Coming up this weekend is one of the oldest Disc Golf tournaments in the world, the Waterloo Classic which has been played at Waterloo Park in downtown Austin since 1977. The tournament is so old that the course doesn’t even exist anymore. The park got too busy, so they took the baskets out in the 80s, but they bring them back once a year for a PDGA sanctioned tournament. In preparation for this weekend’s Waterloo Classic – or at least the doubles round – I went out this week to do some practice, both on my own mini-course and today at the most similar course I could find to Waterloo, the nine hole course in the Wells Branch greenbelt in north Austin.
Wells Branch is a 9 hole course which makes a stab at 18 holes by offering two different marked tee locations for each hole. It’s a nice, scenic park with a little, well-maintained creek running down the middle of it. The tees are marked and most of them have gravel tee boxes and signs showing the layout of the hole, though there are some maintenance issues relating to these, including a couple of missing signs and some pretty degraded tee boxes. The alternate tees are also nicely marked, with chunks of white limestone with the numbers painted on them. Overall the course is sort of reminiscent of other greenbelt courses like the nice 18 hole course in Carrollton, Texas.
The strong points of the course are the nicely laid out holes, the clean terrain and nicely trimmed grass. The holes are relatively short. There’s nothing over 300ft on the regular tees and nothing over 400ft on the alternate tees. It’s very reminiscent of courses from the 1980s, even though it was established in 1996 using baskets which I believe were moved there from the rather nice Walnut Creek course which got displaced because of construction. The short layout is well suited to beginners and those throwing older discs or traditional frisbees. This makes it a decent warmup for Waterloo, because Waterloo dates to the early days of disc golf so it’s a pretty short course too.
Unfortunately the course has major shortcomings. Because of the relatively cramped space in the greenbelt and the fact that it’s surrounded by apartment buildings and houses there are limits to where baskets and fairways can be laid out. It seems to me that whoever laid the course out went a bit overboard in trying to keep things in the confined space. There are a number of tees which could be pushed back farther than they are and there is some unused space which could be incorporated without causing problems, especially in the area around a large drainage field in the middle of the course and in the area on the south side of Wells Branch Parkway where holes 5 and 6 are located. One result of the overcrowding is that there are two places where baskets are located within 30 yards of each other which is just too close if the course is at all crowded and can confuse players unfamiliar with the course. Some flawed thinking also went into the tee boxes. Some of them are fine, but several of them (as pictured here) are fully boxed in and only about 6 feet long. I guess that would work okay for kids or dwarves, but even on a short range drive I need to be able to take two long steps without tripping over a stone border. Another purely personal complaint is that the baskets are DISCatchers, which I’ve never had much luck putting on. The big yellow top rim always seems to throw me off and bat my putts down remoselessly. Good practice, I guess, since there will be some DISCatchers at Waterloo as well.
On the whole, I’d recommend Wells Branch for kids and beginners and for the occasional diversion. It’s probably not a course I’d play regularly. If they moved the tees a bit longer and fixed some of the technical problems it would stand up better to repeated play and could still accomodate beginners pretty well. They’d need to bump at least two holes up to over 400ft on the regular course and probably 3 more to 300ft or more. It’s probably feasible, especially if they redesigned a couple of the holes near the various unused spaces from the ground up. They ought to take out one of the overlapping holes on the main part of the course and find a way to put another in the section on the north side of Wells Branch Parkway instead to make it worth the walk over there. It’s basically a recreational, neighborhood course, but they do hold mini tournaments there every Sunday afternoon, so it might be worth a stop by.