Disc golf finds a home on Cornell College’s historic campus

Don’t be fooled by the bucolic grassy vista that lies just below Cole Library, between West Science Center and Tarr Hall. In this postcard-worthy space of tree-covered hills and gliding geese lurks a hazard.

Officially called Ink Pond, it’s also the final resting place of more than a few golf discs lost in the pursuit of the ninth hole of Cornell College’s campus-wide disc golf course.

Disc Golf at Cornell College
Cornell College’s disc golf course winds its way over hills, through trees, and between historic buildings.

“Some like to shoot from the top of this hill for altitude,” said Harry Blackwood, whose Cornell student senate committee got the college’s nine-hole course up and running. Pointing to the basket 256 feet and one hillside away, Blackwood said regardless of skill or starting point, “You can throw and see it roll down into the water and you stand here, helpless to do anything. We lose a few discs in there each year.”

That there’s a water hazard and challenging terrain is part of the charm of Cornell’s disc golf course, which meanders through the entire central campus. Add to that the venerable architecture and ancient trees, and you have a course that is wholly unique.

Not just another pretty course

“This is one of my favorite places,” said Blackwood, a bit breathless from the steep climb to the tee pad of the ninth hole. Part history lover, part proud founding father of one righteous disc golf course, Blackwood explains what sits below: the meadow, the pond, the steam that puffs skyward all winter long from the chimney of the century-old campus heating plant below.

Playing the picturesque course is free to students and the general public. Thoughtfully planned, the course is a kick for the casual player, but a challenge for pros as well.

“This course, because of its setting, makes it feel very different, but in a good way. Enough of a challenge for the pro-level player, but would also work for a beginner. One of the best nine-hole courses I have played and would love to come back here again,” said one reviewer on dgcoursereview.com.

Cornell College Disc Golf Map
Click the image to see a larger map of the disc golf course

Plastic projectiles on a historic campus?

It took a leap of faith for college officials to locate a recreational sport on the lawn of the nation’s first college to have its entire campus listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

How would disc golf baskets look amidst the brick and limestone landmarks, they wondered? And might the 1857-era College Hall be too close to the sixth fairway?

In the end, the baskets blended right in, camouflaged by the campus’ ancient trees that are “used creatively on each side of the fairway,” according to another national disc golf reviewer. And College Hall? Well, when a disc finally sailed through a window one day, the basket was moved over a bit, Blackwood said.

Administrators breathe easy

John Harp, vice president of student affairs, is happy with the outcome. He describes students lazily playing rounds after supper, intramural tournaments created for the more organized of golfers, and the quieter summer days, with students gone, when faculty and staff hit the course over the lunch hour.

In short, he said, “It’s been a hit.”

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