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Throwing Discs at Wells Branch Park

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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.


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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • I just learned to my dismay that this course was designed by my old amigo John Houck whose designs are generally very good and who has done better than this with small spaces – see Zilker Park in Austin, for example. It’s possible that it’s been modified (screwed with) since his design. I’ll ask next time I see him. BTW, there’s some interesting info on his site about the Texas Team Tournament.


  • Yes, I just got back from playing Waterloo for the first time in about 10 years and am working on a report. Might even have video with it.


  • Brian

    The Wells Branch Sunday Doubles tournament mentioned in the review is at 10am.

    The 9-hole course is maintained by the Wells Branch Munucipal Utility District (MUD), and the 9 alternate tee boxes for the course were set up by the local disc golf club for variety in the weekly tournament. Several portable baskets are aften brought out by local players on Sundays for additional holes during the tournament.

  • What kind of turnout does the Sunday doubles get? And is it random doubles or do you get to pick your partner?


  • Brian

    The 10am Sunday Doubles at Wells Branch is random draw. There are around 15-25 players on a weekly basis. (20 turned out on 12/11/2005) All entry fees (except any ACE carryover) are paid out to the top 1/3 of the winning teams (and CTP winner). In case of tie, players are given the choice to split the combined winnings among the tied teams or hold a sudden-death playoff of (long tee) holes 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 (which are clustered together near the parking area.

  • Sounds like potential fun if I can get my ass up that early on a Sunday and it’s not too hellishly cold. Thanks.


  • The Sunday random-partner doubles tournament has a carryover ace pot. You can view the carryover for the current week, a list of this year’s winners, and this year’s hole-in-ones at here