Good News from A Great City
The night before The Heartbeat of Haverhill was to visit the new Clement Farm Disc Golf Course in Haverhill, it poured the kind of rain that swamps gullies and stalls cars. It never seemed to let up and by morning it was still alternating between misting and sprinkling. THOH called the founder of this course Andrew Fonseca and suggested today might not be the best day for a visit, the photos might not be attractive enough, and certainly no one would be playing so we’d not get a real feel for the sport. We were wrong.
People play disc golf at any time in any weather, and nothing New England can throw at them is likely to cause a postponement. Rain, no problem the course is designed to stay playable, snow just makes the baskets more visible. And according to Andrew “If the snow is deep people can go out and shovel, though usually walking paths eventually emerge as more people play after a storm. (Some people even tie ribbons onto the discs so they stay on the surface if the disc is submerged in snow).”
We arrived at 1314 N Main St, Haverhill, MA at 9:04 am and saw Andrew tossing a disc quite an amazing distance “just for practice.” The course “hours” are the same as the property (and other city parks) – dawn to dusk, year-round.
Eagle Scout and lifetime Hillie Andrew Fonseca conceived of the idea and pitched it to the City of Haverhill to get the ball rolling, or should that be ‘disc flying’. Clement Farm Disc Golf Course took 2.5 years of effort to get from concept to city approval to begin development this past April 2016. The group first looked at the land around Winnekenni Castle, but the City did not feel that was a good match, while still being very supportive of the course. The project was redirected to Clement Farm Conservation Area.
THOH had a lot of questions……
Is Disc Golf here in Haverhill for the long run? Disc Golf was started in California in the late 1970s where it is an obsession. It’s in many countries around the world, but for some reason, the East Coasters were slow adopters, though folks in Maine are pretty committed. Players travel all over for good courses. The nearest towns that also have courses are Amesbury and Topsfield so Haverhill is in a good position to be a heritage location. Clement Farm Course is recognized by the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Can anyone come out and play? Yes, and it’s free, and has ample parking in a lot at the meadow where the first hole tee and practice baskets are located.
How much is the equipment? Can you just play with a regular type of Frisbee(T)? Cost is significantly less than a bag of golf clubs. You typically play with four discs: distance driver, fairway driver, mid-range, putter. Discs can cost as little as $15 each and based on size and color options should prove much easier to find than an errant golf ball. If you just want to try it out, by all means give it a shot with a regular Frisbee(T) or other disc. Certainly, you can invest thousands in the equipment though that is far from necessary to have a good time. One place to learn more about the different discs is at Innova Discs
How long is the course? The entire 18-basket course loops over about a mile, 5,969ft to be exact, and as reported on the Professional Disc Golf Association website the holes range as follows: 7 holes Under 300ft; 7 Holes from 300 – 400ft; and 4 holes Over 400ft. Total course par is 56. Course Designer: Bill Stewart and JD Dickison. It may take a twosome 1.5-2.0 hours to play all 18-holes, but because course play is more or less self-directed, you can play for as long a time as you have available, or as many holes as you like.
How often does the course cross paths with hikers and dog walkers? The course was designed to minimize use of areas where both would be, but where they might meet, we tried to ensure broader visibility, and recognize that non-players have the right of way.
Who paid for the course to be built? Is it finished?
Andrew: “We applied for and received grants, support from Disc Golf groups, we fund-raised online, but the volunteers and donors cannot be overestimated for their tremendous contributions to the creation of this course. The City of Haverhill, the councilors and Mayor were all very helpful throughout the process. It is not finished, we recently got a really great deal on pavers so our intent is to have them installed at each tee box by December, we’d like a more visible street sign, to have multiple distance tees, and we will also monitor play to learn if specific holes would be better if modified. Though the course is completely playable now, we’re looking to have our ‘official’ Grand Opening sometime in April 2017.”
Clement Farm is Conservation Land. Is it being harmed in the process of converting it to a Disc Golf Course?
Andrew: “First, the Course takes up very little of the Conservation Land. We used pre-existing openings from logging roads for the holes and cleaned out debris and fallen trees that might have blocked walking paths. We were carefully scrutinized by the Trails Committee, and the Conservation Dept. We’ve actually improved the hiking experience by creating a wooden bridge over one section of the stream. We can’t promise perfection, but we strictly promote “Carry In, Carry Out” trash policies, and our volunteers and players alike, often clean up trash left by others.”
What’s special about this course?
Andrew: “The different elevations, and landscape, the enormous variety of plants that grow in the area, like many courses, this one was designed to highlight the natural landscape, including signature trees and other features, the fact that it is family friendly… these things make the course itself unique. What makes Disc Golf special are the players who are respectful of the land and the neighbors, who look out for and report found discs, who work to make the experience a very positive one, and literally help build and maintain the course. NOTE: We are always, looking for volunteers so if you love the course and want to help out go to our Haverhill Disc Golf Association FB page.”
How do you stay safe during hunting season?
Andrew: “We haven’t heard any shots close by so we’re not aware of how close hunters can legally come to this land, however, this was a designated hiking trail long before we got here, but we’d advise anyone to call the City if they have concerns about how nearby hunters might be, always take precautions, wear bright colors, and be aware of your surroundings.”
Do you win a million dollars if you get a hole in one like on some golf courses?
Andrew: “No, but who knows what will happen when we bring tournaments with major sponsors to this course, including one already planned for next year (Our first official tournament, the Boom Sauce Open, is planned for May.) By the way, we’ve already had a report of a hole in one on the course.”
THOH was having difficulty with the camera – keeping the lens clear and working through issues of mist making the lens stick, refusing to extend and retract. That was a good signal to wrap up our meeting, but then shortly before 10 am, a group of six men from Pelham, NH moved to the first tee. They graciously agreed to be photographed. The six different men had six different driving techniques. One was so unique we asked if the player had been a shot putter in high school or college. The answer was ‘no’. He’d just found a way that worked for him and was sticking with it.
Newbies – If you ever bought into the belief that “Golf is a Good Walk Spoiled”, (a quote regularly but most likely erroneously attributed to Mark Twain), consider Disc Golf. You probably already know how to throw a Frisbee and all the rest is finesse. Take an hour and give it a try, don’t even keep score, and if we meet, we’ll wave you on in case we slow things down to photograph the awesome scenery along the way, just don’t forget to report back.
(c) Alison Colby-Campbell