NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College senior Eric Preheim is happy to help spread the gospel of disc golf, most recently at south-central Kansas’ Mennonite camp.
As a sophomore, Preheim was instrumental in promoting to Bethel administration, raising funds for and designing Thresher National, the disc golf course on campus. It officially opened in October 2014.
And now there are nine new holes (in disc golf, they’re actually metal mesh baskets mounted on poles) at Camp Mennoscah near Murdock, Kansas, inaugurated at the camp association’s annual meeting this past September.
Sometime in late 2014 or early 2015, Mennoscah Director Olivia Bartel recalls “someone asking if we had a disc golf course. No – well, would we like one? The board considered the idea, and then we received a generous donation toward a course.
“The board decided it would benefit camp, so the idea went forward, with looking for a few more donors. Board member Patrick Loganbill agreed to run with the idea.”
Loganbill, a 2013 Bethel graduate who now teaches and coaches at Goessel High School, says, “I got interested because I have seen how the market for disc golf has increased. More and more people in the area want to play, and I thought camp would certainly have the capacity to have disc golf.
“I knew to contact Eric from our days at Bethel together,” he continues. “I knew he was instrumental in the Bethel course and had a passion for disc golf. I contacted him knowing he would be able to help us.
“We met several times to discuss vision, and we went out to camp for a tour of the grounds to give him an idea of where some spots [for tees and holes] could be.”
When Loganbill first got hold of him, Preheim says, “I didn’t think they were going to do it – it was mostly hypothetical at that point. Our first meeting was just [for] information: ‘You’ve done this before – how would we go about putting this in if we decided to do it?’
“Then Patrick got back to me and said, ‘The board thinks it’s worth spending the amount of money you estimated and we’d like to offer you the opportunity to design it.’ I was immediately interested.”
Preheim – who grew up in Martinez, Georgia, near the famed Augusta National Golf Course – had never been to Camp Mennoscah.
“I went out in the spring [of 2015] just to take a look. I didn’t know what to expect but I hoped I’d have a tentative nine holes after that.
“Then I realized it was a huge space and it would be better to narrow it down to a quarter of the total land [available]. It took an hour and a half just to walk around and do that. It was almost overwhelming, there was so much.”
Despite that challenge, Preheim told camp staff “it wasn’t unrealistic to start putting the course in by the end of summer. Well, then I’d talked a big talk and put myself under that deadline. I made four more trips out there, including overseeing putting in the holes.
“The second trip was to actually design the holes. I was shocked when I found I had nine continuous holes that made sense.
“I went back another time and played the course with Adam Voth and Patrick [before the baskets were installed]. I said, ‘You guys have more experience knowing what it’s like when people are here for camp.’ Another time, I walked the course with Olivia, who had another perspective. We all had to make concessions to make it work.”
When the design was finalized, Gardell Stucky, camp facilities and maintenance director, and Voth – who, like Loganbill, has a long history with Camp Mennoscah as a camper and summer staffer and, like Preheim, is an avid disc golfer – installed the baskets, with Preheim overseeing.
The course is an easier one than the one at Bethel, Preheim says.
“This one isn’t meant to be a high-traffic course that could be played every day,” he says. “This is more meant to be a fun activity for groups going to camp anyway.
“That’s the main difference, besides the different landscapes. The Bethel course was made to be a bit more challenging. The average age of the player at Bethel is much older than at Mennoscah.
“In the end, what I want is to grow a love of the sport of disc golf. You learn it by playing. You don’t want people to get super-frustrated playing the first time.”
There is one unusual aspect to the Mennoscah course – a raised hole.
“I’ve seen this done, and it felt like it would be an added element of fun,” Preheim says. “On Hole 8, there’s a basket that’s higher than a normal basket. It could be mounted on a tree or a rock – this one is on an extended pole, with a step to help you get the disc out of the basket.”
The course was ready to play by the camp association annual meeting Sept. 20, and a warm, sunny afternoon brought out some enthusiastic players. The raised basket, however, was installed only at the end of December.
Preheim himself hasn’t been out to the camp since the baskets were installed, but hopes maybe spring break will give him a chance to play it.
“[Designing the course] was a new challenge,” he says. “I’d love to do more if opportunities keep presenting themselves. I put myself out there to get the Bethel one done, but this one found me.”
Camp Mennoscah’s course is not “public” like Thresher National, which is listed on disc golf course locater websites and which golfers can play at any time during daylight hours, at no charge.
At Mennoscah, players would need to make arrangements ahead of time and pay a day-use fee, unless they are there for camp or a retreat or other scheduled event.
“It’s here for people to enjoy, but it can’t interfere with camps or groups who are paying to be here,” Bartel says. “There are discs to check out and use and a couple of course maps. There will eventually be a marker for each hole – we hope to have those in by spring.”
“Through the last four summers of my time at camp [as summer staff], I have seen more and more campers become interested in disc golf,” Loganbill says. “I knew that having an actual course would really add to many campers’ experience.
“When campers come to Camp Mennoscah, if they find even one thing they enjoy that means I will see them the following summer. If that one thing is disc golf, so be it. I believe from there we can help guide them on the more important journey of faith.”