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What’s special about McLaren Park?

In response to a 1920’s campaign slogan, “Our People Need This Breathing Space,” the wild acres composing John McLaren Park were set aside from development for the purposes of recreation, restoration, and the general enjoyment of future generations.

Fortunately for all of us, over the decades, precious sections of the park have remained wild, providing a unique open space to escape the rush and rattle of city life. You can run with your dog on meandering trails, watch hawks soar above, and listen to an ever changing aria of birdsong as you stroll through groves of redwoods, acres of coyote scrub, and rolling hills of grasslands and wildflowers. The park has indeed honored John McLaren’s wish of providing a place of “unspoiled alpine joy in the City.”

Why is disc golf in McLaren Park a bad idea?

We welcome activities that get the public out in nature. However, here are three (of many) reasons we believe disc golf is not a good fit for McLaren Park:

Environmental Damage

Disc golf courses cause well-known environment damage, including: accelerated erosion, trampling of undergrowth and constant stripping of leaves and branches by discs flying at highway speeds. Our ongoing documentation of the Golden Gate Park course shows that the habitat degradation there in the last few years is significant, undeniable, and ongoing. The current disc golf proposal calls for active recreation infrastructure in natural areas of McLaren Park designated for passive recreation and wildlife habitat.


Disc golf is akin to regular golf – fast moving projectiles are hazards to uninvolved pedestrians and wildlife, shattering serene activities such as “forest bathing,” strolling with your family or dog, hiking, running, photography, or bird-watching.

Other Conflicts of Usage

Several of Rec/Park Dept.’s own programs are in conflict with the proposed course, including the Dog Play Area, Philosopher’s Way, Sensitive Bird Habitat, and various stewardship and educational programs. Looking forward, Hunter’s Point/Lennar, Candlestick Point, and other development projects in the southeast quadrant of the City will emphasize the need to protect McLaren’s precious open spaces.

History highlights of disc golf in San Francisco:

1997   A 24-hole disc golf course is proposed for McLaren Park. At Rec/Park public forums, community members express fierce opposition, causing the SF Disc Golf Club (SFDGC) to withdraw its proposal.  

2002   Rec/Park approves SFDGC’s request for the construction of a 12-hole temporary trial course at Golden Gate Park –the course is built and usage by players begins

2005   After reviewing GG gardeners’ and naturalists’ concerns of environmental damage caused by the sport, the Rec/Park Comm. approves the permanent upgrading of the GG 12-hole course to an 18-hole course and, to the disc golfer’s surprise, grants a bonus 18-hole course for McLaren Park. This decision was not agendized prior to the meeting, nor was there notification of McLaren neighbors.

2010   In March, with a few posted fliers, Rec/Park finally notified the McLaren community of its plans to begin construction of a disc golf course that summer. In response, neighbors formed the group, Save McLaren Park (SMP) and hundreds of concerned angry citizens packed a Rec/Park informational meeting. Later in the year, respected environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, SF Tomorrow, and the California Native Plant Society join our cause as well as many community business and social groups. SMP’s analysis of government documents produces a timeline that convinces Rec/Park Open Space Advisory Comm. (PROSAC) to call for a proper public hearing on the issue. Later, in that same June meeting, Pres. Buell admits the missteps of Rec/Park and calls for a public hearing.

Save McLaren Park asserts the following:

  1. Disc golf is fundamentally incompatible with existing and desired uses of the park.

  2. Rec/Park must rescind its 2005 decision approving a disc golf course in McLaren Park.

  3. Prior to any decision to install a disc golf course in McLaren Park, we demand an extensive public process and environmental review.

Some interesting facts and figures:

  • Save McLaren Park has collected roughly 3,000 petition signatures. Over 1000 people are on our email list and receive regular newsletters and updates.

  • The park lies almost entirely within San Francisco’s District 10.

  • Players can throw discs at speeds of 50-80 m.p.h. with documented injuries to people, pets, and wildlife.

  • Pedestrians would “technically” be allowed to pass through the disc golf course, but few would feel comfortable strolling through, picnicking, or relaxing in an active sports course.

  • Seven of the proposed fairways are in grasslands designated as Significant Bird Habitat by the Rec/Park Dept.’s own Natural Areas Program. Ten of the proposed fairways are in the busiest part of the off-leash Dog Play Area. One proposed fairway encompasses the watershed of Gray Fox Creek. Several tees, baskets, and related signage would take over popular pedestrian viewing areas.

  • Visionaries and developers of San Francisco’s India Basin have expressed a desire for a disc golf course there. Instead of relying on living trees as the course’s obstacles, local artists, using recycled industrial materials, could create durable large-scale works of art to serve this purpose. How uniquely San Francisco!

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