While a traditional golfer throughout his life, Rex Christner of Hutchinson started playing disc golf a little over two years ago while visiting his son in Utah and “instantly fell in love with it.”
So much so, he put away the clubs and started buying discs, which are like Frisbees but smaller and heavier.
“It’s easier on the body, and it’s free,” said Christner, 67.
But while learning to play, he struggled on the two courses Hutchinson offered.
Neither, he said, is friendly to beginners. The course in Carey Park is long, while one in Rivers Banks Orchard Park is very technical, with lots of trees to get through or around.
“Orchard is not the place to learn,” Christner said. “Most holes have 30 or 40 trees to miss between the tee box and the basket, and it can get really frustrating. There are so many trees I lost a lot of discs in the first six months I played.”
“I got better,” Christner said. “But it got me thinking that Hutchinson could use a course more friendly for beginners and for families to play together sometimes. “
“When you play at Carey Park or Orchard, there’s a lot of trouble you can get into that makes it not as fun when you’re learning. It was always in the back of my mind it would be nice to open a park that’s easier, like in a lot of other cities.”
He’s now played on about 50 different courses across the country. Locally, both Buhler and Inman are easier.
Coming up with the course
Christner said he walks a lot, including spending time in Rice Park. Walking the trail, he began to study the park in more detail and decided it could be a good location for the type of park he had in mind.
Over last winter and into the Spring, he started talking to family members about constructing a course in the park and naming it after his late father. Keith L. Christner was active in youth sports, coaching Little League Baseball most of his life, Christner recalled.
With his family’s support, he then went to the city and pitched the idea.
Parks and Facilities Director Justin Combs reviewed sketches for a layout Christner had provided. They walked the park together, making a few adjustments to ensure no conflicts with existing park activities, Combs said.
Some holes, for example, are on the backside of the baseball and softball fields.
“We tried to limit the opportunities for discs to go over (ballfield) fences by strategically deciding where the baskets were,” he said.
They used locations on the Jim P. Martinez Trail as tee pads for a couple of holes, marking them with white lines rather than building new concrete pads.
“There were five or six places we didn’t have to put a hard surface down for the tee pad, saving a little bit of money,” Combs said. “If someone is walking on the trail or riding a bike, it’s common practice to wait on other users to get out of the way. We see that in other parks. We have some in Carey Park as well, along the trail, and it’s not an issue. Usually, the golf players are very courteous.”
In all, Christner said, the project, funded entirely through donations except for some labor by the Parks Department, cost about $20,000. The family donated about 75%, and the rest was other donations.
“The idea was always to build it and turn it over to the city to maintain,” Christner said. “With disc golf, all you do is keep the grass mowed.”
Putting together the pieces
Each hole has two concrete pads or tee boxes at different distances from the hole, like in traditional golf, with one closer to the wire basket. The baskets are set in concrete and permanently placed.
In Orchard Park, holes are set in the ground so the baskets can be moved around.
Each hole has a sign showing the distance and “par” or how many throws the average player takes to get a disc in the basket.
Once the prep work was done it only took four or five days to pour all the concrete pads, Christner said. The city then augured holes for the baskets, which they purchased from a nationally recognized disc basket manufacturer in Emporia.
“We got some private funding from individuals and a few companies who did promotional signage on each hole,” Christner said.
One of his children designed the signs, and they sent them to a company online to create. Below each hole sign is another with a QR code, directing players to a website that will track scores. The site, UDisc, also shows the locations of other disc golf courses in the state, country, and world.
At the start of the course, a large informational sign shows the course layout, with the path from each pad to the hole marked with red and blue swishes. It also has some general rules and basic player etiquette.
Hutchinson photographer Nick Hemphill created the aerial map for the sign using drone photography, which another family member then overlaid with details about each hole.
The back of the sign recognizes donors who contributed to the park with monetary donations or labor. There is also space to list details about future tournaments.
The family also donated some golf discs to the Boys and Girls Club of Hutchinson to encourage youth to learn the sport, Christner said.
“This is the perfect sport to get grade school and high school kids out to enjoy the outdoors and get them away from computer screens and phones for a while,” Christner said.
Christner and Combs said park users and nearby residents have been curious about the development of the course, but none have been concerned or raised any objections.
“They like to see people out using the park,” Combs said.
Hutchinson Recreation Commission Executive Director Tony Finlay said they’ll work with the Christner family to schedule a ribbon-cutting and youth tournament in the Spring, likely in April.