him outdoors more.
Jacobson hopes the course, which is free and open to the public outside school hours, will add to the recreational opportunities in the community. Disc golf is accessible for family with a variety of abilities and low cost. Reading’s organization, the Educational Disc Golf Experience, provided the school with three portable baskets, allowing for the game to be played anywhere.
“This course could be here 50 years from now,” Jacobson said.