H.B. Clark, Disc Golf Course Architect, A short story of a lifetime of dedication to the sport: a 50 year obsession.
H. B. Clark PDGA # 553
The Early Days:
My first competitive play was on object courses (with disc golf being one of many events held in tournaments), and a member of the Western Kentucky University Frisbee team (competing in all around events, as well as a traveling Ultimate and Guts team). Disc golf was one of many events in the State Championships I chased across AL, KY, MO, and TN. My first permanent public course design along with my college roommate was in 1977 at Hobson Grove Park in Bowling Green KY. Complete with ribbons on trees and tee markers on the ground – we made maps so others visiting the park could follow and practice the course.
My introduction to the PDGA came with a phone call from Ed Hendricks in 1976, asking me to join the Professional Disc Golf Association that he was forming, hoping to get 100 of us competitive Frisbee players signed up to kick it off. After a long conversation, I agreed and picked the number “55” for my membership ID number to match my birth year. He noted Slaz (Steve Slasor) had picked that number. I postponed joining due to the high costs for a working man in college.
I later joined in 1977 after graduating from college and going to Florida for the Pensacola/Mobile KOA winter event hosted by good friend and event promoter Tom Monroe. That is also where I bought my first “disc out of a trunk” from Mike (Captain Snap) Conger and proceeded to hit my first ace with that Whamo 41 mold on hole one. After that event we went straight back to Hobson Grove and put two ribbons on the trees to simulate pole hole height putting.
Growing Disc Golf at home in Bowling Green KY:
It was April of 1978 when I hosted my first PDGA tournament – 9 hole object course – in Bowling Green KY. That tradition continues still, with only the 2020 COVID year missed. After seeing the baskets in Florida, we formed a disc golf club and raised money to make 18 homemade baskets for Hobson Grove. We played on those until 1982 when Ken Hendricks came to town to lay out Kereiakes Park’s 9 hole course sold by Ed at a Parks Show to the BG City Parks. Having heard about and now with photos of our homemade baskets, Ed proceeded to sue the City of Bowling Green and I for having these installed . . . for which I negotiated a settlement by us buying 3 baskets a year for 6 years, to keep the entire 18 hole course installed for players.
When the City Parks were installing the 9-hole course at Kereiakes, I saw that they were making mulch tees sideways – so I asked them if I could just finish the installation relocating to tees to longer positions and putting in concrete tees at my expense. This course is still in use (expanded to 18 holes) and I ran its first PDGA (as a player owned/ran organization) tournament, a PDGA World Disc Golf Championship Qualifier in June of 1983.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, and the City Commission voted to name the course the H.B. Clark Disc Golf Course @ Kereiakes Park; making me first non-city government person to have a public facility named after him due to all of the volunteer work given to the park. As we (the Bowling Green Disc Golf Club – now better organized and bigger than the 70s) continued to run our April event – we continued to add courses to the city and county parks so we could expand the tournament.
As President of the Bowling Green Disc Golf Club, in August on 1998 I led a proposal to the PDGA for the formation of another PDGA Major event hosted in Bowling Green – taking the success of our long running large Bowling Green Open and rebranding it as the US Disc Golf Open. The BOD lead by Rick Rothstein debated, as Jim Kenner had proposed that event but not held it, and Harold Duvall also was tossing around an idea named USDGC. Innova and Harold eventually got the nod – thank goodness!
There are now nine public18-hole courses in the city/county. We also took turns as the official TD, allowing the previous year TD to get to enjoy the next year as a player. The event grew to a point we split pros and amateurs up to separate events, and in 2017 I managed the 839 players with a staff of 50 . . . likely the largest PDGA tour event to date short of a few Worlds. I will host the 45th almost annual event April of 2023.
Growing the Sport:
Beyond events and courses taking my time – and with the exposure of the new course at Kereiakes Park in a more affluent part of town, I volunteered with the City of BG Parks Department to teach Community Education Classes to introduce Disc Golf to the city residents from 1983 to 1985. For a $15 fee I provided 2 golf discs, and 4 evenings of instruction on the course. It was in those classes that I met two young new Doctors to town from California who had been utilizing the walking trail in the park, and Dr. Rick Voakes got hooked!
I made a corporate move to Louisville Kentucky, and while there in the late 80s became the President of the Louisville Frisbee Club. Inc. It was during this time that I ran the 10th Louisville Disc Derby attracting 156 pro players and handing a $1000 check to the Open winner Steve Wisecup on the two temp courses we set up at Clark Park.
My formal teaching continued as I was invited to teach sessions of disc golf in PE upper level classes at Western Kentucky University for 10 semesters during the 90s. These future PE teachers (numbering 40+ each semester) learned how to throw, teach techniques, and of course play the game of disc golf on the 9-hole course I had volunteered installed on campus.
During the early 2000s I helped my daughter form a WKU disc golf team. This effort landed both of us in the WKU Club Sports Hall of Fame. We both were teaching the students disc golf, helping them learn how to run fund raising events, and even hosting the first United States Collegiate Disc Golf Championships. Later I was happy to give up this name when Pete May asked if he could take over that name of an event.
HB Clark Signature Course Design
The big change in my efforts to promote disc golf came in the early 2000s as I retired after 25 years with BellSouth/ATT and started a full time disc course design business. I wanted to bring my professional services to the industry utilizing my Environmental Engineering Degree and my years of practicing Civil Engineering design and construction services. Incorporating and building a business from scratch in the sport that is your passion seemed like a dream job to some, a threat to many players who felt design should be done only by volunteers for no charge, and certainly a risk for this 47 year old with 4 kids. I had seen success by a few friends in disc golf course design services: John David, John Houck, and Tom Monroe, so I took the jump.
I offered complete turnkey services: Design and build projects, complete with license and insurances required to work on public properties. I would also offer all signage, print scorecards, and if not building myself manage the parks crew that did the installation. And as a service after the sale, I would hold a grand opening event: a PDGA event on the public courses in communities complete with a clinic for new players. At private courses, a Teach the Teacher event for many children camp courses I installed and follow-up training for staff (camp staff turnover) annually. I would also find a local business to sell discs, making the introduction to disc manufactures.
By partnering with some of the major manufactures I attended Parks and Recreation Conferences in the region, holding Continuing Education credit seminars on disc golf programing as well as setting up in many vendor expo halls ringing chains and making contacts. I would set up small courses on the grounds at many conferences and hold sessions where the park directors would play team golf. I made trips all over the region to parks, presentations in park boards, city commission meetings, county government courts, University Departments and anyone else who would listen to me. I visit sites doing a feasibility study, and actually most sites I turn down for lack of land (or safety concerns in existing parks), although many of these now have courses designed by others. I would help with fund raising events and written grants for communities that I had the pleasure of serving.
Now 20 years into the business I have over 100 courses designed across KY, TN, IN, IL, MO, AR, TX, OK, VA, and WV. About 1/3 of these I also did the construction. This year is already busy with contracts signed for course designs in KY, TN, and OK. I have completed redesigns for safety after park users have been injured on a course, and I have been an expert witness on a law suit that went to a jury trial. I have designed for US Corp of Engineers, State Park Systems, numerous City, County and State Governments, private resorts and clubs, private and state schools, and property owners’ personal courses.
Located between Knoxville and Bristol Tennessee is the small industrial town of Morristown I convinced the park director “build it and they will come” and in 2007 after presentations to the local Kiwanis Club a partnership resulted in a recreational level 18-hole course. The course was featured in a 6 page spread in the September 2013 Kiwanis Magazine distributed worldwide to their members. The story focused not only on families and kids in Morristown that come to the course, but on the fact that this course just off I-81 had a positive economic impact with visitors to the small East Tennessee town. The course spurred two more courses in 2013 (Rotary DGC and Cherokee DGC) and the re-birth of the Tennessee State Disc Golf Championships. The City trademarked the marketing phrase: Morristown – Tennessee’s Disc Golf Capital; constantly running tourism advertising with this logo.
In 2015 the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association presented me with the Volunteer Service Award for my contribution in the field of Parks and Recreation in Morristown, TN. A fourth course installed in the local Panther Creek State Park in 2017 has allowed the State Championships to expand to over 500 players the last few years. In 2022 The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development presented the Tourism Best Event Award to the City and County for the 2022 Tennessee State Disc Golf Championships. UDISC had Morristown rated #4 in Best Disc Golf Small Towns – USA.
Murray is a small town in far western Kentucky, known for Murray State University and not much more. In 2005 there was not a disc golf course within two hours any direction. After discussions with the park board they commissioned me to design an 18-hole course that would be capable of hosting tournament play. The heavy wooded areas in the old, very developed park worked well, and in 2006 I held a grand opening for the course. Currently the course has expanded to 27 holes (nine-hole loops all starting from the practice green) with two targets on most holes, strong club/leagues, an in park pro shop, and tournament constantly scheduled. More importantly, due to the success of this rural community’s course, there are now 25 courses within an hour, 12 of which I designed across two states. Getting the first in an area started a ripple effect among communities who saw the success of the first course in that region.
Higher Education Development:
The University of Richmond (Virginia) is one of 6 courses I have put on college campuses. Exposing 1000s of students each year as they see Disc Golf played on their campus spurs numerous lifetime players. Others campus courses installed include Western Kentucky University (1992 & 2007); Bowling Green Technical College (2011); James Madison University in Virginia (2013); Martin Methodist University in Tennessee (2016);and John Brown University in Arkansas (2017). What sets the U of R (2011) 18-hole design course apart is that the whole course had to be built to LEED (Leadership in Environment and Energy Design) certification by using recycled materials. That caused special needs for signs structures and ink, as well as tee construction . . . targets are mostly recycled steel already. I did a clinic during design phase explaining disc golf to faculty and staff, ran a fun tournament at the ribbon cutting (complete with Spider – the school logo -stamped discs) and on UDISC in 2022 there were 4582 rounds scored on the course.
Summer Camps and schools disc golf courses generally are not on UDisc or other course directories, and the design is for the user’s age group. Very rewarding and enjoyable as I get to teach the staff, help by running fund raising events prior to and during in the off season, and get the knowledge of so many children being introduced at a young age. The list includes Simpson County KY high school (2006), Dolphin Swim Club – TN (2007), Tim Horton Camp – KY (2007), West KY 4H (2010), Chief Logan Recreation Center – VA (2012), Rhea County TN Middle/HS (2013), Highland Academy – TN (2014), Lake Cumberland KY 4H (2016), All Saints KY Center (2020), and Raw-Wood Retreat Center – TN (2021).
I asked the staff at UDISC for some numbers on the course to give me some idea of the ongoing impact my work has on disc golf play. When you take out private camps, temporary courses for big tournaments, courses that have been removed, or just some we did not find there were 68 courses we looked at. These courses had 82,782 rounds scored in 2022, and 316863 rounds scored overall. Their research shows that approximately 20% of rounds played use UDisc. This would show that in 2022; 413,910 rounds were played on these courses and over 1.5 million total rounds played on my UDISC courses.
Bluegrass Disc Golf – Event Management:
One of the spinoffs of disc golf design is hosting events for communities. This started with me holding a grand opening event each time I opened a course, and then for a number of years the community would bring me back each year to hold that event again. In time a local club or more lately other professional event business would take over running the event, but even today I still do grand openings and host some major (A-tier) events in communities that provide support for the players. Just like course design and construction there were a lot of players in the early 2000s that did not support for-profit businesses running events, thinking events should be purely volunteer driven. I looked at the success of some of my peers in the South (Tom Monroe and Jim Orum), and formed this company in 2006. Now days I am thanked by so many small disc golf businesses across the country for breaking the ice, sharing sustainable models, and showing how to bring in sponsorship from outside of the disc golf players and manufactures.
My work with in Kentucky tourism the promotion of Disc Golf Events, I was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel by the Governor in 2015. I had organized and held a series across the state in communities that I had relationships with – and also bringing players to State Resort Parks where I had converted golf courses to disc golf courses.
Over the last few years I have slowed down but will run 4 A-tiers in 2023, including the 1000 players that will attend the 45th BG Open and 10th TN State Champs. Add in flex starts, player’s parties, fly marts, side games, and you have attractions for the week instead of a weekend in these communities.
I have found that the number one rule as a promoter of tournaments is to be fair to all. This means saying no to many longtime friends who want special consideration (“pencil me in the event, I’ll pay later”, “I need the last tee time”, etc.). This also means treating all sponsors, vendors and manufactures equally regardless of the personal relationships. It means enforcing the PDGA rules as written, not as they play them at home, and being the guy that has to warn and DQ players as needed. Publish schedules, courses rules, key dates, payouts, and all information possible as early as possible – then stick to your plan regardless of pressure to change for the benefit of a few.
Yet tournament weekend the friendships old and new make all the work worthwhile and satisfying. When the manufactures want to be back, the vendors want to return each year, the sponsors jump on board quickly and strong, the staff – volunteer or paid all want to help again, and the players take the time to thank you there is no better feeling than looking back at the event you just hosted.
I asked the PDGA to look into my history as the TD of events, and Andrew Sweeton came up with these numbers from 1986 to 2022:
TD for 221 Events – 46 A-tiers – events in 6 states.
22,663 players – 3575 pro players and 19,088 amateur players.
$388,278 paid out in pro purse
In 2022 I hosted over 2000 players and paid the pros over $56,000 in cash.
Competition: “The older I get, the better I was.”
Tournament play is always a drive for me, starting with meeting Tom Monroe at an event in Kentucky in the mid-70s, where I learned that if you want competition, you may have to host the event. Tom was hard to beat! Most of my early (and current) events I spent chasing second behind David Greenwell, Johnny Sias, and Fred Salaz in this region, keeping my tour wins to a minimum but always in the hunt. In these overall tournaments I was one of the “power players” with many state championships in distance, MTA, and Guts; winning overall a number of times in Kentucky and Tennessee.
A first big disc golf win was the 1982 Central National Frisbee disc Championships, which doubled as the Missouri State Disc Golf Championships. Nice to get that win at Hazelwood DGC over the up and coming Dave McCormick.
Another major accomplishment I like to note is finishing 2nd in the Masters Division at the 2001 European Open in Oslo: causing quite the scene when a protest was filed because I was on the podium but not European. I got back on the podium to have them get the medal off my neck and invited them to the US Open where we take all comers! That event was then “duplicated in PDGA results” as the European Open Championships – and the TD mailed me a EOC medal. I did keep the two grand while holding off a hard charging Charlie Mead in the 5th and 6th rounds.
Another overseas accomplishment was finishing 3rd in the 2002 in the British Open in MPO, as a 47 year old and setting the course record (quickly tied by Derek Robins) on the Isle of Mull Course. In 2000 I won an event in Hoting Sweden – land of the midnight sun, followed by a spanking at the Stockholm Open – where future world champion Birgitta Lagerholm let me have her flat for the week.
I did qualify for the USDGC three times, although never played due to my children’s fall break being the same week. Once in April at the first qualifying event of the year, and twice due to my play in the Southern National Championships at the last qualifying event of the year.
I competed across the South on the Southern National tour, winning one doubles championship in Florida and always in the hunt in my divisions for the dozen Labor Day weekend Southern National Championships I competed, just behind John Litton and Lavone Wolfe so often.
The PDGA lists me with 85 wins over 344 events. Winning over $24,000 starting with the $10 cash in 1977. I competed in the PDGA Pro worlds from 1983-1989 each year as an Open Player but then curtailed traveling long trips with the first two children keeping me busy. I then made a run in Masters at Worlds for 6 attempts with the same guys keeping me out of the money. Finally cashed as a GM finishing 8th in 2005, and a couple more cashes in three more tries as a GM. Last worlds I played was 2015 as a Sr. Grand Master and finished next to last cash (the guy ahead of me got last cash). Then came knees and ankle replacements ending my true competitive days . . . leading up to pending shoulder surgery. I have competed each year in PDGA events since joining in 1977, and hope to this year as well. Fifty years of throwing takes its toll on the body, but I still love to play the course hobbling or left handed just to see the frisbee fly.