Paul McCallister (#1124) via the J-Town Disc Golf website takes us through the origins of disc golf in Joliet and how West Park became the first disc golf course in Illinois.
Joliet Frisbee Guild was the name used to add legitimacy to Paul McCallister’s effort to establish Disc Golf in Joliet, Illinois. The name was used to describe a group of people in information sent to the Joliet Park Board and in subsequent verbal presentations about Disc Golf to the Park Board. It was also used one time on hot-stamped discs and one time on tee-shirts.
Paul McCallister learned to throw a disc by playing catch with Randy Osborne and Larry Cashen. Randy and Larry were N.I.U students living in an old house on a cobblestone street in DeKalb in 1972. Randy went on to perform Frisbee demos with John Connelly and The Aces. Larry was never heard from again after the summer of 1980.
Paul continued to throw Masters and 165 Frisbees at JuCo and on the Quad during his years at U. of I. in Champaign-Urbana. It was all about long and accurate throws to the other guy who didn’t have to move much to make the catch. During the summer of 1976, McCallister and his friend Gary Stubler were playing catch with a 165 in the valley at West Park. Bored with catch, they ventured uphill to the south side of the park one evening and picked out a tree as a target about 150 feet away. After throwing and walking back five or six times, they both had finally hit the tree. They continued through the park picking out the next target as they went along. A few weeks later McCallister brought a roll of masking tape and marked a few trees before Gary arrived. It became a three-target course with three throwing positions for each. The first course at West Park! It is now known that object golf cropped up independently in many places before Ed Headrick introduced the Pole Hole in 1976 at the Rose Bowl.
McCallister’s friend from JuCo, Paul Riley went to N.I.U. Both graduated in 1977 and would meet a few evenings each week at Pilcher Park where the entrance off Gouger Road meets Hickory Creek. They threw disc there into spring 1978 when George Meyer stopped and introduced himself one day. He was a freestyle guy but enjoyed throwing, too. George joined us on Thursdays at Pilcher. He had freestyle discs for sale. George was aware of organized Frisbee stuff. Paul Riley got a sports writing job in Hoopeston, IL and left town. McCallister’s friend Gary Stubler replaced Riley playing catch in Pilcher Park. There were times when no one else showed up to throw and McCallister started throwing at objects like trash barrels or trees. Soon he brought back the masking tape idea and marked a target on trees so his walk in the park became a game. This time two rings of tape circled each of three trees, one ring about 2 feet off the ground and the other ring two feet above the lower ring. Now the game was to hit the tree between the rings. Larry Cashen, Gary Stubler and Paul McCallister picked out spots to throw from and played threw at each target from three different spots. By now it was a competition and we were keeping track of the number of throws. It was good fun.
In late spring of 1978, George Meyer brought us the news of a tournament in Chicago. The event was the North American Flying Disc Series (N.A.F.D.S.) Chicago to be held at Gilson Park in Wilmette. Disc golf was one of the events. Intrigued, we sent in our pre-registrations and went to play. The Disc Golf tee and basket concept was new to us. One of the other events was Guts Frisbee. We were not about to try that! But we got hooked on Golf, especially McCallister. He asked Tournament Director, John Connelly, if there was any printed material on Disc Golf. Connelly sent a DGA brochure where he learned about Ed Headrick and Miracle Playground Equipment in Grinnell, IA, distributor of the course equipment.
McCallister was hooked on the Disc Golf concept and talked about trying to see about what it would take to get a course in Joliet. The small group, McCallister, Meyer, Cashen and Stubler decided to formalize themselves into a club to add a bit of legitimacy to any effort to approach the Park District. There was already a “guild” in Joliet, the Joliet Drama Guild. So we decided on the Joliet Frisbee Guild. Not so much because we thought it was a cool name, more because we thought older people like park board members and news people would more easily accept that there was a group of flying disc sports enthusiasts. We didn’t have regular meetings or any official membership registration. But when we first approached the Joliet Park District to get on a meeting agenda to introduce the Disc Golf Concept, we were doing so as a group. We got on the agenda. Meyer and McCallister appeared at the meeting. McCallister spoke, passed out copies of the DGA brochure and spoke about a low-cost recreational concept usable by people of all ages. AL Lorenc, one of the park board members, mentioned that he was familiar with the sport having seen a pole hole at a park equipment trade show.
Mr. Lorenc asked McCallister to look at some of the Joliet parks and come back with a suggestion for a site he thought would be good for a course.
Meyer and McCallister went to Highland Park, Noel Park, Pilcher Park and West Park. McCallister took a lot of time making masking tape courses at each. He thought West Park was the best site since it was centrally located and the south side of the park had no facilities except a rest room with running water and swing set. No matter what time of day he went to the park, very few people were ever there. Our next spot on a Park Board Agenda was three weeks away. Meyer obtained an 18” x 24” print of an old aerial view of West Park. The picture was at a time of year with no leaves on the trees. Using tissue overlays, McCallister drew three possible course designs.
While spending several days at the park, McCallister noticed a litter problem and no trash receptacles. He also noticed that, after dark, there were always several cars parked in the valley lot. Kids were partying and drinking. The next morning he could see how skilled the drinking bunch had become at breaking beer bottles on the curbs and pavement. He never saw a police squad car approach the lower lot.
Armed with an aerial photo and course overlays showing 18-hole feasibility, equipment cost, volunteer labor, non-interference with park use patterns, and a story about how the presence of recreational disc players would likely be a deterrent to littering and tend to keep bad elements away, McCallister gave his presentation and also mentioned that professional design and tournament certification were part of the purchase price. At the next regular meeting in February, 1979, the board voted to purchase equipment for an 18-Hold Disc Golf Course to be installed at West Park in the area used by McCallister’s designs with the exception that all fairways, tees and pole holes had to be located to the south side of the creek running through the park. This was because there was a possible plan to use the low area in the future as a storm water retention area. We agreed to prepare a re-design using the park area approved by the Board. The equipment was purchased in April and delivered in May. Ed Headrick contacted McCallister when the order was being processed to arrange being picked up at O’Hare and taken to the park. Ed tweaked McCallister’s design primarily by using the rocky dry rainwater runoff that became original fairway # 6. Ed sent the tournament certification letter to the Board. The Park District’s Director of Recreation set a target date of September for completion of installation.
McCallister, Meyer and Cashen scheduled the first tournament for the last weekend in September. McCallister ordered 200 Wham-O #42 mold Joliet Frisbee Guild hot stamped discs and tee shirts with “Joliet Frisbee Guild” on the front and “Frisbee for the People” imprinted on the back for the tourney staff. They had posters printed and distributed to willing places of business throughout the community.
McCallister sent press releases to local and Chicago media. It was a one-round event with fivesomes and a shotgun start. Each player received a disc with $5.00 entry. The Joliet Frisbee Guild ceased to exist thereafter.
By the next season McCallister began using West Park Flyers as a promotional name. The first PDGA tournament at West Park was on June 30 & July 1, 1980. It was held on a Monday and Tuesday immediately following the 1980 Chicago N.A.F.D.S. because so many traveling players would be in the area. 100 Pros played in the two day tourney which culminated in a 9-hold finale featuring the top 4 players in both men’s and women’s divisions. There was a total of $5,000 in prize money with 100 entrants at $50 each and matching funds from Wham-O through Ed Headrick. Chicago ABC TV sent a crew out to provide some coverage on Monday afternoon.
In the following eight years McCallister played and promoted the sport of Disc Golf. He was involved in establishment and designs of New Lenox, Channahon and Shorewood. He directed more then 45 area tournaments including the first Illinois State and traveled to help players in other cities establish more courses.
Paul also played in the first two World Championships at La Mirada, CA and Huntsville, AL.
People Involved in the Joliet Frisbee Guild:
George and Cindy Meyer
To be continued...
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