This post reflects only my views, not those of my sponsors, friends, associates, employers, or other affiliated parties.
I had my first opportunity to play the full installation of Suwanee Creek Park, and would like to express both support and concern for the park and course. I am always excited to see new courses going in, particularly with the full support of public entities, because it means better access to playing and exposure to the community. However, the design of Suwanee Creek is strange, and I foresee some significant user conflicts with pedestrians on the busy network of paths throughout the park. Those paths are an equally legitimate form of recreation; their existence precedes (and volume of usership may mean that they preclude) that of the disc golf course.
There are absolutely some interesting shots on this course, and some challenging and legitimate holes. There are also some terrible holes. I observed a recurrent theme throughout the course (holes 2, 5, 7, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18) where the intended fairway is either impossible to reach the basket, or much longer after the turn than before. I do not believe that a hole with few birdies (and requiring luck or a long putt to achieve same) necessarily constitutes a challenging hole; nor does lack of a landing zone suitable for its intended user group. In throwing these holes previously and today, I have often been frustrated by hole shapes-despite my efforts to manipulate my discs, some holes at this course truly are unreachable without an absurd amount of luck, but for most users, even beginners, they are not long enough to truly be multi-shot holes. There are also some unnecessarily small gaps that make several holes play unfairly--hole 10 is a huge culprit in this regard. Beginners, as well as advanced players, want to feel like they can have success in the game; holes that are poorly designed and don't have a repeatable and viable way of playing them (without being skill-level dependent) make the experience far less enjoyable for all users. In addition, being able to see the basket from the tee without walking for nearly half the hole is an underrated part of a positive experience--some blind holes are fine, 9 is far too many. Holes 2, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 16, 17, and 18 (long) are particular offenders of this suggestion.
Numerous holes are too close to other parts of the park, and bad shots or even good shots with unfortunate kicks will find their way onto paths, picnic areas, and paved areas. In the time I have spent in the park, I've seen on the order of 50-100 pedestrians per hour making use of the walking paths; that's already fairly busy; if it gets busier on weekends or other high-traffic disc golf times, then someone will be inconvenienced. I, too, want to believe the best of disc golfers, but I know that some are impatient, erratic, and occasionally you just don't see somebody until it's too late. I am not aware of the specific liability or legal ramifications to designers, constructors, or park owners for the possible accidents that may occur, but I do know that I make throwing mistakes as well as anyone, and that being hit by a disc hurts. Even in large parks, with disc golf set apart from other activities, there are bound to be some errant shots that find their way to strange places, but this park is something else. With a precedent
already set for lawsuits as a result of disc golf accidents, it is in our best interest to collectively minimize this possiblity. Most of us reading (or writing) this post and forum probably have some control over where our discs are going, we also have seen or played with players who can throw one high-speed driver in a general direction at a high velocity. The shots we need to prepare and design for aren't always the perfect ones, they're the ones 3 standard deviations beyond terrible.
This next point is more incriminating of the mind of a disc golfer than anything. I walk up to a hole, and I want to find the easiest way to get to the basket. Always. I'm not alone in this; most golfers want to find a way to "cheat" the design of a hole. So even though I want to believe that I can get to the basket, a frequent occurrence is a disc skipping, kicking, or flying through an area I might not have intended. For example, I played with a golfer today who threw a "hyzer line" on hole 17, that avoids the intended (absurd) fairway by throwing onto the path and attempting to skip down to the basket. The path above the teepad is largely a blind shot, but it's preferable enough that I could understand his logic in attempting to reach the basket that way. I think this is an instance where mandos won't really solve the problem, because the "fairway" is just plain dumb and golfers will try it anyway. On hole 13, I tried to skip a Firebird around the right side, and came within a foot of the path by punching through a thin wall of brush (likely to be trampled eventually). That's a pretty reasonable shot, one I could see many players trying--if that's what happens on a pretty straightforward hole, where else will we see golfers "cheating" the course and introducing unforeseen problems?
I believe that on every single hole, I could be within the circle and not have a putt at at least one spot. Whatever the design notes were for contracted clearing of the holes, they evidently did not include creating actual greens. This is one of the most frustrating things I find on a course; I wish to be rewarded for a shot that puts me close to the basket with a minimally obstructed putt--I do not mind mature trees, but vines, privet, new growth, and scrubby brush really doesn't serve much of an ecological niche, nor does it provide for an enjoyable experience to a disc golfer. In addition, many holes on the course were not adequately cleared in the throwing lanes. Branches, vines, and trees are still very much in play on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, and 18. I also think that a good design concept is to create an off-fairway density gradient that reduces the penalty for being just a few feet off the fairway; Suwanee Creek pretty much has fairway and ridiculous shule, but no early rough. All of these remaining obstacles combine to make a strongly invalid course. I hope that this is can be chalked up to the course not being a finished product, rather than its eventual state. Real greens benefit all disc golfers.
I was very pleased to see the addition of 6x6 steps; these are well-made and so long as they're anchored to a packed undersoil will be excellent erosion control on the most popular paths. I hope that the currently scraped paths on holes 2, 4->5, 5->6, and 6 will be either graveled or mulched to avoid compaction. The teepads, baskets, and signage are professional and more than adequate. The signs are well-made and sufficiently detailed, but the diagrams are often dramatically understated, and the posts are frequently oriented at insensible angles.
I am a little curious who has been involved throughout the conception, design, and construction of this course. My present understanding is that the designer and contractors responsible for clearing had some input from disc golfers, but evidently have not taken their ideas seriously. The shapes of these holes, size and placement of gaps, remaining obstacles in fairways, and proximity to other park features suggest to me that the involved parties are unaware of the mechanics of disc golf and what constitutes a quality hole. I hope that, for those of us who already play disc golf and want to see more courses in the area, this serves as a notice to the importance of having designers and constructors who are well-attuned to the needs and minds of disc golfers, and already have some experience with course design and maintenance.
Hole 1: This is a fine hole. I would like to see more clearing near the basket, but it's a fine, skill-level appropriate, and minimally intrusive hole. Some disc golfers I met today said they had been asked to move their bags from the walking path, which is where social dynamics suggest they're most likely to leave their bags--inviting a user conflict with the round hardly begun.
Hole 2: This is a pretty dumb hole. Its shape, as I indicated above, is longer after the turn than before. It wouldn't be terrible with more clearing on the left side after the turn, and a little more right and short of the basket. There are about four strands of barbed wire 100 feet short of the basket on the left side. I could easily see a hard, straight shot or a tree kick putting a disc into the street, which is a significant safety concern. The checkdam in the drainage hopefully won't be an ankle-breaker or result in more distributed flow around the area. Teepad for 3 is waaaaay too close to the basket.
Hole 3: This is also a fine hole. Clearing low shule within 25-30 feet of the basket would improve it greatly.
Hole 4: The birdhouse needs to go. I'm a little worried about the proximity of the amphitheater, but I haven't seen anyone using it yet. This is absolutely a hole where an off-fairway density gradient would be a dramatic improvement.
Hole 5: This is a very similar hole shape to 2. I haven't seen the wetlands really in play, and the green area is a good one. Still, the sharpness and length of this turn results in Not-A-Golf-Shot for many, many players. There is potential for conflict with the path, which is only about 20-25 feet past the basket.
Hole 6: A very solid hole from both teepads. Personally, think the short pad is a little unnecessary because the "water hazard" isn't much to speak of, even for a recreational player. I saw multiple shots get kicked to finish onto the walking path to the left. There is minimal clearing in this green right now, so a 15-footer might be impossible. 7's teepad is way too close, particularly since it's on the line that both drives reaching the pin, and upshots from the fairway are likely to come in on.
Hole 7: I don't have strong enough words for how bad this hole is. How on earth did this get approved? Did no one, in any of the walkthroughs, think to question the inevitable safety concerns associated with throwing directly at a walking path, for which oncoming users are blind from the teepad? I'd put even money on this being the hole that shuts down the course. I'm not even going to comment on the gap, the shule, the green, nothing, because this hole should not exist in its current form.
Hole 8: For a beginner course, one of the better holes. Short, straightforward, flat. No problems here.
Hole 9: A beefier complement to hole 8, and one of the better lines on the course. However, I feel that the 6-7 foot gap 160 feet off the pad, leading to the left basket position, is unfair and capricious. That gap is unnecessarily demanding; at that distance and width it's skill that gets you to the gap and luck that gets you through it--making it a dumb gap for my level, and a dumb gap for a first or second shot for most, if not all, players. This hole also needs to be cleaned out around the green. DGers are already creating a desire path from the walking trail, directly to the back of the teepad, which makes the sign's orientation and location inconvenient. That's something an experienced designer would/should have picked up on quickly.
Hole 10: This is a dumb gap. Discs do not fly this way. This is also a dumb gap for people trying to lay up, because the lane to the basket isn't very forgiving, and the "landing zone" is tiny. Basically, it doesn't suit any user groups.
Hole 11: Sort of an East Roswell #8 light. This is a fine hole for beginners, but not great for many others. Eventually, someone's vehicle, parked in a reasonable location in a parking lot, is going to get hit, or someone will throw over the fence into the retention pond.
Hole 12: This used to be a nice place to have a picnic, now it's a great place to get brained while you're trying to grill. Less than 30 feet from the grill to the short basket position. The walking path is also very much in play on this hole. I'll set the over/under on number of first-time users who actually play this hole at 20%.
Hole 13: A pretty good hole, and one of the more conspicuous to the walking path--it's good in the sense that it will be a good introduction, like #1, to non-disc golfers. I see some creative shots (skips, over-the-top, etc) interfering with the existing walking path.
Hole 14: Straightforward, solid hole. Going about 40 long could put you on the walking path.
Hole 15: We've got another good hole here. Off-fairway density gradient (most especially on the high side, as trimming the low side would increase the frequency of discs kicking/trickling down to the walking path below) would be a great inclusion. Hole 16's teepad is more or less on the line to the basket from the tee and fairway, and inside the circle.
Hole 16: This is a terrible and impossible hole. I can only imagine that the designer wanted to balance the course with an absurd right turn to balance the absurd left turns from before. There are plenty of branches, vines, and trees that need to go before this hole could even begin to be legitimate. It's only about 45 feet from the basket to 17's tee... not terrible, but not great either.
Hole 17: This is also a terrible and impossible hole. The fairway has numerous branches interfering with the flight lines. Any conventional shot using the fairway will not reach the hole, or even be within birdie range. The most successful shot I have seen, as I alluded to above, has been by throwing a skip shot off the path to the right. A better hole could have been achieved with a teepad downhill of where 16's basket is (assuming, of course, that 16 remained in its foolish state), and throwing uphill using the second half of the existing fairway on 17. There are also a ridiculous number of intrusive branches directly in what I must assume is the intended flight path for this hole. 18's long pad is pretty close to 17's basket.
Hole 18: Putting a basket 20 feet (+/- 5) from a pavilion is not a good idea in any possible way. I see that and say " great, a backstop, let's really rip on it". Any rational park user sees that and says "this picnic table is a good place to be". From the long/left pad, this is an awful hole. There is not a true route to the right basket without getting absurdly lucky, and the straight shot out of the existing gap results in being behind the pavilion. Numerous limbs remain in the throwing lanes. From the short tee, this isn't a bad hole, with the exception of where the basket is located. In summary, I applaud the city of Suwanee and those who have worked to get the course installed. I am worried that because of the small area of the park, and the close proximity of the course to other park features (including paths, pavilions, picnic areas, parking lots, and roads), there will be significant safety concerns that I fear may prove detrimental to future public support of this course in particular, and disc golf in general. I hope that as this course develops and changes, we will see maintenance of the throwing lines and greens to improve the playability of the course, but in its current and early iteration, I foresee issues arising. Please feel free to provide additional insight, tell me how and why I'm wrong, and anything else you care to do. I'm pretty invested in the growth of this sport, and I'm more concerned than excited about what Suwanee Creek can offer.