Student designs UAS disc golf course

Morgan Johnson uses mapping skills to design nine-hole course opening in August

Morgan Johnson stood next to a small red flag behind the University of Alaska Southeast’s freshman dormitory on Friday.


The UAS senior pointed out the various flags that mark the future tee and hole locations for a disc golf course. Peering down the tree line, several hundred feet down a small slope, three more red flags poke up out of the ground, marking the future site of a hole (or disc catcher), the spot individuals will throw their Frisbees to.

“I think that’s a pretty great view to have for a disc golf course,” said Johnson, looking out past John Pugh Hall, toward Auke Lake and the Mendenhall Glacier.

Johnson, 21, is the architect of a new UAS disc golf course, which is slated to open at the end of August. The course will be located in the forest behind the Pugh Hall and the Noyes Pavilion and feature a course map, trails, tee boxes (platforms to throw from), bear-proof trash cans and signage.

UAS currently has nine disc catchers spread out around campus. However, they are not organized into a course and many are located next to buildings and windows.

The geology and environmental studies major from Wasilla has spent the last six months designing, budgeting and recruiting volunteers for the project. The University of Alaska executive board gave her permission to use the land, which is owned by the university, last month.

It all began with an innocent class project during Johnson’s sophomore year. Johnson took a GIS (geographic information system) class with Dr. Sanjay Pyare. For one assignment, she mapped out the disc golf holes spread out in different locations around campus. For a second assignment, she made a hypothetical disc golf course in the woods behind the Egan Library. She passed the class and moved on.

The following spring, Eric Scott, the dean of students and campus life, caught a glimpse of Johnson’s map of the disc golf course. He recommended if Johnson wanted to build a course, she should plan on doing it in the woods behind the pavilion and dorm, land the university owns.

Later that week, Johnson’s academic adviser informed her of a $2500 grant available through the Undergraduate Research, Experiential &Creative Activities office, which assists undergraduates with extra-curricular research and creative activities.

With the URECA application deadline just hours away, Johnson hastily drafted a project proposal. URECA extended the deadline for one day to accommodate Johnson, who titled her project, “UAS Disc Golf Baskets Relocation for New Course Creation” and pledged to “use mobile GIS to plot points of the baskets, tee boxes, trails and trashcans.”

Pyare and Dr. Brian Blitz, a math professor and disc golf enthusiast, served as her mentors.

Kelly Jensen is the program coordinator for URECA and knew the project would serve Johnson — and the public — well.

“This project is very, very much a collaborative effort,” Jensen said. “So not only is it benefiting people beyond Morgan, but it’s also a collaboration beyond just what Morgan can do. So Morgan is really facilitating a bigger vision.”

Johnson said designing the disc golf course opened a lot of doors, including an internship with the engineering and parks and recreation departments at the City and Borough of Juneau. After graduating, Johnson hopes to go into landscape architecture, a field she says will gel well with her current major (geology and environmental studies) and minor (anthropology).

“I think it all kind of ties together because you should know the environment you’re building in and what you’re building with,” Johnson said. “And then the anthropology (part) is like, you should know who you’re building for and what’s culturally important.”

Johnson knew the course would be primarily for UAS students, whom she said could use another healthy outlet.

“I think having a disc golf course on campus starts people getting out of their dorms and getting out of their apartments to go use it,” Johnson said. “And if there’s a shared space that a lot of people are going to, I think it creates opportunities for people to meet and build community.”

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.



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