Flying saucers are descending on Camp Jordan.
The East Ridge park has become the newest home to one of the area's fastest-growing sports: Disc golf. The first phase of a 19-hole course was installed over the weekend by a group of volunteers from the Chattanooga Flying Disc Club.
"Everybody loves the design and the challenge of it," said club Director Scott Homberg, who tried the course out Saturday with other club volunteers. "It's an extremely challenging course. Everyone is excited about that."
East Ridge officials earmarked $10,000 earlier this year for the new course — which city Parks and Recreation Director Stump Martin said he hoped would "be to disc golf what the Masters golf course in Augusta is to traditional golf."
"I want this to be a championship course. When people think about disc golf, I want them to think of this place," said Martin.
The first phase of the course's construction is finished, with the baskets — or "holes" — set up by the volunteers. The holes should be numbered and the course fully finished by the end of the month, Homberg said.
But already avid disc golfers are trying their hands at the new challenge.
Derek Terrell, a member of the Flying Disc Club, played at the course Tuesday and couldn't wait to get back out there Wednesday.
"I just really haven't been able to throw long shots and practice like I could there," he said. "It's a beautiful course — very visually appealing. It's going to attract a lot of the pros that we weren't getting before."
Disc golf has surged in popularity, both nationally and locally, says Homberg. There are now about 3,000 disc golf courses across the country, he said, and the accessibility of the game is the initial appeal.
"I was an avid ball golfer for 25 to 30 years. But disc golf takes a lot less time — it's about an hour. And the price is right. Courses are almost always free, and all the equipment you need is a disc," he said.
The Chattanooga Flying Disc Club, founded in 2002, has grown to 500 members across the Chattanooga region. Most play Ultimate Frisbee — a team sport similar to soccer with the flying disc replacing the ball — but about 100 are disc golf players, he said.
The Sinks, a popular 19-hole course in Hixson and the immediate area's only 18-hole course, was built in 2005 by the Flying Disc Club. By 2007, the club was counting about 500 people using the park weekly, and that number has nearly tripled in five years.
"It's getting so big that we're counting up to 1,400 people each week at the Sinks," said Homberg. "Any time you go out there 4:30 or 5 p.m. there will be 50 to 60 cars in the parking lot on the weekends, it's bigger."
Until the Camp Jordan course was built, Chattanooga didn't have any courses of significant length. The Sinks is a tight, technical course, Homberg explains, while the Camp Jordan course, which will span across fields and woods, will accommodate longer throws.
And it will be for advanced players, something disc golf players "are hungry for," said Homberg.
"Many folks travel to Huntsville, Atlanta and Knoxville for these kinds of courses," he said. "It will allow for them to become more competitive."
Chattanooga plays host to one annual disc golf tournament, the "Belgian Turkey," held the Saturday after Thanksgiving at The Sinks. But local players hope the new course at Camp Jordan will open up possibilities for new, higher-profile tournaments.
"The new course going out there is going to be in the top three in the South, for sure," said Terrell. "It's going to get a lot more kids involved. In five years, we're going to have 16-year-olds at world championships and dominating."