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Summer Guide 2014: Best Portland-Area Disc Golf Spots

Top fields for disc golfers of all stripes, from hippie bros to regular hippies.

But, really, disc golf is the best. It is all the things that make golf great (strategy, progressive play, competing primarily against oneself, walking around in nature), removes all of the things that make golf suck (expensive, exclusive, unsustainable, metal sticks), and adds throwing plastic long distances. Portland has become one of the world's premier disc-golf destinations and will host the PDGA World Championships in August. More than a hundred courses are scattered across the state, but here are some of the best in our neck of the woods.

Greenway Park, Beaverton 

Best for: Beginners; families; the friendly old dude who likes to hang out at the sixth hole.

From U.S. 26 west, take exit 69A to OR-217. Take exit 4 to OR-210/Scholls Ferry Road. Turn right on Southwest Hall Boulevard, crossing over the freeway. Turn left at Southwest Creekside Place. Take the second right immediately after a white picket fence and drive to the back right corner. Walk straight ahead over the footbridge and along the path. The first hole is just ahead on the right.

A straightforward stroll through scenic wetlands edged with office parks, Greenway's short holes and even terrain are a good entry point to the sport, but the course offers enough variation to keep things interesting for experienced players, too. The fourth hole is pretty, a dead-ahead pin guarded by stately willows. Notable: Watch out for pedestrians, who often traverse the path along the course. You don't want some old lady catching plastic in the larynx.

Pier Park, St. Johns

Best for: Those hoping for a true taste of the disc life; those comfortable ceding control of their fate; longshoremen.

From I-5 north, take the North Columbia Boulevard exit, turn right onto Columbia, go 5 miles and turn left on Burgard Road, which becomes Lombard Street. Follow the sweeping curve left, turn left on Bruce Avenue, and go four blocks to the park. The first tee is at corner of Bruce and James Street, just below the parking circle.

Despite Portland's reputation as a disc-golf hub, the city doesn't boast much in the way of public courses. What PDX lacks in quantity, it nearly makes up in quality due to Pier Park, a hilly and wide-ranging North Portland forest with an army of wooden sentinels devoted to bringing down your disc. Pier is the city's most magical course, both for the feel of the space and the fact that your score will be based mostly on chance. Notable: Hometown hucksters HukLab opened a gleaming new storefront last winter a mile or two south, where they peddle an array of discs, collectibles, gear, and stuff stamped with a tribal trefoil.

Blue Lake Park, Fairview 

Best for: Professional tournament junkies; those who wish disc golf had motorized carts already.

From I-84 east, take exit 16, head north on Northeast 238th Drive and turn left onto Sandy Boulevard. Continue on Sandy for 0.7 miles and turn right on 223rd Avenue. Go 1 mile and turn left onto Northeast Blue Lake Road. The park entrance will come up on your left in a half-mile.

This links-style course was designed by 2008 World Champion Dave Feldberg and opened in 2012. It's long, challenging and suitable more for tournament play than family outings, but it's a beautiful course, low and scrubbed on the edges. Sticking to the fairways is a good idea as discs are easily lost in the rough. Blue Lake is a solid hike, and you'll get an idea of what high-level players look for in a course. Notable: DO NOT SWIM IN BLUE LAKE.

Horning's Hideout, North Plains 

Best for: Hardcore disc lifers; hill folk.

From U.S. 26 west, take exit 57 to North Plains. Turn right onto 1st Street, go 1.5 miles, turn left onto Pumpkin Ridge Road, go 5 miles, turn right onto Brunswick Canyon Road, and go 1 mile.

Horning's boasts three courses, a pro shop, frequent tournaments, and campgrounds where you can drink, get high and camp with a whole gypsy-style subculture of plastic-lovin' hillbillies. [Note: Bob Horning of Horning's Hideout notes that he does not allow illicit drug use, including medical marijuana, which is illegal under Federal law, on his property.] Instead of standard baskets, the courses are dotted here and there with what we refer to as "Horning's Holes," crudely crafted metallic abominations spray-painted yellow and laced with chains. Notable: Despite Horning's Holes, the three courses are excellent and serve a wide range of skill levels. Highland is for beginners and families, but still a solid play for pros; Canyon is a midlevel course; Meadow Ridge, the most difficult of the three courses, is ranked No. 1 in Oregon by, though ballot stuffing seems likely.

Lunchtime, Southwest Portland

Best for: Same demographics as Horning's Hideout, but more city-oriented; college students.

From I-5 south, take a left onto Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard, then a left on Barbur Boulevard and a right onto Bertha Boulevard. Go left on Vermont Street and follow the signs to Greater Portland Bible Church, 2374 SW Vermont St. Go through the apartments and church lots to the first tee at the top of the parking lots next to dilapidated windmill.

This 15-hole urban sanctuary is tucked between Multnomah Village and Hillsdale, an undeveloped oasis and a generous offering of land by Greater Portland Bible Church. While difficult to find and confusingly marked, Lunchtime is a mainstay for Portland's disc-golf junkies, an isolated and varied course that's also relatively close. Lunchtime isn't the city's fanciest course, but it's a beloved workhorse. Notable: The layout is not intuitive. Your best bet is to follow other players, or find someone who knows the course.

Trojan Park, Rainier 

Best for: History buffs hoping to relive the nuclear golden age; anglers searching for three-eyed fish and lost plastic.

Go west on U.S. 30 about 40 miles to the old Trojan Nuclear Power Plant. Turn right and park in the big lot. The first tee is right next to the lot.

If you spend enough time wading the bucolic pools along which Trojan's course winds—and this is a common occurrence because you'll lose at least one disc to the Narcissusian depths—you may find yourself feeling the insistent hum of the decommissioned Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, just over a hill. The plant isn't running anymore, so it's all in your head, I'm sure. But perhaps the hum will turn you into a mutant with powers especially conducive to disc golf. With tight fairways and a million water hazards, you're going to need all the help you can get out here. Notable: Despite the radiation jokes, the setting is truly beautiful, and the abandoned state of the power plant gives the course a ghost-town vibe.

Buxton Woods, Buxton

Best for: Trailblazers.

Go west on U.S. 26 for 30 miles. Take a right onto Northwest Fisher Road. Continue for 2.8 miles and turn right onto John Lee Road. Turn into the second driveway on the left.

Buxton is a rough gem right now, but the potential is there—a well-considered private course carved through forests and clearings, up hillsides and over ponds. The best part is how the course gets increasingly better, moving deftly up a wooded hill before culminating in a finale of epic downhill shots. Notable: Say hello to the friendly German shepherd that roams the property, but don't say hello to his identical twin. If you have already, it's too late. You are now his prey.

Dabney State Park, Troutdale

Best for: Nice guys, who will finish somewhere in the middle.

From I-84 east, take exit 18 for Lewis and Clark State Park. Follow the Historic Columbia River Highway for 4 miles to Dabney, a half-mile past the Stark Street Bridge. In the park, take the first left to the small parking lot on the right. The first tee is across the lot just past the gate.

This is a nice park, and a nice course. You can't say anything bad about Dabney. But you also just can't say anything in general because Dabney's just there, the nice guy in the corner. You can always fall back on ol' Dabney. Notable: The park is named after Richard Dabney, a rich guy who wanted to build a hotel on Crown Point.

Milo MacIver State Park, Estacada

Best for: Disc golf aficionados who can appreciate a truly fine course.

From I-205, take exit 12A to OR-212/224. Go right to stay on 224 at the fork. After 1 mile, turn right and go across the bridge, then left about 9 miles on South Springwater Road to the park on left. The first tee is in the Riverbend area by the west parking lot.

Arguably the best course in the state, and certainly one of the best in the world. Milo starts out rough with a backbreaking par five on the second hole, but the rest of the course is joyful disc golf at its finest. Many of the fairways follow meadows laced along the Clackamas River, setting up a wide array of picturesque shots. Milo isn't for beginners, though most of the holes are friendly enough. Notable: Milo features 27 holes—36 during the annual Beaver State Fling—while Timber Park, another course on the north bank of the river, has 21, making Estacada the de facto disc-golf capital of Oregon. 

Expert Advice: Todd Andrews

Todd Andrews, 51, lives in Southwest Portland and works for a local architecture firm. He’s been playing disc golf since 1980, the summer after he graduated from high school. Andrews is the Director of the 2014 PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships to be held in Portland this August (and brother-in-law of
news editor Brent Walth).

WW: How did you first get involved in disc golf?

Todd Andrews: A friend of mine from high school had picked up the sport while he was living on the East Coast. He asked me if I wanted to try a new sport and told me about disc golf. He had heard about a course on the UC Irvine campus and so we grabbed our Wham-o Frisbees, filled a cooler full of beer and made a day of it. After that, I was hooked.

How big is disc golf in Oregon compared to other places?

Disc golf in Oregon has grown substantially since about 2001. We still don't compare well to large states like California, Texas or in the Midwest, but we are making steady progress. As it stands now, some of the top pros in the world call Oregon home, you can play in a tournament almost every weekend, and we have a higher percentage of women that play than in most states. The main challenge is changing the perception that disc golf is not a real sport played by talented athletes. Also, because of the growing popularity of the sport, most of the local course are overcrowded.

What are your favorite courses within a half hour of Portland and anywhere in the state?

In my opinion, the best courses in Portland are at Milo McIver State Park, but the one I play the most is Pier Park. The course out at Blue Lake is a newer, championship-caliber course that is very challenging, but is also quite scenic. Everyone should play Whistler's Bend park outside of Roseburg at least once. It is challenging, fun to play and in a beautiful setting. The view from the "Top of the World" hole is amazing.