I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “wow, that would be cool to play disc golf there!” This usually happens as I am driving by a sweet “disc golf less” park or visiting a unique place like the Biltmore Estate.
Lucky for me, the latest trend in disc golf building pop-up temporary disc golf courses on golf courses, inside sporting stadiums and urban downtown areas.
These pop-up courses are usually centered around a one or two day event. On Saturday, October 13, over 200 disc golfers broke new ground. They became the first to officially play disc golf at a prison.
How did we end up in prison?
In short, Mark Grabavoy came to Sean Callahan of Dellwood Disc Golf with the idea. Grabavoy had connections within the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Old Joliet Prison Preservation Coalition. Callahan and Grabavoy then pitched the idea to run a fundraiser disc golf tournament within the grounds of the Old Joliet Prison in Joliet, Illinois. All funds after tournament expenses were to be donated to the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
Old Joliet Prison
The Old Joliet Prison is not your standard, run down former prison. Originally called the Illinois State Penitentiary, the prison opened in 1858, three years before the civil war began.
Built from limestone quarried across the street, inmates were forced to construct the walls and buildings which would confine them.
Amazingly, the prison would operate as a maximum security prison for 144 years before closing for good in 2002 with a lot of history behind it.
Mass murderer John Wayne Gacy spent time locked up in Joliet. The prison was often used for TV or movies. Most famously, the opening scene from the 1980 Blues Brothers film was shot on site where Elwood Blues can be seen picking up Jake Blues, upon his release. TV shows, Prison Break and Mindhunter were also filmed at the prison.
The Event: Inparcerated
For the Inparcerated event, organizers set up three tee times: 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Each tee time had 72 players, perfectly filling the 18 hole course. Each competitor was given a “Festiebands” wristband, teeshirt and disc.
There were no payouts, but the top three from each tee time were given a small prize and trophy. These events are generally geared more towards the experience than the competition. Aside from a food truck and beer vendors, only competitors, volunteers and media were allowed inside.
This was something I had looked forward to since I signed up months ago. I routinely drive past the prison on my route to play the Canyons Disc Golf Course, and say to myself, “man, that would be cool to play disc golf in there!” The towers, the old buildings, Joliet Jake…it just seems like it would be awesome.
The 18 hole course was set up with all par 3s, mostly shorter holes that utilize buildings or other strange features as obstacles.
As I had hoped and expected, the layout was fun. Our caddy book had both information about the course and prison disc golf rules, but also interesting facts about the buildings or areas we were playing around. Most participants had their phones out taking pictures and videos.
What a stark contrast it was from when the prison was still operational. We chose to, in our free time to pay money to play disc golf in a prison. We could eat tacos and have a beer after our round. When we had enough, we simply left on our own accord. I’m glad to have been “inparcerated” there versus incarcerated!
One of the unique features was the ability to play your throw along the limestone walls and bounce off of fences. This was the preferred play on a number of holes, I felt like I was Simon Lizotte lining up a trick shot.
Hole 18 had a unique elevated green, really it was the only elevation we had to contend with. This area was actually once a reservoir. Now filled in, it was the perfect location for the 18th basket. A $100 ace bounty from Dellwood Disc Golf on hole 18 went unclaimed.
It isn’t every day when you get a chance to play disc golf in an untraditional space… Especially when that space is the Old Joliet Prison.
- Dana Vicich