Raising an Eagle: The Creation of Raptors Knoll

I am proud to say that as of 2021, Raptors Knoll Disc Golf Park is the 19th best disc golf course in the world. Located at 1111 - 272 Street in the Township of Langley, Raptors makes up roughly 40 of the 100-acres Jackman Wetlands Park. Built by a crew of dedicated volunteers driven by their love of disc golf, the 18-hole free public course was designed for all player levels, with most holes having 3 teepads and 2 pin placements. A post and timber pavilion is currently under construction as a result of a community grant funded by the Otter Co-op.

Before building Raptors, disc golfers in the Langley area had access to one 18-hole disc golf course at Dale Ball Passive Park, and a handful of small courses in Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, and Mission. With the skyrocketing price of land, building another disc golf course in the lower mainland area seemed impossible. As the Township Liaison for the Langley Disc Golf Club at the time, I focused on building a better relationship with the Parks and Recreation Department at the Township, which was represented by Al Neufeld. Talking with Al lead to improvements to the Passive Park course. In January 2018, I asked him about building a course on the unused land in the Jackman Wetlands Park. That land had been mentioned in the past, but the timing had never been right. To my surprise, this time Al’s response was “Bring us a plan”.

I immediately approached two local disc golf pros, Stewart McIsack and Chris Hartmann of INdesign Disc Golf, about joining forces to create a proposal for Al. Stewart and Chris were immediately on board. The property we were looking at was a former landfill site that was decommissioned in the 1980's and had been left mostly untouched apart from the planting of hundreds of trees. We soon discovered that the property was buried under 30 years of thatch, 6 feet of grass, storm damaged trees, stinging nettle, and way too many blackberry bushes. But Stewart and Chris saw the same thing I did: the potential for an amazing course. We actually picked out the spaces for holes 5 and 13 on one of our first visits to the property.

While Stewart and Chris designed the championship level course, I worked with Al to secure a land use lease for the property. After a couple of months of planning, we presented our plan to Al, which included a draft of the current design, plus a timeline and budget for its implementation and maintenance. The Township was quick to approve our proposal and as requested by the Township, we, together with two other local disc golf enthusiasts, Michael van Elburg and Wesley McIntosh, established the Jackman Wetlands Disc Golf Society for the sole purpose of creating, developing, maintaining, and operating the Raptors Knoll Disc Golf Course. On April 20, 2018, the Society signed a 5-year land use lease with the Township, and we were officially ready to begin building our course.

I won’t lie, the project was daunting. Except for a grant from the Township for 18 Innova DISCatcher Pro 28 baskets, the project had no funding. Despite the sheer amount of work ahead, we gave ourselves a deadline of July 2019 (roughly 14 months) so that Raptors would be ready to host the 2019 BC Open. That meant that in 14 months, the following events occurred:

  • Fundraising
  • Lease of a commercial mower and a sea can container to store equipment
  • Clearing of land
  • Planting of grass and trees
  • Forming and pouring of cement for 45 teepads
  • Installation of 22 permanent baskets (18 for the course, 3 for the practice/driving range and 1 for practicing near Hole 1)
  • Creation and installation of 45 tee signs
  • Coordination of thousands of hours of volunteer labour

The first order of business was clearing the land, which meant removing the blackberry bushes and stinging nettle, hundreds of fallen trees and stumps, and mowing tens of acres of 6-foot-tall grass, with no idea of what we would find underneath. The initial clearing of land took place between May 2018 and August 2018.

Once the land was roughly cleared, Stewart and Chris were able to start laying out their initial course design, beginning phase 2 of the project. We brought in hundreds of truckloads of soil and rocks to fill and contour various areas of the park. Then grass seed was planted, fairways were defined, and infrastructure like bridges and staircases were built.

A core group of dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly at Raptors on their days and evenings off, and the wider disc golf community came together to help during numerous “work parties”. Finally, on May 2, 2019, roughly a year after first breaking ground, we had the pleasure of installing 18 permanent baskets on the course. On June 1, 2019, Mayor Froese of the Township officially welcomed the public to Raptors, and on July 5, 2019, we welcomed roughly 80 professional players and 150 amateur players from across Canada, Washington State and Oregon State to the 2019 BC Open.

Looking back at it, sometimes I wonder how we were able to get such a massive project done in such a short timeframe, with no funding. Our day jobs helped immensely – Stewart is in sales, Chris and I are in operations, and Michael is the finance guy – but it all came down to hard work, hustle, reaching out to local businesses and the local disc golf community, and some plain old fashion good luck. 

There are a few major community contributors who I would like to personally thank – Operations Training School (who is very conveniently located right next door to Raptors) donated hundreds of hours of excavator and bobcat time; LafargeHolchim, who donated all of the concrete for the teepads; all of the local businesses who paid us to dispose of their garden materials (which we then used for infill and landscaping); and the dedicated core group of volunteers who contributed the bulk of the hours and hours of physical labour required to create the course. These volunteers include Scott Doan, Randy Cawthorn, Konrad Beston, and Edward Fogarty (Ed is now one of the current directors of the Society). Raptors also greatly benefitted from the diverse background of our local disc golfers, which include heavy machinery operators, carpenters, concrete formers, graphic artists, and many more. Last and not least, I would like to thank the Township who was open to the idea of building a disc golf course prior to disc golf’s current popularity. The Township also planted hundreds of new trees throughout the course and I’m very excited to see how the course changes as the trees mature.

We named our course Raptors Knoll because of the many species of birds (including different species of raptors) which call the area home. The eagle is featured in many areas of the course, from the signature Hole 8, where the basket sits on top of a raised 150ft long eagle, to the statue of an eagle near Hole 10. It is only fitting that my first (and hopefully not last) ace at Raptors was on Hole 8, which as a Par 3 is an eagle.

I am proud to say that I was able to jumpstart this project. Credit should be given to everyone who was and continues to be involved. I have since stepped down as a director of the Society and Deanna Hunter has stepped up to make her contribution to Raptors. Today a core group of tireless volunteers continue to make improvements to Raptors while carrying out all maintenance requirements like mowing, weeding and fundraising to pay for gas and the lease of a commercial mower. If you wish to contribute, please contact the Society.

John Gould-Thorpe, August 2021