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Anchorage's Westchester disc golf course closure was inevitable

  • Author: Scott Woodham
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published April 25, 2012

Let's be clear about one thing: Westchester Lagoon disc golf course wasn't closed down for the summer because of drugs, alcohol, noise, fights, or "a few bad apples." Those were just the symptoms. The disease was congestion, ridiculous congestion. Officials could've relieved that overcrowding by helping create alternatives, but for whatever reason, they never did. Now, they've taken the easiest route -- closure.

Westchester's course was notorious for being extremely crowded, a veritable favela of Anchorage disc golf. If you think cramming hundreds of people throwing projectiles in a mixed-use park and trail system is chaotic, make sure one or two groups try to play 18 holes even though there are only 9 targets. Under those conditions, even the ritziest stick-and-ball country club would now and then see a few wedges chucked, some close calls, shouts of profanity, and maybe even some minor assaults.

There are three main reasons that Westchester was the state's "most popular" course despite being, no offense, kind of a shabby place to play.

First, it was the most convenient course for most of the Anchorage bowl, close to workplaces and other city attractions. All of the other courses require people to drive a fair distance away from the city center.

Second, it was the only centrally-located, free course in Anchorage. One of the main reasons anyone likes disc golf is that it's basically free. A serviceable used disc can be purchased for less than 10 bucks -- which is a dollar less than what it costs for an adult to play a round at Russian Jack. Given that disc golf originated when more or less penniless people started taking frisbees on walks and throwing them at selected, naturally occuring targets, many players even today are philosophically opposed to paying a fee to play a round. Many people play disc golf precisely because it's a fun activity that doesn't put a bite on their wallet.

Third, and this is very important, Westchester was the only convenient, public course in town that catered to all skill levels. The only free, legitimately 18-hole course in town is at Kincaid, but even advanced golfers are challenged there.

Kincaid is no joke. It's hilly, boasts some impenetrably forested rough and narrow fairways, and features some of the longest holes in creation. All that makes it a serious challenge even for skilled players. If you don't know how to throw accurately there, you're in for a miserable day of bushwhacking. Kincaid's probably the best course in the state for solid players who don't mind a good hike. With some adjustments it could even be truly world-class, could host international tournaments, but it's not at all conducive to laid-back fun, which is what the majority of duffers want. One can't play Augusta National every day, after all.

Maybe city officials didn't know any of this, or maybe they did and just would prefer disc golf go away altogether, but those are the main reasons why Westchester was so crowded. And crowding was the main reason there reportedly were so many problems. Imagine if there were only 10 miles of cross-country ski trails in all of Anchorage, and four of those miles were steep uphills. Imagine if there were only six shooting lanes at Rabbit Creek Rifle Range just before hunting season.

People keep saying other courses will see more traffic now that the bottleneck at Westchester's been smashed, but there's no way Kincaid will soak up much of the excess. More likely, people will just not get out and throw discs as much, which would be a shame. Disc golf is easy to learn but hard to master, very cheap, and even offers good exercise for people who may desperately need it but can't handle or don't want intense activity.

If encouraging people to be more active is a goal of municipal Parks and Recreation, by closing Westchester, the department has failed to take advantage of disc golf's obvious popularity. Not everyone can drop hundreds on outdoor gear, and despite all Alaskan evidence to the contrary, extreme sports aren't the only way to have an active life.

In the aftermath of Westchester's closing, dedicated disc golfers with spare gas money will be able to make the trip to other courses, and more than a few people will probably still play guerrilla-style. Advanced players will be able to make Kincaid home, but people who are just learning will take one look at it and go rent a movie instead. Maybe the city's hoping more people will pay to throw at Russian Jack or Hilltop now, but that's very unlikely. People who play a lot of disc golf (say three times a week or more), aren't going to pay those green fees or drive to South Anchorage very often.

Municipal officials -- not park users -- are the ones really stuck deep the rough here. Park users were just doing what came easiest to them: Using the park they were most able to use. The municipality failed to recognize that a lack of alternatives was creating such severe pressure that conflicts, complaints and closure would inevitably result. And by closing Westchester's disc golf course without enabling an equal alternative, the municipality has done a disservice to the people of Anchorage, disc golfers or not.

Hopefully municipal officials will find a way to keep Alaska's largest city from becoming a dead zone for one of its most popular summertime activities.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Contact Scott Woodham at swoodham(at)