A university for the Deaf builds D.C.’s first permanent disc golf course

Established in 1864, Gallaudet University is the world’s only liberal arts university dedicated entirely to education for the Deaf, the hard of hearing, and others who use ASL (American Sign Language). It’s located in the heart of Washington, D.C., under three miles from the White House.

Established in 2023, Gallaudet University DiscGolfPark is the U.S. capital’s first disc golf course with permanent baskets, and GU students, faculty, and staff can play it whenever they’d like.

How did GU come upon the idea to add disc golf to their campus, what was it like to design a course specifically with the Deaf and hard of hearing in mind, and is the course being well-received? Two GU full-time staff members involved with the project, the student president of its disc golf club, and the DiscGolfPark designer who planned the course filled us in.


Securing a place for disc golf at Gallaudet

Justin Arrigo, who now manages GU’s esports program, had been an avid disc golfer for years when he moved from GU’s Residence Life staff to Athletics. He learned some welcome information in his new role.

”After making the transfer to the athletics department, I knew disc golf would fit right in with the vision of our Athletic Director, Warren Keller, of bringing in new things for our students on campus,” Arrigo said.

The school’s Dean of Student Affairs, Travis Imel, believed in Keller’s aims and was also instrumental in getting approval for GU’s DiscGolfPark.

”They made this idea a reality,” Arrigo said.

Disc golf was the top choice for utilizing rarely-used areas on campus because, per Arrigo, ”the natural landscape remained intact” while still offering a fun and healthy activity to students that wasn’t available nearby.

Once he had the backing of key figures at GU, Arrigo investigated options for installing a disc golf course and discovered School DiscGolfPark, which includes baskets, design, signage, and starter kits. He said it ”stood out as a comprehensive one-stop-shop for all of our needs.” After choosing DiscGolfPark, he was excited that former Professional Disc Golf World Champion and highly experienced course designer Avery Jenkins would be their designer.


Designing a disc golf course for Deaf players

Jenkins said designing for GU was a rewarding and educational experience. For instance, this was the first time he’d built a course while communicating via ASL interpreters at on-site and online meetings.

Additionally, he not only had to create a course that would be fun for both new and experienced players, but one that would be 100% safe for disc golfers and passersby who couldn’t communicate verbally.

”Any shot that goes off line, if someone yells, ’Fore,’ no one’s going to hear them,” Jenkins explained.

One way he adapted to GU’s needs was leaving tree branches he’d normally trim.

”They have a lot of old-growth trees with really low branches – sometimes no more than six feet [1.8 meters] off the ground,” Jenkins said. ”Normally I’d limb those up and try to get some airspace underneath them. This time I said, ’Leave ’em low.’ After playing this a bunch of times, I saw that these branches would knock down errant shots before they got any air under them.”

Arrigo told us that Jenkins’ clear expertise was invaluable to the project.

”Avery’s credentials and professionalism made this process a very smooth one,” Arrigo said. ”He was very thorough with information sharing and we were able to keep the executive sponsors updated on every step of the process and answered all questions they had.”


Elevating the campus experience

According to GU’s student disc golf club president Donovan Holmes, the course is getting plenty of attention.

”Since the course was installed, interest in the club has boomed,” Holmes said. ”We started selling custom-stamped discs with our club’s logo on it from Discmania, and we’ve had a lot of interest not only from students but alumni, staff, and faculty members as well. I brought a bunch of them to the Deaf Disc Golf Association’s Deaf National Championship last summer in Oregon and they were a huge hit!”

Holmes plans to build up the community even more by hosting leagues, glow rounds, and clinics in the future.

Tom McKnight – an associate athletic trainer in the GU Athletics Department, a huge part of the course design and install process, and president of the D.C. Deaf Disc Golf Association – is happy to see how warmly the sport is being embraced. The response shows that the course is doing exactly what it was intended to, and even upper administration has taken notice.

”The course was designed to elevate the campus experience for students while at the same time providing an escape for staff and community members to play disc golf,” McKnight said. ”The administrators are happy to see it work out, including the university president herself.”

As for Arrigo, he sees GU’s DiscGolfPark as far more than just another disc golf course.

”I’m extremely proud of our community coming together, pitching in to help with the creative process led by Avery and helping with the course installation,” Arrigo said. ”The Deaf/signing community is a small one so we’re tight-knit and a lot of us are connected through Gallaudet as the only university for the Deaf/signing individuals, and having a course on campus means a lot to us.”

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