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Push for disc golf course in Hilltop Lake Park angers some on council

on April 5, 2021

Late this winter in Hilltop Lake Park, people wondered why Richmond city crews were yanking out shrubs and clearing an expanse of green. 

Some asked their City Council members, only to find that they, too, were puzzled. 

A council member took the question to the city manager, who also was unaware of what crews were doing in the park. 

As it turns out, they were making way for a disc golf course that the nonprofit East Bay Disc Golf Club hopes to open in the park. The club didn’t realize the plan would upset some nearby residents and park users and incense some City Council members. 

The mixup put the brakes on the plan, which will return to the Recreation and Parks Commission on Wednesday and could make its way to the City Council. 

Nathaniel Bates called it the most embarrassing experience he’s had as a council member. 

“What kind of city do we run where people can arbitrarily do anything they want without going through the due process of a public hearing?” he asked at the March 16 council meeting. 

Apparently, the Recreation and Parks Commission gave the 18-hole course a green light in December, clearing the way for the Public Works Department to prepare the course for a spring opening. And the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council gave its consent in a January letter. 

City Manager Laura Snideman said she hasn’t been able to find any policy outlining procedures for such matters, though there is precedent. The commission gave the go-ahead for a soccer field in 2018 without the Planning Commission’s or City Council’s involvement. 

But Eduardo Martinez, who formerly was on the Recreation and Parks Commission, recalled that there was an established process and that it ended with the Planning Commission or council. He said he was  “very, very angry” about the way the disc golf club’s request was handled. 

The club’s president, Jon Braidman, said his group would set up the course at no cost to the city and that hundreds of players already had volunteered to help with that. He said he thought the club had gone through the proper channels. 

“If the people do not want the course to be installed for free, that’s fine with the club,” he said. 

Martinez asked if one of the club members involved with the project was Andrew Butt, the son of Mayor Tom Butt and a former member of the city’s Planning Commission. 

Braidman said Andrew Butt is part of the club but is not a board member. He also addressed the council’s questions about why there are tournament fees if the club says it makes no money. He said the fees cover the costs of discs and prizes for winners. 

Several residents spoke against the proposal during the council meeting, with safety being their top concern. One mentioned being injured by a disc during a walk in another Bay Area park. 

Several club members promoted the plan, saying disc golf has been played safely for 40 years and has a large following in the region. 

The sport emerged in the 1970s and has grown to more than 2 million players worldwide on more than 8,000 courses, which mostly are in public parks. It is similar to golf, except that instead of clubs and balls, players sink discs or Frisbees into elevated baskets. The discs range from putters to drivers and weigh less than half a pound. But they travel fast, at more than 40 mph, leaving little reaction time for people who inadvertently may be in the way. 

Because Hilltop Lake Park is a favorite for walkers, bird-watchers and families, council member Gayle McLaughlin joined residents who said it wasn’t appropriate for disc golf.

Since the meeting, the club, through its Facebook page, called on members to fight for the course by emailing council members about what the sport means to them and how it could benefit the community.

4 Comments

  1. Robin Lape' on April 6, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    OMG…disc golf at Hilltop Lake Park??? Are they crazy? I know that much has been said about the human and wild life that will be affected by this “sport”–if that is what you want to call it. I have already written letters to a couple of people regarding my thoughts, and opinions of what I feel is a ‘blood sport’ that will
    make ruination of a culture of peace and tranquility for the residents and animals who make continuous use of the Hilltop Lake Park.
    It feels almost like Hollywood “Hunger Games”, when it comes to the lack of empathy of those who think that taking something (the park )that does NOT BELONG to them and start renovating it for their own ‘pleasure’ when some
    people have already been hurt by these hurling discs.
    The effects of this kind of ‘take over’ are atrocious to say the least, and to
    simply say (after destruction has begun) that “I didn’t know it wasn’t ok’d to
    go and start the project”– I might add without permission. My goodness, where
    do we live anymore, when ‘people in power’ send their cronies out to scout a
    place where the lives of people and animals could become an “endangered species”?
    There is a school for autistic disabled people on Lakeside Drive who walk from the
    school to the park 5 days a week and will not be able to use the park with flying
    objects (at will and any time of day) during their time of usage. To change their routines is also a subject for public comments. Due their disabilities things changing ‘too quickly’ for them could have adverse affects (negative). Has anyone even bothered to look into this aspect of this transition from peaceful park to
    ‘sports arena’??
    California is a big big state, and I am sure that there is plenty of other “WIDE OPEN
    SPACES” to hurl things where no one (with two legs or four) roam. I am but one
    little old lady, but I want my voice to count for what is good for my community,
    and this ‘certainly is NOT a good thing’ no matter how you look at it. I call it an
    abuse of power by the part of society that has lots and lots of money, and thinks
    that they can do whatever they want to appease (by selfish means) their own
    foolish pleasures. Hoping and praying this project is not just ‘put on hold’, but stopped by the fair majority of the Richmond citizens who still have a voice and the back bone to stand up for what is RIGHT for this beautiful area of Richmond–the elderly, the disabled, the animals, trees, and businesses who make daily use of
    this piece of Richmond HISTORY.

    • Brady Och on April 7, 2021 at 6:00 pm

      I won’t address most of this comment, but I will say that contrary to one statement, it is actually extremely difficult to find space to out courses in California. Compared to the number of players in the area, the bay area actually has some of the fewest courses per player in the entire country due to the high cost of land. There are people among the area’s clubs that look for usable areas and make proposals for new courses frequently, but it is difficult to gain access to land that they can build courses on. I am an avid disc golfer, and the lack of courses in the area is quite frustrating to me as I previously became accustomed to having a plethora of options around the Minneapolis area prior to moving to the bay.

      I admittedly don’t know much about this specific park, but it seems the ideal scenario would be a situation where disc golfers and other park users can enjoy the park in harmony. If the course does go in, I hope that all the park users can get along and I am sure that many residents of the area will try disc golf and find it to be a wonderful way to spend some time outside.

  2. Sebastian Fox on April 7, 2021 at 6:46 am

    It sounds as though there is some fear in Richmond around the misunderstood sport of disc golf. I started playing disc golf with my wife and our two children (age 4 and 7) last year when the pandemic put a hold on most other sports. What I found was an incredibly supportive community of people of all different ages that were respectful and patient. I have witnessed numerous disc golfers picking up trash as they go and not one leaving any behind. Unlike ball golf (as disc golfers call it) it is an incredibly accessible and affordable sport that can be played by just about anyone. We have made friends with people ranging in age from 7 to 70. And though I had nothing to do with it personally, I was once stopped by a course neighbor in Santa Rosa and thanked for how much cleaner and safer the park had become since disc golfers had started playing there and caring for the place.

  3. William Shea on April 9, 2021 at 12:39 am

    I fully support and endorse the disc golf community and it’s community members. As a former behaviorist aide for autistic students on the spectrum I would be willing to donate time and energy to introduce and teach the sport of throwing frisbees to children. In fact, I used to play frisbee golf in parks in Santa cruz during some of my sessions! This type of supportive community and spirit of acceptance is one of the greatest assets of this recreational hobby. A caring and dedicated village of people from all walks of life engage in this fun. And they are compassionate to all people/ nature and wildlife. I live in El Sobrante and I sincerely hope I can help donate my personal time and effort to build up this course and share it with all the folks in the area.

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