Dog Walkers Howl Over McLaren Park Disc Golf Course Plan

Linda Davirro

Dogs and Frisbees usually get along pretty well, but plans for an 18-hole disc golf course at McLaren Park has left many local residents howling in protest.

Critics claim the city's Parks and Recreation Department ignored community viewpoints before going ahead with plans to break ground for the course this summer.

Those plans are now on hold after the Parks and Recreation Open Space Advisory Committee asked the city's parks commission to hold hearings on the plan. The advisory panel, better known as PROSAC, felt that it was important to hear the public’s voice.

Disc golf, also known as Frisbee golf, is typically played over a nine- or 18-hole course set up on 25-35 acres. Starting on a four-by-10-foot concrete pad, players try to throw discs of different weights into a four-foot metal basket at the end of each 300-500-yard fairway.

The course was first proposed in 1997 by the SF Disc Golf Club, but they later withdrew the plan due to public opposition. In 2005, the commission approved the permanent Golden Gate course and added in McLaren Park, though few outside of the hearing room knew about it.

The park neighbors next heard about the course in January of this year when the parks department announced plans to build it this summer. While there are a variety of neighborhood concerns with the course, the biggest is that about 10 of the 18 holes would overlap with a 60-acre off-leash exercise area for dogs.

At first, it may sound like a lot of fun to see dogs running with Frisbees flying overhead, noted Sally Stephens, chair of SFDog, a group that advocates for the rights of dog owners. "But we have concerns that the two uses actually might not be compatible," she said.

Stephens said the group suspects the scene would quickly degrade into "people yelling at each other" as the playful pups intercept and chew on the discs, which typically cost $10-20.

"A lot of the laying-out of the course seems to have been done behind closed doors," Stephens said. "We're asking that he process be started over with a lot more community input."

Dogs and Discs
Jeffery Bowling, a past president of the San Francisco Disc Golf Association and the leading advocate for the McLaren course, said the concern over conflicting uses is misplaced. Bowling, who lives near McLaren, said he owns three dogs and often brings them with him while he plays at Golden Gate Park.

"We're greatly surprised by the opposition," he said, noting his all-volunteer group would be donating 4,700 in man-hours to help build a major recreational facility for the city during a time when the parks department budget is lean. He said he understands some of the neighbors might not be attracted to the game, but said the course would attract younger people to the park.

According to Bowling, the disc group took great care to ensure that the holes that overlap with the dog area won't cause problems for either the golfers or the dogs. He said only about 20 percent of the dog area is used in the course, but the busiest parts were avoided and there are no plans to reduce the off-leash area.

Bowling said he hasn’t heard about plans for any hearings and isn’t sure what will happen next. But he noted that Supervisor John Avalos is trying to work out a compromise while the parks department reviews the planning process.

The parks department staff and the disc golf group argue there's a need for more recreational facilities at the sprawling park in the southeast corner of the city. But critics of the course say there are already a growing number of uses including the dog area, new trails, Philosopher’s Way, bike skills area and the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater.

Some park users are asking for a full environmental impact report on the disc golf proposal, citing concerns about erosion, tree damage, noise and the potential liabilities of flying discs injuring walkers, hikers and dogs.

Linda Davirro is a member of the District 11 Neighborhood Council. This is her first article for