Disc Golf Mecca: Walnut Creek Park in Charlottesville, VA

Since this is my first contribution to Disc Golf Traveler, I wanted to take a second to introduce myself. My name is Brian Giggey and I’m the tour manager for nationally touring band, Zach Deputy. Zach and I met in 2007 when I was in my first year of graduate school at UMass where I was getting my degree in Landscape Architecture. When he came to play Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA in April 2008, I made sure to introduce him to a deep passion of mine: disc golf. I had only started playing disc golf about two years prior, but it’s all I could think about. My golfer brain would think about flight patterns, course management and pin positions, while my land arch brain would drool over riparian corridors, ridge lines and the amicability of the sport with other uses such as hiking, biking and dog walking.

Fast forward two years and I find myself putting the final touches on my disc golf course design: Orchard Hill Disc Golf at UMass Amherst, which will hopefully play host to several Zach Deputy disc golf tournaments in the future. As I pack my bags and say goodbye to Amherst, I’m ready for my new full time adventure of traveling town to town and state to state across the country. Zach, Innova’s newest sponsored celebrity, is a touring machine --- six nights a week for months on end. As we approach markets with shorter drive times between shows, our angst for disc golf grows. We start paging through DGCourseReview for the local goodness. Ratings and reviews left by other players are like gold as we seldom like to derail from our path unless we know it’s worth it. Low and behold, almost a year to the day after I joined the road full time, I find my favorite course thus far.

After our show at Clementine Café in Harrisonburg, VA we headed south to Charlottesville, VA for two relaxing days off in the old stomping grounds of Dave Matthews Band in the early 1990’s. As we traversed the hills and valleys of the local roads, I couldn’t help but wonder where Haunted Hallows was; the custom built recording studio for DMB and their associated projects. The farm lands and mountain vistas already have me thinking of a potential house here in the future, but the amount of disc golf courses in the vicinity is surprisingly low.

A little over 10 miles outside downtown Charlottesville lay Walnut Creek Park. As you drive down the entrance road, excitement grows as baskets and pin positions begin to reveal pieces of the course. I’m already making mental notes of where pins are tucked and where not to miss. The road culminates in an impervious parking lot with a large facility that houses vending machines, picnic tables and family gatherings, overlooking a large lake that’s pressed up against the backdrop of rolling hills and mountainsides. This lake will come into play several times throughout your round, so get ready for it. If it’s not hypnotizing you with its beauty, its making you sweat a couple bullets as it entices you to bite off a little more than you can chew. Flanking the parking lot are two small playgrounds and a few huts that are ready to host your family barbeque. All of these separate entities are perfectly connected by a trail system that runs throughout the park, aiding bikers, hikers, fisherman and disc golfers in their daily activities.

Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the disc golf course that circumvents the park is a shot maker's course through and through. With a 4.21 rating on DGCourseReview, I knew we were in for a treat. We all piled out of the Sprinter with excitement running through our veins, me especially, as tight wooded courses are my specialty. Zach is more of a rolling hills and fields player, while I could care less for those big D opportunities --- Walnut Creek Park: advantage me. Created in 2002, the course’s three designers put together a beautiful mix of uphill, downhill, open and wooded shots. This course is extremely challenging from either tee box, as each hole has multiple tee boxes and a variety of pin positions. Pin positions, as well as league information and course layout can be found at the message board near the parking lot, so head over to it before you venture off to the first tee.

As is standard with many disc golf courses across the nation, the primary feature that was lacking at Walnut Creek Park was signage between holes. Easily discernable to locals, wayfinding between some holes for us was quite frustrating. The only other negative in my opinion was that fact that all the tee pads were a compacted type of gravel, which depending on their structural integrity and amount of rainfall, were in either fair or poor condition. A course of this caliber should have permanent tee pads. Speaking from a landscape architecture point of view, less impervious surface (such as concrete or pavement) is a good thing, but in this case, concrete pads are a must.

After only three holes, you could see that this course was going to provide us with a wonderful mixture of both hyzer and anhyzer shots. Walnut Creek Park will bring out every shot you have in your bag! With tight fairways, water hazards and numerous elevation changes just on the front side, I was happy to be right around level par headed to the back. Notable holes on the front nine were the downhill, overwater 2nd hole, where if you split the uprights of the towering trees, you will be left with a short, level birdie putt. The 6th hole was the first of many holes with genius pin positioning. A relatively open field hole, the drive is uphill through a shoot of trees leaving players with a second shot that only affords them a glimpse of the top of the basket. Situated on a 45 degree slope, players need to figure where they want to putt from. I decided short right would leave me the best putt, as who knows where my Roc would roll to if I flirted with that slope. I made par and left happy.

The 10th hole is your window to make up any shots you may have given back on the first part of your round. A straight shot, 235 foot hole, anything more than a par should make you think about heading to the car early. The 11th and 14th are two holes that being too aggressive will only lead to birdie sometimes and bogey most of the time. With the baskets situated on severe slopes, unless you have a kick in, you might just want to take your par and move along. Saving the best for last, the 17th hole is one of the most breathtaking holes you’ll see. What initially looks like a big downhill drive and an awkward second shot slowly reveals itself to be so much more. With an elevation change from tee to basket of a couple hundred feet, this is your chance to let out all your frustrations. Be warned though, the lake on the right hand side is very much in play, while the thick woods on the left will catch the majority of drives. As you make your way down to the plateau that catches most drives, a new obstacle presents itself --- more water! From the plateau to the basket isn’t much more than 125 feet, but the severe elevation change and water in the background should make you think for a bit before you throw. Remember that your disc is going to break A LOT when it slows down, so give yourself a large buffer from the water as it runs along the back and left hand side of the hole, leaving an almost island green to some degree.

Our round at Walnut Creek Park only took a couple hours, but this is a place where anyone could (and should) spend the day. If you’re in the area, block out a part of your day and really take the opportunity to explore this beautiful tract of land. Besides some wayfinding issues from hole to hole, there aren’t many negative things that can be said about this course. Charlottesville, VA has a prize in the form of Walnut Creek Park, so I urge you to put this course on your “to-play” list. You surely won’t regret it.