By Teddy Robertson
On this wet, gray evening in mid-October, the 55-degree air feels colder after several days of balmy October sunshine. Beneath the dripping trees at the former Mott Park Municipal Golf Course, closed since 2009, the parking lot—surprisingly—is two-thirds full.
Inside the old golf clubhouse, its windows protected by blue-painted plywood, board members of the Mott Park Recreation Area Association (MPRAA) gather for their monthly meeting.
The room is chilly, but the board members are elated.
The reason for their elation is disc golf, a sport unknown when the Mott Park golf course was built in 1934. The cars in the parking lot belong to disc golfers, eager to check out the Mott Park course, the newest addition to disc golf courses within 20 miles of Flint. The location is already listed on the players’ website, “The Disc Golf Scene” and reviewers are excited. According to Wikipedia, disc golf, also called frisbee golf, is a sport in which players throw a disc at a target using rules similar to golf.
According to Tom Saxton, Mott Park Recreation Area Association board president, the disc course is the first project in a three-phase master plan to transform the old golf course into a multi-use recreation area. Developed through two community “vision sessions” in 2015 and 2016, and conceptualized by students in landscape architecture from Michigan State and in graphic arts at UM-Flint, the Mott Park Recreation Area master plan aligns with the guiding principles of the city’s “Imagine Flint” master plan. Saxton says the Mott Park plan allows for flexibility, the potential to take advantage of new opportunities—like Flint area interest in disc golf that emerged in the community vision sessions.
As a first project, disc golf proved viable. With financial support from “Flint Town Flyerz” Disc Golf Club, Kettering University, and a grant from the Community Foundation, the course was designed by disc golfers Paul Grasso, Myles Nakamura, and Mark Stevens. Volunteer students from Kettering dug the 18 tee holes and with neighborhood volunteers over two weekends poured the concrete tee pads – the forms built by the Kettering grounds crew–from which the golfers launch their discs toward targets–chain baskets on poles.
Layout of the disc golf course was finished the first week in October when volunteers from the disc golf club “Flint Town Flyerz,” the Mott Park neighborhood, and students from Kettering University readied the course for play by Oct.7. That warm, sunny Saturday, Flyerz members and other players tried out the course; clusters of golfers walked the tees, a sight last seen eight years ago.
No wonder the Mott Park Recreation Area board members are happy this evening; they have come a long road since Flint’s four municipal golf courses closed. A small group of residents formed the Mott Park Public Golf Course Association in 2010, registered as a non-profit, and began to seek ways to revive the golf course.
But several years’ work and research and consultation reached a dead end—costs for re-seeding and sprinkler system repair were astronomical and the golf industry in Michigan had leveled off. Unlike Swartz Creek or Kearsley Lake, Mott Park, a nine-hole course, and Pierce Park, an executive course, had no commercial suitors, recalls Tom Saxton, board president.
Saxton, a women’s soccer coach at Michigan State, said he learned to play golf on the Mott Park course and taught his sons here too. To him, it was “a sacred space.” Many at the meeting could tell a story of discouragement and frustration as the greens went to seed and wild grass sprouted, or three-wheelers and motorcycles ground up the turf on warm summer nights.
So the golf course board decided to change its mission and direction, a move formalized in 2014 with a new name: the Mott Park Recreation Area Association (MPRAA) and a new mission: “To develop, operate, and maintain as a diverse recreational space.” (https://mpraa.net)
During the transition, Kettering University provided stability and links to more stakeholders and projects like University Avenue Corridor Coalition. The Recreation Area Board expanded in expertise when Adam Marshall Moore, a professional planner raised in Mott Park and now recently returned to Flint, became a member.
To generate ideas for old golf course and lay community groundwork for a new plan, the Recreation Area Board held a public visioning session in January 2015 at Kettering University. Led by Moore, some 80 attendees proposed and prioritized ideas for a combined recreational and natural space. An unexpected proposal that garnered lively support was disc golf, suggested by some members of a local club, “Flint Town Flyerz,” who attended. https://www.discgolfscene.com/clubs/Flint_Town_Flyerz
Vision session ideas were fleshed out in concept plans drafted with faculty and professional guidance by students from Michigan State University and University of Michigan-Flint. Student creativity and enthusiasm infused new energy into the process.
At the March follow-up session in 2016 the student plans were displayed showing the possible layout for the 72-acre park. Some natural areas were a butterfly sanctuary, trail development, and designated fishing and picnic areas. Other areas would require investment and construction, such as a disc golf course, a canoe and kayak launch, an amphitheater, and a “healing garden” available to McLaren Hospital and Kith Haven Nursing Home.
Board president Saxton leads tonight’s meeting with the passion of a long-time resident and the persistence of a coach. Agenda items reflect the success of the disc golf course—parking regulations, signage, hours of operation, security cameras, setting up an app so that disc golf players can contribute online to pay for maintenance.
Saxton reminds members that they are in a learning phase, balancing disc golf play with other recreation area users: walkers, bicyclers, paddlers, fishermen, and wildlife. Michigan’s oldest continual foot race, the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, fits into this picture too.
After the inaugural tournament in late October hosted by the “Flint Town Flyerz” club and a Sunday kids’ clinic, Mott Park is now the home course for the club but open to everyone when not reserved for tournament play. Members say they plan to run classes to teach the fundamentals of disc golf to community youngsters and anyone else who is interested.
The next project in the Mott Park Recreation Area involves a partnership with Flint River Corridor Alliance: a Paddler’s Landing, near the former golf hole #4 at the west edge of the Recreation Area, off Sunset Drive and Ballenger Highway. The Alliance has taken the lead and major sponsors have committed support. Plans have been drawn up; some work will begin this fall with the goal of the landing ready for the 2018 Flint River Flotilla. http://www.frcalliance.org/flotilla-postponed-due-to-construction-paddlers-landing-installation-to-happen/
With the advent of disc golf and the restoration of the Flint riverfront, as Saxton and the association members see it, Mott Park’s flood plain acreage, once deemed usable for a single sport, now offers broader recreational possibilities. The Mott Park Recreation Area seems poised for new life. The last bulletin board from pre-2009 days still hangs in the old golf club house—what would those golfers think now?
EVM columnist and Mott Park resident Teddy Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.