BETHEL – Not sure if they’re meeting a need or creating one. But they certainly are taking an active role in the proliferation process.
Mike Dunkle and Charlie Greco really don’t care. They just love disc golf.
Yeah, Dunkle and Greco are at it again. They’ve built another one.
The recently opened tract at Camp Swatara represents the fifth Lebanon County-area disc golf course the two have built together.
“We’re both proud of what we’ve done, and especially the giving back part,” said Dunkle. “We think people will enjoy these courses. I enjoy getting people into the sport, and I think what we do helps people get into it.”
“We just want to have people come and play disc golf,” said Greco. “It’s new to some people, but it’s not new to us.”
Situated on 800 acres at the foot of the Blue Mountains, Camp Swatara is located at 2905 Camp Swatara Road just north of the Lebanon County-Berks. Greco and Dunkle’s designed and constructed 18-hole disc golf course is the perfect addition to the church camp.
It is carved out of rugged terrain, encompassing both woods and meadows. The two sets of tees on every hole makes it a challenging course to both novice and expert players.
“Seventy different churches come here,” said Greco, 63 and a resident of South Lebanon. “It’s going to expose disc golf to a multitude of people, with varying backgrounds. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s for all ages. You don’t have to keep score. You can just go out and have fun. It’s just an exhilirating walk.”
“It’s very peaceful here,” said Dunkle, a 59-year-old resident of Myerstown. “When we were putting the course in, we saw so much wildlife. It’s a combination of so many things with this piece of property. The reaction we got when we opened the course was priceless. People really thought it was fantastic.”
With some volunteer help, the disc golf course at Camp Swatara took Dunkle and Greco about a year-and-a-half to envision, plan, clear and construct. The course really reflects the lay of the land, as well as Dunkle and Greco’s vision of what a disc golf course should include and should be.
“Every hole on this course has its own feel to it,” said Greco. “There are not a lot of holes that are the same. They all have their own unique challenge. If you’re on your game on a particular day, you can be under par. The next time you come, the course can say, ‘no’. The trees giveth, and they taketh away. This course is a bugger in the wind.”
“We spent three weeks walking around out here, before we put a stake in the ground,” said Dunkle. “They gave us a choice of two areas to build the course, and we chose this one. It was more central, and you look for certain features for a disc golf course – woods, elevation and water. If you get all three, you have the elements of a good disc golf course.
“This piece of property was so fitting for the course that went in here,” continued Dunkle. “The canvas here was so beautiful. You don’t want to make it too hard. But you’ve got to make it challenging for the pros who come here. Every one is unique, but of all the courses we’ve done, this is the hardest.”
Relatively speaking, building a disc golf course is fairly inexpensive. The disc golf course at Camp Swatara cost about $18,000 to construct, and much of that amount was offset by sponsorships of the holes.
Of course that didn’t include Greco and Dunkle’s time, effort and labor.
“In the scheme of recreation, it’s relatively cheap,” said Dunkle. “The best place to put a disc golf course is on land not being utilized, land that’s not suitable for playing fields.”
“There’s definitely an asset being taken advantage of,” said Greco. “Today, we’re going to play the course. We’re looking at it as a course, not what should’ve been done here or what shouldn’t have been done there. You really appreciate it when you come back to it and all the work is done.”
Camp Swatara represents the Lebanon County area’s sxith disc golf course, five of which Greco and Dunkle have built together.
They also collaborated on constructing Jackson Township Park’s course in 2012, South Hills Park’s in 2013 and Lenni Lenape Park’s in North Lebanon township in 2014. Over the years, they’ve consulted on or built about a dozen or so disc golf courses across the region.
“We started playing in Dunkle’s backyard,” said Greco. “But we were playing there week after week. Then we built the course in Jackson townhip, so we’d play there one week and in Dunkle’s backyard the next week. Then we built the one at South Hills, so we’d play there one week, Jackson Township the next week and then in Dunkle’s backyard the week after that. We built them so we’d have a variety and so we didn’t have to drive to Lancaster.”
“We’ve been playing since the (19)80s. We’re old,” said Dunkle. “But having played so long, it helps us know what people like and what makes a fair par. We go through courses that other people have built. You take away from what they did, you take away from what you did, and you try to better it.
“We’re a well-oiled machine,” Dunkle continued. “We do complement each other, but we do butt heads. But we usually end up thinking the same way.”
Disc golf is very similar to traditional golf, except the courses are shorter, there are no clubs, discs or ‘frisbees’ are used instead of balls, tees include rubber mats for better traction and holes are replaced by baskets.
The popularity of disc golf locally seems to be mirroring the popularity of it regionally and nationally. Now there’s even a disc golf league in Lebanon County, whose outings or events sometimes attract more than 50 players.
“It’s growing expotentially,” said Dunkle. “It’s taking off. It’s unbelievable. It’s a ‘build it and they will come’ kind of thing. Sometimes when you come here on a Sunday, you have to wait to play. You almost need to have a tee time. It’s something very inexpensive and it’s fun. You’re out in the open.
“The first basket-course was built in California in the late (19)70s,” added Dunkle. “But the explosion took place in the 90s. It was very slow growth at the beginning. Now I can leave my house and there are courses in Harrisburg, York and Lancaster.”
“There’s a process that we have,” said Greco. “We have a reputation. People know our courses. They like our courses. We’ve done enough of them that people look forward to the new ones. We’re proud of our legacy.”
In that way, Greco and Dunkle are at the forefront of the local disc golf scene. Should the proliferation of the sport continue locally, they’ll be ready.
“I guess my message would be, ‘Don’t knock until you try it,'” said Dunkle. “It’s something that once people try it, they enjoy it.”