September 14, 2018

New Miami Disc Golf Course Can’t Match Old, but Is Still Great

Miami consistently provides exceptional recreation facilities that are used not only by students, but also by members of the Oxford community and visitors, who sometimes come here for just that reason. Here’s a shout out to the university for remaking the 18-hole disc golf course on Western Campus.

The old course was a tough act to follow. It wound through the area bounded by Patterson Avenue to the east and Route 73 to the north, back when that part of campus was sparsely populated.

The first hole was a medium length, open drive across the formerly open meadow, now home to new residence halls Beechwoods and Hillcrest, behind Bachelor. The old course dipped through stone archways and skirted water features, such as the big pond in the valley between the hills where the Art Museum and Peabody Hall stoically symbolize two quite different architectural ideals.

Disc golfers were an unassuming presence on Western. They arrived in small, older-model cars and left behind only the occasional lost disc—neon colored, heavy, smaller than a Frisbee—hopelessly obscured in dense thickets of honeysuckle and black raspberry.

A dozen discs, half buried in mud, testified to frustrating penalty points of yore, when the pond was drained for construction on the Western Drive bridge several years ago. My companion and I fished some of them out with sticks and took them home.

The buildings and grounds of Western made an idyllic backdrop for the original course. From a concrete tee pad near the bell tower, hole 12 required a tricky, sweeping downhill drive between three tall trees that, despite their skinniness, could wreck one’s chance to par. Kumler Chapel elegantly presided over the fairway below: a meadow where broad-trunked, elderly trees clumped together to block the view of the disc catcher.

Gloriously, hole 12 has been retained, even its number, though its distance has been slightly shortened. The course overall has shifted west into Natural Areas forest below the Western Lodge. This is the new wooded front nine, its crowning challenge hole 6: a narrow, tree-lined 585 feet.

I do miss the original front nine, which hop-skipped south across Western. It didn’t punish my short drives and poor aim. Hole 4 was truly enchanting. It required a medium drive followed by a hard right turn and another drive through (or more easily, I discovered, over) the footbridge leading to Mary Lyon Hall.

Now, hole 1 is behind the Art Museum and launches into the woods right away. I can see how experienced disc golfers might prefer this more difficult and isolated series of holes. It’s wonderful that the university found a way to use this pretty stretch of forest for recreation.

Disc golfers used to visit Oxford specifically to play the Miami course. Now they’re less visible, but it’s still possible to spot expert-level players from time to time, toting their water bottles and bulky bags of discs.

A good player can let fly a long, graceful drive that seems to defy the laws of physics, but actually depends on them. According to the disc’s shape, weight, and material, it can hook right or left, gradually or suddenly, and can even re-stabilize to curve back around, forming an “S” shape in the air.

An expert long drive is a sight to behold. I saw a few of them several weeks ago when I played the new course for the first time.

We had crossed paths with an Oxford native on a hometown visit who also remembered the old course. He was much more skilled, but we played a few holes together anyway. I didn’t ask whether he preferred the old course.

My companion asked him a different question. “Does Oxford have a soul?”

He looked steadily at the horizon and replied, “It used to.”  

Sarah Siff, webmaster of the Oxford Observer, teaches for Miami University’s Department of Media, Journalism & Film.