At Hill Country winery, you can get a taste of disc golf, too

Just before their flying discs whiz through the air at Flat Creek Estate, disc golf players come upon the unusual obstacle they must skirt at this course — 20 acres of grapevines spread across the scenic Texas Hill Country property.

Flat Creek Estate Winery & Vineyard, in the outskirts of Marble Falls, has been a destination for wine lovers since the early 2000s. Within the past year, however, it has become distinguished for something rather different. It might well be the only winery in the state with an 18-hole, championship-level disc golf course, according to Amanda Koraska, Flat Creek Estate’s director of business operations.

She came up with the initial idea of “throwing some (disc golf) baskets out there” as a way to encourage people to explore the 80-acre property. When visitors come to taste wine or have lunch at Flat Creek Estate, she said, they tend to stay within the Tuscan-inspired walls of the bistro or tasting room, but the vineyard is a beautiful area worth wandering through as well.

A round of disc golf is certainly one way to do that. Disc golf, as the name suggests, is similar to regular golf, but instead of a ball and club, players wield a single disc that they throw at varied distances, aiming at oddly shaped metal structures called baskets. These are spaced at different intervals throughout a multi-acre park, and the lure of disc golf in part comes from the obstacles of each hole — such as a large oak or a small pond, say, dead-center in front of a basket.

At Flat Creek Estate, there are the rows of grapevines. Red grapes, like sangiovese and tempranillo, are grouped closer to the winery entrance, while white grapes, such as pinot grigio, are beyond the cluster of buildings at the center.

Koraska didn’t originally envision an elaborate, professional-grade course, but she received a call during the early planning stages from John Houck, a locally based disc golf designer who has served as the mastermind behind some of Austin’s most beloved courses, including those at Zilker Park, the MetCenter and Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park.

Disc golf is a popular sport, especially so in Austin thanks to people like Houck, whose top-rated courses are turning Austin into the disc golf capital of the world. (He has designed courses all over the country, though most are in Texas.) Flat Creek Estate is his first course designed in a vineyard.

Houck’s interest helped the project to take off, Koraska said, and sparked the enthusiasm of Flat Creek Estate co-owner Rick Naber, who founded the winery with his wife, Madelyn, and planted the first 6,000 vines in April 2000. To this day, the retired couple is heavily involved in operations at Flat Creek Estate, although the winery has been on the market since last year.

“Rick is an engineer who loves to build stuff, and he loves big projects,” Koraska said. “So I think once John started talking about concrete tee pads (where players throw from) and how elaborate the course could be, it got Rick excited, and what was just going to be an amateur recreational thing is now kind of a big deal.”

One of Houck’s challenges was coming up with a course that would keep the grapevines safe from errant discs. With each of the holes, he “tried to be close enough to the vineyard so you get that feeling you’re playing in a vineyard but not so close as to harm the vines,” Koraska said, noting the holes that are closest to the growing grapes are shorter, in the hopes of preventing wild throws.

Now, Flat Creek Estate is the site of multiple tournaments throughout the year, including one for professionals only this weekend called the Open at Flat Creek. The former tasting room — so small that it once sat only about 12 to 16 people at a time — was turned into a disc golf pro-shop, and longtime player Neal Dambra was brought on as the disc golf coordinator who handles the logistics behind every tournament.

The Open at Flat Creek will bring in disc golf stars like Ricky Wysocki, a two-time Professional Disc Golf Association World Champion. Most players enjoy the sport on a purely amateur level, but professionals like Wysocki and others in the tournament can make a living with it.

Not a professional, but you’ve got a heck of a throwing arm and want to prove it? Flat Creek Estate also hosts seasonal tournaments for just about any PDGA-registered player (those without memberships will have an additional $10 fee). The next one, the Spring Flight, will take place the following weekend on March 31.

“We call the tournament series that we do ‘The Flight’ as a nod to the wine flights you can get at the tasting room,” Dambra said. “Amanda wanted them to be seasonal, so we have a summer flight, an autumn flight and so on. I didn’t want to use the word ‘fall,’ for Fall Flight. It just didn’t sound right.”

Most area disc golf courses are free; Flat Creek Estate charges from $18.65 to $37.29 per person on non-tournament days, but you get wine and food included in the ticket price . And on the first Saturday of every month, wine club members are able to bring a friend to play with them free of charge.

With wines available for tasting like the big and bold Super Texan 2015 — a plum-forward red made up primarily of the Italian varietal sangiovese, with just a splash of zinfandel grapes — Koraska is hoping Flat Creek Estate has provided extra incentive for players to visit.

“We’re always looking for the next interesting thing people want to partake in and make it happen best that we can, whether that’s with wine or the kinds of events that we offer here,” she said.

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