Former elite disc golf player David McCormack is a key player in course design around St. Louis and the Midwest.
David McCormack spends his days working in disc golf.
For over 30 years, the Creve Coeur resident has remained an active influence in the sport, from his youth as a world-ranked professional to his company that today boasts some of the sport’s elite apparel. Along the way, his “hobby” as a course designer has produced over 37 courses and spread a reputation out of the Midwest and onto the rest of the nation.
It is a job that fills his days with countless tasks, from tracking the performances of his sponsored professionals, to coordinating with park directors for the next course installation, to blogging about the current state and future direction of disc golf.
Yet, of all the places McCormack could go when he needs some time away from work, he goes golfing.
With a ball.
“I can bring some of the same things I love about disc golf into ball golf,” McCormack said. “I’d say it’s fairly challenging, and the margin for error is quite a bit different. And that’s it, too; ball golf is different. I started playing disc golf when I was a little kid, so that just comes really natural to me.
“Now, disc golf doesn’t offer me that escape. Every time I go out to a park, I see something that reminds me of actual work.”
It’s the ultimate sacrifice. For over 30 years, hundreds of thousands around the Midwest—perhaps even you, if you’ve ever set foot on one numerous St. Louis’ courses—have taken an escape because of one man’s work. McCormack’s impact on disc golf, a sport that swaps balls for Frisbees and holes for chain baskets, is felt in nearly every facet of the game today.
That’s not to say there wasn’t some play time mixed in along the way. For awhile, play time is all there was to disc golf. McCormack and a Frisbee became familiar with the trash cans around the St. Thomas More church in Bel Ridge as a second grader, but his first design as a 12-year-old was a par-two object course around his house, and that is what kicked off the legend. Nine trees and signs eventually spilled beyond the neighbors’ yards, and then grew to the small neighborhood block. Then 18 objects were marked around the big block.
When Missouri’s first disc golf course hit St. Louis in 1979—Hazelwood’s White Birch Park, designed by the “Father of Disc Golf” Ed Headrick and featuring the now-traditional chain baskets—the only obstacle 15-year-old McCormack couldn’t throw a Frisbee around was how to cover eight miles on two wheels.
There began Endicott Park in St. John, providing hundreds of targets and just a bike ride away. Officially established in 1996 and considered one of the backbone courses of St. Louis, Endicott unofficially began in 1980 with a can of spray paint and 18 special trees.
“We were used to throwing down six of my neighbor’s yards at a time, par fours,” McCormack said. “Then we started taking our bikes up (to Endicott) and playing around with a lot longer shots, with a lot of power, throwing to where we couldn’t see. We spray painted lines on trees with pruning sealer for ‘holes,’ at about the same heights as the baskets were in Hazelwood.”
Already crushing maximum distance with his arm, a driver’s license took care of the rest. McCormack began to abuse White Birch three rounds at a time, as well as ranging out regionally to courses such as Albert Oakland Park in Columbia. By 1989, he had played 200 courses nationwide and won more than 25 tournaments in the fledgling Professional Disc Golf Association. Continued success on road trips to all corners of the U.S., sometimes for prize offerings of just $500, ultimately led to McCormack being a top-10 disc golfer in the world rankings.
His eventual retirement as a pro became a seed for the sport, branching out in several directions. While he toured, Gateway Disc Sports had spawned out of the trunk of his car, credited as the first company to market a durable disc golf bag toward professional players. Made out of material bought from the Federal Bag Company on Cherokee St., the bags are now a common accessory in the game today.
Gateway eventually expanded into golf discs, gaining worldwide professional acceptance with a straight-flying putter, the Wizard.
But McCormack’s lore grew exponentially from his unrivaled course design. Influence from his professional days landed his first funded blueprint in 1993: acreage from Schroeder Park in Manchester and 18 baskets supplied by Discraft. Soon after, Sunset Hills and Ellisville followed suit and sought McCormack’s advice, producing the Watson Trail and Bluebird Park courses.
McCormack designs are now found all over the Midwest and as far as Pennsylvania and Georgia, but St. Louis has remained a natural epicenter. Courses such as Jefferson Barracks in Mehlville, Sioux Passage in Florissant and Endicott have become nationally respected courses, and more are on the way. McCormack is currently hatching an 18-hole course in Bridgeton’s Carrollton Park.
“My job has been to create recreation,” McCormack said. “To help people escape from reality for two hours, to generate some camaraderie with friends.
“My biggest thrill is going back to a course that I designed and seeing a new path in between some basket and the next tee pad. I know how that path was created, and when I come there and see that usage, that’s a personal gratification I take every time.”