Disc golf helps a grieving father find a new passion, purpose in life | News

Three things become evident when you speak with Bart Altman: He deeply loves his daughter, was devastated by her death and disc golf saved his life.

Altman, 60, was 27 years and 10 months old when Alexandria Anne was born. Alex loved animals. She had three dogs and worked at the pet day care area and clinic. She was kind and loving, her father said.

“I remember taking her to New York for her 16th birthday,” he said. “She was very troubled because the homeless people didn’t have umbrellas, so she got some and handed them out.”

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The world will never know how much more kindness she would have bestowed or people she would have touched. Alex was 27 years and 10 months old on April 16, 2018, when she died at the hands of a drug dealer who sold her Xanax laced with fentanyl.

Altman said, “I used to spend my time asking God why he took my girl away from me.” He continued: “Now, I just try to thank him for the 27 years and 10 months that he allowed me to spend with him.”

Although his grief remains palpable, on a cool morning in March, in a quiet, wooden area at West Ashley Park, near two soccer fields where teams of youngsters in brightly colored shirts kicked balls toward scantly guarded goals, a glimmer of light returned to his face as he spoke of the sport that helped him escape the daily routine of loneliness and sorrow.

Altman credits fellow church member Ricky Barrineau for introducing him to disc golf.

“Every week, he would ask me to play, and I kept saying no,” Altman said.

Until one day four years ago when he agreed to play. So began his disc golf journey that set him on the path back to living.

Altman has since played in 80 tournaments, finally winning on the 18th. He now has 30 wins under his belt, along with a global ranking of 42 in the 60-65 age group.

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Bart Altman prepares to play disc golf on the Fire Swamp course at West Ashely Park in Charleston on March 11, 2023. Edward Brantley/Special to The Post and Courier

But his greatest achievements aren’t his game winnings. He counts them instead in his drive to serve the disc golf community and the community as a whole.

Blocks away from his home on Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley, the Fire Swamp disc golf course was run-down and abandoned. It had been years since the course — built in 2007 in a flat, mostly wooded area in the largest municipal park in Charleston — had been played.

Altman passed by the park regularly, often to play the game with friends at one of the other half-dozen courses located further from his home.

One day, he reached out to the city to help resurrecting the nearby course. Despite good intentions, an understaffed parks department was unable to help, so Altman took the project on himself.

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“I brought my Dewalt leaf blower and slowly cleared and widened the path,” Altman said.

He painted white the wooden polish, weathered and browned with age, that marks the location of each basket waiting to receive players’ flying discs.

With his own money, Altman bought pads from the local hardware stores to place at the disc launching sites and bought poster boards and plastic page covers to make signs identifying the basket number, par level (all par 3), distance to the basket and a reminder that players were at the Fire Swamp course.

It took about six months to make the 18-basketball course playable and a solid year to get people to come out and play it, Altman said.

There is plenty more work to be done, but the more than 500 hours he has spent in the woods at West Ashley Park thus far has been restorative for both the course and Altman.


Bobby Morrow (left) and Bart Altman play a round of disc golf on the Fire Swamp course at West Ashely Park in Charleston on March 11, 2023. Edward Brantley/Special to The Post and Courier

Altman was dying of grief, he said. “This gave me purpose, and in a way, it honors my daughter.”

God drives his efforts, Altman said. That may be the reason for a chance meeting in the park with Charleston City Councilman Kevin Shealy that would set into motion renewed support from the city for his efforts.

“It was Thanksgiving morning. I was walking my dog ​​and heard blowers going back in the woods,” said Shealy, who wondered if the city had employees working in the park that holiday morning.

Shealy said she approached Altman and asked him who he was and what he was doing.

“I thought it was awesome that he was out there cleaning up the course for the community,” Shealy said.

Altman expressed his concerns about the course, and Shealy, chair of the sports committee, invited him to a sports committee meeting.

A few weeks later, Laurie Yarbrough, director of the Department of Recreation, and Clark DeCiantis, deputy director of Park Operations, sat down with Altman to discuss some options for the disc golf course that would supplement his work.

That led to a day in the park for Yarbrough.

“I walked the course with Mr. Altman to see where his concerns were,” Yarbrough said. “He had done a lot of things to improve the sightlines and make the course more accessible.”

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Yarbrough took note of Altman’s passion and went back to the Parks Department to talk about where they could help.

At Altman’s suggestion, the department is considering renumbering and “adding a hole or two,” Yarbrough said.

She said the operations department plans to fill “treacherously wet” areas with gravel and rebuild steps and boardwalk areas.

“We are looking into putting in new signage for better wayfaring, perhaps with partnerships,” Yarbrough said.

Jason Kronsberg, director of parks, said some of the regular maintenance items — installing timber and steps are halfway complete, and lumber has been ordered for footbridge repairs.

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City work on the course will be completed as the priorities and budget allow, Kronsberg said.

A more routine inspection schedule will help maintain the course, but the Parks Department will continue to count on volunteers like Altman.

“I know in my neck of the woods we are so dependent on coaches and parents, so we will continue to work with Bart or anyone who can give this some extra attention,” Yarbrough said.

Altman knows about giving extra attention, evident in how much his work reaches beyond the Fire Swamp disc golf course.

Altman runs fundraising events, food drives, and other community service activities with organizations, including Myrtle Beach-based Team Focus Disc Golf. He helps organize kids’ disc golf clinics to introduce youngsters to the highly accessible, international sport that has gained popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Altman said the sport takes little investment and minimal skill to play.

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Bart Altman plays disc golf on the Fire Swamp course at West Ashely Park in Charleston on March 11, 2023. Edward Brantley/Special to The Post and Courier

Beginners start with three discs that cost an average of around $15: a driver — a wide-rimmed disc designed for high-speed and distance throws — a more versatile midrange disc, and a putter — a low-flying, deep-rimmed, accurate disc that players use to finish holes at short distances but also to throw upshots and approaches.

“Anyone can play,” said Altman, who encourages people of all ages and abilities to try the sport. Some, he hopes, might find it a lifesaver as he did.

“You’ve gotta find hope in something,” Altman said. “For me, it was disc golf.”

“Whatever your disc golf is, go out and find it,” urged Alex’s father as he and fellow disc golfer Bobby Morrow prepared to play a round on the course he is nurturing back to life.

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