Community helps Bennet friends make disc golf dream a hole-in-one

Dreams are par for the course in Bennet, just ask Owen Ramaekers and John Hippen.

The two Palmyra Junior-Senior Highschool seventh graders are the driving force behind a central component of Bennet’s new Whispering Pines park. Thanks to their vision, the entire community can soon spend their days on a disc golf course.

The journey began in August 2020, when Owen visited a cousin in Hastings who introduced him to the sport. He was hooked. He soon brought John into fold, who was also captivated from his first throw.

Trying to trace the history of the sport is difficult, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), but many place its official origin around the mid-1960s. For the uninitiated, disc golf plays similarly to standard golf, but with different equipment. Instead of clubs and a ball, players use discs of varying weight and design suited for different parts of a course— including distance drivers, fairway drivers, mid-range drivers, and putters. Instead of a hole in the ground, players attempt to land their disc in an aboveground metal basket.

Interest in disc golf has increased annually since 2009, when the PDGA cited 14,326 active members. By the end of 2020, the organization tallied more than 71,000 active members.

Owen and John want to do their part to grow the game’s popularity in Nebraska. The new Bennet course will join the more than 6,900 other courses across the country.

“I got back from Hastings, and I wanted to play some more,” he said, pointing out that the closest option was in Waverly. “I thought, ‘maybe we could use this park here.’”

Whispering Pines is a relatively new park in Bennet. Momentum around building a new green space in town culminated in 2016, when village officials assembled a master plan for a new park on the town’s eastern edge to meet the needs of Bennet’s swiftly growing community. In the boys’ eyes, it was the perfect spot for a course.

The community agreed. From August 2020 to December 2020, Owen and John raised $4,000 for the project—including a youth grant from the Bennet Area Community Foundation Fund and a matching grant from NCF.

“It was the fund’s youth grant that started this whole ball rolling,” said John’s mother Julie Hippen. “John and Owen would have never been able to get this off the ground if it weren’t for the BACFF grant. It’s been phenomenal.”

The friends didn’t just get fundraising experience. They were involved in every aspect of planning at every step. They talked to contractors, village board members, local construction companies, and more to get the details right.

“It went step-by-step,” John said. “But it went really fast.”

The boys thrived during the project, which has been a crash course in community development.

“It’s been great to see them take charge and make something happen,” said Owen’s father Drew.

The course is set to open officially June 19, 2021, and the friends plan on making it the place to be in Bennet by hosting tournaments and spreading the good word of disc golf to any who will listen. And, of course, they look forward to reaping the benefits of their hard work.

“I live just up the road,” Owen said. “I can come down here anytime and play.”

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