SOUTH LEBANON – Where most people see grass, Mike Dunkle sees fairways. Where most people see trees, Dunkle sees challenges. Where most people see parks, Dunkle sees courses.
Where most people see golf balls, Dunkle sees – frisbees?
Dunkle, a resident of Myerstown, has been blessed with the special gift of creation. When acres of land pass through his line of sight, he can envision a disc golf course.
The latest example of Dunkle’s magic is South Hills Disc Golf Course, in South Lebanon Township. It may be his greatest work, but not his last.
“When I walked in, I thought to myself, ‘This really has good potential,'” said Dunkle. “It’s a mix of everything. You want it not to be wide open.
“It takes time to design,” continued Dunkle. “I was here maybe 15 times before I figured out where we wanted to put the course. I just kept walking around, wondering ‘where do we want to start.’ Once we got familiar with the place, then we started thinking about the holes. Then you start filling in holes, in a way. Then you get a feel for where you are and where you want to go.”
South Hills is Lebanon County’s third public disc golf course, two of which have been designed by Dunkle. Dunkle also helped construct an 18-hole course at Jackson Township Park in Myerstown, which was completed in the fall of 2011.
With design help from collaborator Charlie Greco, the concept for South Hills Disc Golf Course was hatched late last year. Clearing work was done over the winter months, the construction was completed during the spring and the course opened for play in April.
The course is located on South Hills Park’s eastern most acres, which borders State Drive.
“We heard through the grapevine that they (South Lebanon township) wanted to put in a disc golf course,” explained Dunkle. “They said they wanted to put one in for a while. So we presented figures and data at a South Lebanon township meeting and they were all in favor of it. We told them it would cost $12,000 and we did it for $7,000, just because the community really stepped up (with donations).
“We started designing the course in the winter, and we put stakes in the ground,” Dunkle added. “They said they’d like to put it in this area of the park because it’s not used as heavily. Every Saturday it wasn’t raining, we had work parties. At some places we had to cut fairways into the woods.”
Dunkle and Greco turned South Hills Disc Golf Course into two tracks by installing two different sets of baskets at each hole, a yellow and a red. The yellow course is a little shorter and a little less difficult, while the red course is a little longer and a little harder.
“It came out really nice, and the township made out like a bandit,” said Dunkle. “We had businesses say to us, ‘We’ll pay for the baskets, but we’d like to have our names on them.’ We told them ‘We’ll go one better. We’ll put your name on the baskets and the tee pads.’ The community really stepped up, and just by word of mouth. And the South Hills Park maintenance crew really stepped up to the plate.
“It was word of mouth,” Dunkle added. “Disc golf is one of the fastest growing sports. It’s one course, but it has two different lay-outs, so it’s like having two courses. It gives you an option.”
South Hills Disc Golf Course is 7143 feet in length and plays to a par of 61. depending upon one’s choice of color. Most of the players who frequent the course are residents of Lebanon County, but some come from as far away as Lancaster.
“It’s a little of everything,” said Dunkle. “Open holes, wooded holes and elevation changes. The course at Jackson was built around water. Here it’s a lot longer. There’s a lot more trees on the fairway. The woods is a big draw. And I like the elevation change, going from high to low or going across the valley.
“I want to see how everybody likes it,” Dunkle continued. “It’ll be interesting to see what everybody thinks. There’s par-fours and par-fives on this course. We had more area to work with.”
From a South Lebanon Township perspective, the new disc golf course is utilizing acres at South Hills Park that weren’t previously being used.
“From here over, there’s one little walking trail,” said Dunkle. “They (the township) had so many acres that weren’t utilized. They wanted to do something with it. They had it (a disc golf course) in their minds, but they didn’t know how to make it happen. It all kind of came together.”
Dunkle already has his next project in mind, a disc golf course at the brand new Lenni Lenape park in North Lebanon Township. If he had his way, every municipal park in Lebanon County would be home to a disc golf course, where space allows.
“Northern Lebanon gave me a site map,” said Dunkle. “I’ve been over there three times, but I haven’t planned anything in my mind. It’s a lot of woods. It’s really thick. It’s going to take a lot of clearing. They said they’d like to get it in by the end of this year.
“Some of the parks in the county aren’t conducive to disc golf courses,” Dunkle concluded. “You’ve got to have 20-some acres. Disc golf courses are really good for uneven, unused land.”