Give it a whirl: Disc course in McDonald expands facilities of Johnston Woods

photo Jay McIntire of Broad Street United Methodist Church aims for the basket in a disc golf match at the new nine-hole course at the Johnston Woods Retreat Center.

Alex Everley is hoping if you build a disc golf course, they will come.

So Broad Street United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Tenn., recently completed a nine-hole course in Johnston Woods Retreat Center, a nearly 400-acre outreach ministry of the congregation in McDonald, Tenn.

Everley, who designed the course and chaired the church's committee that oversees the retreat center, said he hopes the new layout will make the center more attractive to youth groups and other visitors.

"It's a little jewel [that] nobody knows about," he said. "We want to make people more aware [of] what it offers. We want to create new revenue streams, and we think the youth angle is the way to go."

To officially inaugurate the course, members of Broad Street UMC invited members of North Cleveland Baptist Church for a Sunday evening worship service and disc golf matches.

The Baptists took the measure of the host Methodists in four of five matches, but the Baptists came away impressed.

"They've done a nice job," said Dr. Jay McCluskey, pastor of North Cleveland and an avid disc golf player. "If you're a beginning player, it's a good place to go because it's compact enough and the holes are basic enough. But if you're an experienced player, it's challenging enough."

The Rev. Debbie Stokes, associate pastor of Broad Street UMC, said disc golf "looks like a really fun recreational" opportunity.

She hopes the new course will open up opportunities for new people to be introduced to Johnston Woods and, in turn, for people to see the center as a place for retreats, family gatherings, weddings and other events.

"We hope it will be utilized more often for the peaceful surroundings it offers," she said.

Everley, a veteran disc golf player himself, said the course is like a combination of The Sinks on Access Road in Chattanooga and a course at the Jack Mattox Recreation Complex in Ringgold, Ga.

"It's really a nice layout," he said. "It offers challenges none of the others offer."

Everley said a overgrown hillside was reclaimed and seeded to build the course, with only primary trees left. Still partly in the woods, the course also offers two tee pads uphill and several doglegs toward its pins.

"It's a nice area," he said.

The cost of the work, borne by the church, was $6,000.

The course, while available exclusively to groups on weekends, is open to the public Monday through Thursday from noon to dark. There is no cost to play, but a box will be on-site for donations.

McCluskey, whose church has used Johnston Woods over the years, said the golf course will add value to the retreat experience and keep frequent disc players from having to drive so far.

"I hope it does serve their purpose to get increased utilization," he said. "But I appreciate the access to the general public. I've played [all the disc golf courses]. This is a beautiful setting, and the retreat center is a quality facility."

Everley said no one at the course is going to force his faith on visitors, but he's not shy about the ultimate reason the course was built.

"We're about saving souls," he said. "We hope to introduce someone to Christ by [their being] out there in the peace of nature. They may want to ask a question. We're ... there for the glory of God."

The retreat center, according to Everley, has two lakes, 10 cottages, an outdoor sanctuary, a pavilion, a softball field, a kickball field, a tennis court and five hiking trails. There is also Wi-Fi and food service availability.

A beach volleyball court is planned, he said, and there is plenty of land to expand the disc course to 18 holes.