BELDING — It hasn’t yet been two months since the latest area disc golf course, SMASH Park, opened at Lightning Bend Park in Belding, but that hasn’t stopped organizers from looking to the future.
The park, which is free to play, opened on July 2 and features nine holes, from which visitors tee off with the throw of a disc with a goal to eventually land the disc into a basket at the end of each hole.
Since that time, improvements have been made at the course, such as artificial turf installed at each hole for smooth tee pads, a feature unique to SMASH Park, and course markers guiding players throughout the course. A league has also started up and many visitors from as far as Holland and areas north of Grand Rapids have come to play the course.
The sudden attraction and desire to expand brought a decision before members of Belding City Council during last Thursday’s meeting to approve expanding the course to 18 holes, much earlier than originally anticipated.
After discussion between SMASH Park Committee Chairperson Keven Krieger and council members of council, the council voted 5-0 to approve the expansion.
“We are seeing a lot of foot traffic out at the park,” Krieger said. “We get a lot of buzz locally through social media. We were kind of hoping to expand because a lot of people won’t travel from a long distance because they don’t want to play a nine-hold course, they want an 18-hole course.”
Krieger said the primary reason for expansion, however, is simply because “everyone is having so much fun.”
“We think the course brings a lot to Lightning Bend Park and to the community,” he said. “We have a lot of interest from our committee to go to an 18-hole course, mainly because we are having a lot of fun with it.”
Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore said she supports the decision to expand the course to 18 holes.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of positives about the course,” Mullendore said. “There aren’t a lot of 18-hole courses around this region. It is becoming a very popular sport for all ages. I think it’s another way to really utilize Lightning Bend Park.”
The closest 18-hole courses to Belding are Bertha Brock County Park in Ionia and Fallasburg Park in Lowell. The closest nine-hole course is Alan G. Davis Park in Greenville.
Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Belding said she was pleasantly surprised by the new course’s popularity, but wanted to be sure the committee was ready for expansion. When council members originally approved the construction of the first nine holes, the possibility of an additional nine holes was mentioned but nothing was made official.
“I think it’s a great use for Lightning Bend Park and I think it shows a lot that you’re already ready to expand,” she said. “Obviously this is quicker than you guys anticipated, are you ramped up for funding?”
Krieger said his committee is ready to begin plotting the new holes and raising funds to purchase additional baskets for the course.
“We are ready to start as soon as we have approval,” he said.
Krieger said the first nine holes were created with many generous donations, but believes there are more Belding businesses and organizations that may be willing to donate.
“Some of the big companies that are very generous, we haven’t even talked to yet,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any issues with funding.”
Krieger estimates the expansion to cost anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000. The original nine holes were finished at an estimated $4,200 in total costs. He said the process to seek an additional nine holes has come sooner than expected thanks to volunteer labor from many Belding residents.
“We have a great community of disc golfers here and many others who just want to help to see another fun activity here in Belding,” he said. “This community have always been supportive of new, innovative things.”
Mullendore said she submitted a grant application with the Greenville Area Community Foundation in the amount of $4,500 to be used to help build the additional holes on the course.
“I thought this would be a great way that they could receive funding,” she said.
Mullendore said the city would be notified in January whether it receives the grant or not. She said she also asked for additional funding to properly fix cracks and repaint the tennis courts at Central Riverside Park.
Last year, the Greenville Area Community Foundation granted Belding $10,000 in funding for various projects.
“It’s nice that the Greenville Area Community Foundation doesn’t forget about Belding,” Belding said. “They were quite generous last year.”
According to Krieger, the next nine holes will continue further south into the woodland of Lightning Bend Park and feature some longer distance holes to contrast with the course’s currently short, but challenging holes.
Leagues meet at 6 p.m. Tuesdays.
During the Belding Labor Day Celebration, a clinic will be from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at SMASH park where area professional disc golfers will teach the basics of the sport, followed by a beginner’s tournament.
At 10 a.m. Sunday, an open SMASH Park Tournament will begin at the park.