Next up in our Q & A Series is Greg Nettles. Greg is the designer of the original Northwood course, the redesigned course in 2012, and the co-designer of Northwood Gold. He has designed and built several other courses in the area and is a past President of the Peoria Frisbee Club.
From left to right, Kelly Leggette (owner, Flyboy Aviation) and Greg and Nate
1 - You are very well known in the Peoria disc golf scene but not as much on the national level. That started to change when Nate "name-dropped" you at the 2019 Pro Worlds Opening Ceremony. How long have you known Nate?
Nate was buddies with my sons, and I think that started around first grade, so technically I’ve known Nate since he was about six years old.
2 - How did you get into disc golf?
Memorial Day, 1999 I was at a picnic in Washington Park and noticed these funny looking structures in the ground. Then a buddy came through throwing a beat up Cobra and running between throws. He hit the top of the basket on one of his drives and I remember being captivated by the flight of the disc and the possibility that it might go in. The next day I bought a DX Shark at a local bike shop and played my first round. I played literally every day for several months, then played winter league with the Peoria Frisbee Club and got sixth place. I was pretty well hooked after that.
3 - Did you truly get Nate into the sport of disc golf? Are you who we have to blame?
It didn’t take long for my boys to start accompanying me on rounds, and since Nate was practically living at our house by then, he started tagging along. I showed him how to drive and putt, but he took it from there and within a few short years had become a much better player than I could ever hope to be. So yes, I guess at least partly you have me to blame (sorry, everyone).
4 - You have been involved in many design projects over the years, with perhaps your most famous project the Northwood Course. When did you design Northwood and how did you stumble upon that property?
I didn’t really “stumble” across Northwood. I grew up ten minutes from there and my family would picnic there every so often. Once I became addicted to the sport, and being an artist and graphic designer by trade and always on the lookout for new creative outlets, my mind began to wander toward designing a course. By early 2001 I’d played a few dozen courses, including some of the top courses in the Midwest, so I had a pretty good idea of what would be required. Northwood is a park seemingly created for the sport, so I decided to concentrate my efforts there. It took some convincing to get the Park District on board, including committing to foot all the costs myself, and in the fall of 2001 I began designing and building the course. It opened in June, 2002.
5 - Sum up your design philosophy in a few sentences.
I like to take what the land gives me. I’ve never been into the wholesale removal of vast numbers of trees, probably because I just don’t have the wherewithal to do that (and no offense to those who do). So, I probably take way too much time on a design, looking for fairways that are at least somewhat already there. I also want my courses to flow well and above all, to be safe. I know that frustrates some people (including, at times, Nate) but I won’t apologize for that. Also, I believe an underrated aspect of design is aesthetic quality. I want my courses to look good, and at times I might sacrifice a tougher pin placement for a breathtaking view that allows the player to see the basket from the tee. All of that said, I still try to achieve as much balance as I can, so that the course plays fun and fair for everyone.
6 - Disc technology has changed rapidly over the years. How has that forced you to change some of your designs, and why was it necessary?
Discs fly a lot farther now than when I designed Northwood. Plus, we’re seeing the first generations of players who grew up with disc golf, and they’ve learned the sport from toddlerhood. So, lots of great athletes armed with better weapons have rendered some courses almost obsolete. That’s why I redesigned parts of Northwood in 2012, adding length and difficulty (but not at the expense of fairness or fun). It’s also why I’ve seized an opportunity to redesign parts of the original Eureka course (which I designed in 2004-2005), adding a tremendous amount of length. I’ve surveyed players (especially younger ones) before each of these endeavors and almost to a person they are enthused about longer holes or changes to holes that offer new challenges.
7 - When Nate first approached you and told you he had won the bid to host Worlds in 2019 and he wanted to expand the original Northwood course (your baby), what was your initial thought? Did you tell him to take a hike?
Mentally, yes. But I cautiously agreed to hear him out, and during our first walkthrough I think Nate would agree I was much more open than he’d probably anticipated. I knew Worlds was a big deal for this area, and since most of the changes were going to be eventually rolled into the new Gold course, it was pretty easy to get on board with Nate’s vision.
8 - Do you still get the chance to play disc golf nowadays?
Sure. I get out whenever I can. I’m not all that altruistic in my disc golf pursuits. I wouldn’t go through all of this if I didn’t still love playing.
9 - What's the best course you have ever played, besides your own designs?
In 2011 Nate and I got the chance to play Flyboy Aviation in Georgia, along with the designer, not long before the course closed. What an amazing experience. I think it gave both of us an idea of the kinds of holes that would eventually happen at Eureka Lake. (I think I even beat Nate at Flyboy that day. He’s going to lie and say he won, but don’t believe him.)
Note from Nate: Fake. News.
10 - Are there any holes that you have designed, where after seeing how people played the hole, you then hated?
I hated hole 5 (Northwood Gold Hole 2) at Northwood right after it opened. In my naïveté I thought if I cleared the path leading around to the green that people would play that way and avoid the treacherous “cliff.” As I walked around on opening day I saw players were all gunning for the green from atop the cliff. I was terrified because of how unsafe it looked, and then to see teenaged players sliding down the hill and jumping the creek was almost too much! I lost sleep for a week over that hole, regretting I’d ever built it, until I finally got a chance to play it myself. Of course, I went for it from the top, too. It was just such a fun shot!
Thanks to Greg for taking the time to answer our questions! Still to come in our Q &A Series are interviews with Paige Pierce, Paul McBeth, Dan “Stork” Roddick and others!