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A Dream Realized: DeSales Debuts New, Improved Disc Golf Course

by Janelle Hill Jun 30, 2022

Joe Leese steadies his gaze hundreds of feet ahead to an unseen basket.

He shuffles his feet along the pavers, and, with a flick of the forehand, unleashes a bright orange disc, watching as it sails through the trees and finally lands.

“That was a good drive,” he says smiling.

More than 15 years after first making disc golf a reality at DeSales, Leese ’06, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, is enjoying the campus’ new and improved course redesign.

Leese first got hooked on the game nearly 20 years ago as an undergrad at DeSales playing the nearby tees at South Mountain. By 2004, he and several friends put a plan in motion to design their own course.

“I said, ‘We’ve got all of this room; let’s put a disc golf course on campus.’ That’s one of the cool things about DeSales. I just had to talk to some people, and, the next thing I know, I’m in front of the president’s cabinet.” 

 Joe Leese ’06, Ph.D., associate professor of biology

Leese wrote up a business proposal complete with a course design, budget, and list of benefits for the campus community—billing the idea as an easy and relatively inexpensive way to provide outdoor recreational and competitive activity for students. Then President Father Bernard O’Connor, OSFS, signed off on the plan by the fall of 2005. But, Leese still had to secure funding for the project.

“I had to meet with a state representative to talk about disc golf, which still blows my mind,” he says. “I should have been doing schoolwork, but I was very passionate about it.”

Once the funding was in place, Leese, Justin Kimmel ’06, and Adam Benton ’06 created the course themselves—digging holes for the baskets and pouring concrete across campus. They even started a disc golf club with students from different walks of campus life.

“In that club were TV/film majors that didn’t consider themselves particularly athletic,” Leese says. “Physician assistant (PA) students who had played high school basketball and football. And me—I had run a little bit, but I wasn’t an athlete. The fact that we all could go out and play was awesome.”

Disc golf became an organized sport in 1974. Two years later, the Disc Golf Association was founded. The game is similar to regular golf—courses typically have 18 holes and pars generally range from three to five, meaning players try to throw their discs into each elevated basket in that many tries or less. Leese’s love of the sport comes from its simplicity and the fact that anyone can play.

“Disc golf is cheap, you can play it in an hour or two, and it’s easy,” he says. “All you need is a disc, which costs about 10 bucks, and you go play. If you go to a new city, a new town, a new park—you can find a disc golf course anywhere.”

After Leese left DeSales for graduate school, the campus continued to expand and some of the disc golf baskets had to be removed. By the time he returned in 2012 as a full-time faculty member, the course had fallen into disrepair. Leese went to campus environment to ask for a fix. Instead, the department signed off on a full-fledged redesign, which took several years to complete.  

When it came time to choose a designer, Leese turned to fellow alum Jerome von Mechow, a 2005 ACCESS graduate. Von Mechow is known for his work on a number of area courses, including Lake Nockamixon, Fort Washington, and Sellersville. But designing a disc golf course on a college campus posed a unique challenge.

“There are always going to be future building projects, and there are always going to be changes,” says von Mechow. “You have to be creative as a designer to work around the restrictions that you’re given.”  

Von Mechow also knew that the course would have a good mix of experienced players, those who play recreationally, and first timers. So, he had to come up with a design that fit each caliber of player.

“The idea was to create a front nine that anybody can go out and play, and then the back nine is much more challenging,” he says. “Even the best players in the world will enjoy the back nine. It has a bit of a polarizing effect on some people, but it’s definitely unique in that way. There aren’t many courses that match that layout.”

The new course debuted in the spring of 2021. It’s longer with pavers as tee pads, new baskets, and signage. It even includes a special nod to the history of DeSales. Von Mechow designed the practice basket with a distance of 196 feet, 4 inches from the tee pad to the basket—a little kudo, as he calls it, to 1964, the year the school’s charter was granted.

While Leese designed the original course with himself and his friends in mind, he appreciates the balanced approach that von Mechow crafted and how the course offers something for everyone.

Gabe Lamm playing disc golfGabe Lamm ’19, D’22 (pictured left), a sport and exercise physiology graduate who’s currently in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, calls the course top notch.

“The new course mimics the design that Jerome prides himself on,” Lamm says. “He makes it tricky for sure, but there’s always a line that you can hit. In disc golf, what makes a beautiful hole is that it’s challenging but there’s a shot that you can hit where you can score well. Everybody that I know loves the course.”

Lamm, who started playing the sport in high school, currently ranks in the top amateur status. He plans to compete in top amateur tournaments in the country this year before going pro—all while pursuing a career in physical therapy. Lamm considers disc golf a form of meditation, an outlet that allows him time to decompress while out in nature.

“It’s beautiful just watching a disc fly through the air,” he says. “I remember seeing it fly for the first time and being captivated by the sport. Once you hear that disc hit the chains, it’s a game changer. I’m very proud to say that my school has a beautiful disc golf course.”