Tensions rising before the discs start flying

A battle has erupted between Bainbridge residents who want a disc golf course at Battle Point Park and those who are fighting tooth and nail to keep the park free from flying discs and rattling chains.

At a recent special meeting of the park board, tensions in the room rose as supporters of a disc golf course presented plans for the proposed course.

Disc golf is played by throwing rubber discs, like a Frisbee, from a concrete tee pad, toward a fixed metal basket. The object of the game is to get the disc into the basket in the fewest number of throws possible.

While the meeting was not scheduled to have any action taken on the proposal, it didn’t stop some members of the audience from voicing their anger and concern — or support and excitement — for the project.

Greg Scharrer presented a brief overview on how disc golf is played, what a course might look like, and the possible impacts to the park. He also addressed concerns raised by the park board at previous meetings.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time, compared to ball golf, which takes four or five hours,” Scharrer explained.

“It’s minimal impact, it’s a safe means of exercise and enjoyable for all ages, all genders, great for families and friends, a good thing for schools to include in their PE curriculum,” he added.

Scharrer also noted the course would likely have very little visual impact to the park as a whole.

“This isn’t going to be a big obtrusive thing. The baskets are very low profile; tee pads are extremely low visual impact,” Scharrer said. “Probably the thing we say most often is, ‘Where’s the basket?’”

After the presentation, some in the audience quickly made it known their opinions on the proposal had not changed for the better.

John Mitchell said he lived along Arrow Point Drive and that he and his family frequently used the park.

“Excuse me if I seem a little upset about this whole proposal, because frankly, I am,” Mitchell began.

“This proposal seems to be significantly worse than the last bad idea that I think came before the board,” Mitchell said, referencing a soccer field with lights for night games that was proposed years ago.

“I think this is much worse than that; that idea would just destroy the serenity of the park and it would increase traffic as well. But this idea involves actual destruction to the park and danger to the users of the park,” he said. “The damage that would be done to the park itself, the trees, the shrubs, the critters, the ducks, the geese and the danger it would present to the public that uses the park, including my family — is significant.”

“Everyone should understand, I have nothing against disc golf; I don’t care about disc golf. I don’t want it to destroy my park,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell also stressed safety concerns. He referred to an incident in California, where a woman settled with the city of Manhattan Beach for $3 million after she was struck in the eye and blinded by a flying disc in 2012. Before that case was settled, a 6-year-old boy also sustained a life-threatening brain injury in 2013 at the same park.

Opponents of the course also appeared to take to the streets recently, leaving letters denouncing the proposal on the windshields of cars parked in Winslow. Even so, on the Facebook group Bainbridge Islanders, many residents reacted to the letters by voicing their personal support for the disc golf course.

At the parks board meeting, others offered their endorsement for the disc course.

“There are users all around the island. It’s not a neighborhood park,” Masla said, “and it sounds like the first four speakers would like to keep it as a neighborhood park.”

“I don’t think they’ve been listening. We’ve been golfing in the park for the last nine months without issue,” Masla said.

Speaking to the inclusiveness of the sport, Masla said players both young and old could enjoy the course.

“There’s a wide group of people that are interested in it; older folks like me, and you have a younger generation, as well,” he said.

Masla also took a moment to note that in his own experience, he found disc golfers to be welcoming of newcomers and players of varying degrees of athleticism.

“They were so welcoming and respectful of me, and they have such a joy of golfing and they want to share it with other people,” Masla said.

The proposal will come back before park officials at the next park board meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 15 at the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center.

Park commissioners may vote then to approve or deny the proposal.

Tensions rising before the discs start flying