Disc Golf Comes to Portola

By Emily Compton

large group of people throwing discs outsideWhat are the new unidentified flying objects soaring through the air at the Portola, California Riverwalk? They are discs heading to one of the 18 baskets at the new professionally designed disc golf course in Portola.

Invented in the early 1900s in Canada, disc golf—which involves players throwing a flying disc at a target, typically a metal basket—has gained popularity across the U.S. and world in recent decades. The Professional Disc Golf Association has more than 70,000 active members, and there are close to 6,700 disc golf courses in the United States alone.

Most courses are nine or 18 holes, but some have more. Generally, disc golf “holes” are 200 to 400 feet from the tee box, where the hole begins, to the targeted basket, where it ends.

As in golf, each player takes a turn throwing their disc toward the target. After each player has thrown, the player whose disc is the furthest away from the basket throws next. The hole is complete when the disc lands in the basket.

The new sign with the names of individuals and businesses who donated to the course was unveiled in February. Photo by Julie Walton

A few locals kicked around the idea for a disc golf course along the Riverwalk in Portola about five years ago, but nothing ever came of it.

Enter Portola native Tim Rhode, who had been playing disc golf the past few years. One of the courses he went to was in Austin, Texas. That course was developed by John Houck, a world-renowned disc golf course designer. Tim met John Houck and they developed a friendship. Houck boasts a portfolio of more than 120 solo course designs and has worked on more than 100 co-designs, reviews, and consultations of other courses.

A premier course designer, he has courses ranked in the top three in the world on the Disc Golf Course Review website. John designed the Portola course along the Riverwalk—a paved walking and bike path along the Feather River right before the bridge.

Tim got approval from the Portola City Council for construction of the course and was given a budget of $15,000 for the baskets and signage.

Participants of the soft opening tournament make a celebratory first shot at the course. Photo by Linda Cooley

More than $31,000 was raised through donations from individuals and businesses—more than twice the goal—so the club was able to return approximately $10,000 to the city of Portola.

In designing the course, the group wanted to be good stewards to the land, working with the natural topography, making it as fire-wise as possible, while trying to disturb the land as little as possible.

Most disc golf courses are built in natural landscapes and require little maintenance.

The city of Portola was instrumental in the construction of the course. They poured 35 cement pads for the long and short tee boxes, and local city council member Phil Oles made most of the benches that sit along the course. The tee signs along the course were made by Scott Keogh from cedar trees cut down from the local area. The Elks Club and many other, mostly local, volunteers donated countless hours getting the course ready for action. Lauren Houston, owner of the Blairsden Garden Center, has donated and continues to donate many trees throughout the course.

Special discs were made for the soft grand opening. Photo by Linda Cooley

With the help of other volunteers, donations from individuals and local businesses, and the support from the city of Portola, the Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Course had its soft grand opening October 23, 2021. It was a wet month, but the rain held off for the kick-off tournament.

Terry Grim, Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Club president, says the course has been well received by the community, and that people old and young are excited to try it out.

Even after the big storm in December, players trekked through the snow to play. As the weather gets nicer, the club expects more people on the course.

Some players have made the trip from Reno to play here because the course has more trees and less wind than the courses they play in Reno. “People have come from as far as Hawaii and Idaho to play this course already. People from Europe are planning summer trips to play this course.” Said President Grim.

Course designer John Houck speaks to the crowd at the soft grand opening tournament. Photo by Linda Cooley

With long and short tees, the course is suited for experts and beginners, and open to anyone. The short tees are great for beginners and those not ready for the long tees yet which challenge even the top professionals thanks to the many tight trees throughout the course.

Those without the right equipment can borrow discs from a box at the beginning of the course and the course is free to play. The official grand opening tournament is scheduled for Saturday, June 11.

The group plans to host disc golf leagues during the summer for all ages and skill levels. They also plan to work with the schools to get the local youth out on the course to learn about the game of disc golf.

On July 9 to 10, the course will host professional and semi-professional players for one of six tournaments in the prestigious Sierra Tahoe Series that take place during the summer throughout Northern California and Nevada. For more information, visit the Portola Riverwalk DGC website, where you can become a club member for $25, or support the course with a donation.