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The beautiful Feather River flows through the City of Portola, with the new HouckDesign disc golf course to open with a tournament at the Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf course on Saturday, October 23 at 8:30 a.m. Photo by Dee Leekha

City of Portola abuzz with excitement as new Houck disc golf course grand soft opening approaches

The 18-hole course, designed by renowned disc golf course designer John Houck, has been generating enthusiasm since being approved by Portola City Council on April 14. Volunteers have been stepping up and getting to work on bringing the dream to life despite a summer of smoke, wildfire, and pandemic.

Plumas County resident Tim Rhode has been leading the effort and took a moment to talk with Plumas News about what’s generating all of the buzz. “The beauty of this project is how it has brought the entire community together,” Rhode said with a smile. “We all needed something good and positive after the triple punch of the proposed Portola Mine- which we all defeated!”

Rhode explained that the Delta variant of Covid-19 and the horrible fires threatening the community brought a dark cloud with it, and went on to say, “I think this project brought Portola something positive we could all rally around, dig in together and create something special for locals, businesses and disc golf enthusiasts from locally and from across the country alike.”

Community members take action, bringing the course to life
There have been volunteers from every walk of life actively working through the summer on the course. “We have had volunteers galore including Portola City Council members Tom Cooley, Phil Oels and Mayor Bill Powers active on this project daily volunteering their time to help “Firewise” the park, as well as Councilman Phil Oels building us nine benches,” Rhode said.

The excitement blossomed and spread, with the Graeagle Lions Club joining in and volunteering to clean up, and the Rotary Club of Portola has been a “big help”, assisting in getting sponsor monies for the improvements.

Everyone has something to contribute, Rhode explained. Connections within the community and rippling outward have been a major part of the acceleration of the project. Rhode explained that as an example, Chris Chadbourne of Higher Elevation in Portola sponsored $2000 in tee signs for the Portola Disc Golf Course.

Chadbourne then connected Rhode to local disc golf legends like John “Hulk” Wayne, who is cleaning around the disc golf basket areas, and Brian Howell, who is helping with the club formation and is connected to many in the NorCal disc world. “Local crafts people like Justin and Casey Williams are making our large sign for the front entry of the course, and Scott Keough is crafting sign posts out of shaved cedar trees for the course. Chris Rhode has been helping supervise the park clean up and improvement installation. Will Marquette created our awesome Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Course logo and Jason Perkins Tree Grinding Service is grinding a hundred or so stumps for free,” Rhode went on.

Lauren Houston from the Blairsden Garden Center will be donating well over $1,000 in trees to be planted for the protection of those walking on the Riverwalk from an errant disc.

The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship will be helping with advising on and building the trails between some of the holes on the course for beauty and erosion control.

“We want to be in harmony with this beautiful piece of land and they have the know-how and volunteer army to get it done right!” Rhode said. “Also, the city of Portola has been wonderful to work with. City Manager Lauren Knox has been a wealth of knowledge and assistance in getting this project right for the long haul. Public Works director Todd Roberts and his team members Corey Smith, Dan Olsen, and Scott Beaver have been all over getting the park Firewise ready and our infrastructure in place.”

Rhode said, “With their help we’ve taken an approximately 30-acre, under loved fire hazard, and are turning it into a gem the city and visitors will enjoy for decades to come!”

Dee Leekha commented that Portola will always have a little piece of her heart. “There is so much natural beauty here, but it’s the people here that make it a true jewel,” she said, when asked about the project in Portola. “Tim Rhode is just one of those exceptional people who made it all happen and led this project the whole way.  He has worked many hours daily on the course and the project to bring everyone together. Every town needs someone like Tim! He’s such a giver.”

The first HouckDesign course in California
Rhode has nothing but good to say about his experience working with “the G.O.A.T of disc golf design John Houck” and his wife and partner Dee Leekha.

“John has solo designed more than 120 courses worldwide and consulted on another 100- he currently has three out of ten of the top-rated courses in the world and seven in the top 100, including the #1 course in Canada,” Rhode said. “They have been most professional, and John has been here five times now to make sure we get this right up front.”

Rhode expressed that the Houcks have been a wealth of knowledge, and that their passion for the sport their want to grow disc golf is remarkable.

“This is their first course in California, and the Portola/Eastern Plumas area will become a must-play destination course for disc aficionados worldwide once we open,” said Rhode.

“We want to give back to Portola like so many residents have done,” John Houck said. “It has been a labor of love for many and we wanted to be part of the same team, so we discounted our fees too. We are so happy to have a chance to design here.”

Immediate and future plans
The Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Club’s current plan is to get the course open this year, no small feat amidst the challenges of the past summer, with the Dixie Fire raging in the county since July. The club then plans on having a few small tournaments and meet ups as the Portola Disc Golf Club gets legs.

Next year, the club plans to have leagues for all ages, including seniors, and professional tournaments with top players from around Northern California and Nevada. “I’m sure we will draw pros from all over the country wanting to challenge the “New Houck course” in Portola,” Rhode said with a smile.

Projected benefits to the city of Portola
“One of the cool things about this new John Houck designed disc golf course is all of the benefits it’s going to bring,” Rhode said. “First off, it is free to play. So, there is the health and wellness benefits to locals of a walk in the woods throwing a disc- don’t call them frisbees!”

Rhode also anticipates that local businesses will flourish with the increased tourism that Houck courses draw.

“Players will want for a good meal after an 18-hole walk and toss that will take an hour or two depending on how fast one plays,” he said. “We’ve had numerous local businesses sponsor tees as they can see the increased business that will come from this course.”

Rhode went on to say that locals can also sit on one of the many new benches built and donated by City of Portola Councilmember Oels and “watch in wonder as some for the pros make 300 foot plus long accurate tee short and clang the chains from 50 feet plus.”

From Rhode’s point of view, the biggest plus will be all of the new disc golf players taking to the sport. “Now we will have such an amazing course to get out and play,” Rhode said with excitement. “The course has two sets of tees. The long tees will be challenging to all, including pro players. The short tees will be ideal for locals to learn the sport and have fun with an easier challenge, but many will quickly move to the long tees to take on this great Houck course.”

Rhode concluded that this project serves a multitude of purposes, including excellent outdoor recreation in town. Equally important is the Firewise work the city and volunteers have done to clean up the park. “This is an added bonus along with the “Goods in the Woods” the disc golf will provide for Portolans,” Rhode said.

Challenges and excitement
When asked what some of the biggest challenges have been in getting this course up and running, Rhode said, “I think some of the biggest challenges have been that none of us have ever done anything like this before, except the Houcks, and we had to learn on the fly how to take an overgrown fire hazard and turn it into something special.”

Rhode expressed that all involved have just rolled up their sleeves and done their best. “I think the city, citizens and businesses are going to love the course and what it brings to the city,” Rhode said.

One of the best surprises for Rhode and the Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Club thus far has been the immediate positive community response to sponsoring the course.

“We expected to raise around $15,000 and spend $10,000 on improvements, leaving the city $5,000 in reserves for future improvements and repairs,” Rhode explained. After a recent special meeting of city hall in September, it was noted that in the end, the club will be raising well over $30,000, which gives the city $7,500 in reserves for potential future costs of upkeep. The club is also approved to put in top-of-the-line concrete tees, Mach 10 baskets, professional signage and many other amenities that will make this a destination course for all levels of play from the outset, rather than waiting until a future date to replace temporary tees with professional equipment.

“The level of commitment by all that have come to love this project has been heartwarming,” Rhode said. “In a time of Covid, fires and many downers this project and disc golf course will be a light for Portola.”

Along with the multi-use trails being constructed by Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) around Beckwourth Peak that will eventually connect Portola to Graeagle, local natural assets will be used to make this a place people will want to visit and live, in Rhode’s eyes.

“None of us want huge growth, but for our businesses to thrive once again is a good thing,” Rhode concluded.

“John Houck noticed a lot of us locals “playing the fairways” prior to the tee box and basket installation, and he said he has never seen this before at one of his courses being built. The buzz is spreading that Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Course is a place to play!”

The Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Club is excited to see the community at the grand soft opening.

“You might want to even enter the tournament and see how you stack up against a few of the pros who will be here, along with our special guests the Houcks, for the course opening on October 23,” Rhode invites. There will be special commemorative discs for sale at the grand opening of the course. For information on sponsoring a tee or volunteering your time and talents to help build the course please contact Tim Rhode at [email protected].

There are currently 146 members of the Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Facebook group, and the first official meeting of the Portola Disc Golf Club is planned to be held in early October. At this time, the course is scheduled for a soft open on Saturday, October 23.

The first tee off will be at 8:30 a.m. The cost is $35 per person or $40 the day of the event, and two commemorative discs will be included in the entry fee- one with the Portola Riverwalk logo and one with a surprise logo that the Houcks are designing for the special day.

More details about the club will be available soon.

A few sponsorship opportunities are still available as of press time, and volunteers are needed at the course on October 9 and October 16. Contact Tim Rhode via email at the link above for more details about volunteering, the club, sponsorship or the course.

Tom Cooley clears the area that will be the new Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Course.

John Houck and Pete Rhode strike a pose while working through smoky skies to bring the dream to life.

The Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Club logo, designed by Will Marquette. Photos submitted by the Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Club

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