Mt. Airy CUREator: Adam Jones, The Nati Disc Golf

We hope that you’ve enjoyed the Resilient Communities article series that has focused on Mt. Airy and various facets of the neighborhood of more than 9,000 residents in the northwest corner of the city. This is the first of three profiles of business owners who work in Mt. Airy in diverse fields. The moniker of Mt. Airy CUREator references Mt. Airy CURE, the community’s economic-development nonprofit, which is working diligently to improve its business community and overall quality of life. Without a healthy business community, efforts to elevate the Mt. Airy community will result in futility.

First, we feature Adam Jones, co-owner of The Nati Disc Golf with Jason Kerl, a shop that sells discs and related accessories adjacent to the popular disc-golf course within the picturesque 1,400-plus acres of Mt. Airy Forest. Adam has played disc golf for more than 30 years, so operating a business that supports one of his life’s passions is undoubtedly a labor of love.

Had you previously owned a business?
I’ve been self-employed, working in construction, and I’ve also been a chef. But I’ve always been passionate about playing disc golf, so coming on board with The Nati Disc Golf was a great opportunity for me.

Where is The Nati Disc Golf located?
We’re located at Pine Ridge Lodge in Mt. Airy Forest. For a long time, the lodge was booked for weddings and family reunions. Pine Ridge had been vacant for a long time and was in pretty bad shape. Fred Salaz, who was Jason’s first co-owner, convinced the Cincinnati Park Board in 2008 to allow them to renovate the lodge and turn it into The Nati Disc Golf. After five years, Fred went in a different direction, he let Jason buy him out and I became his partner. It will be 10 years in March, and we’re still going strong.

What do you enjoy most about playing disc golf?
I enjoy going out in nature, walking the course. It’s a stress release. We all have stressful lives and our own struggles, but it’s therapeutic to get out with friends and get some exercise. The course at Mt. Airy Forest has a lot of hills, so you’ll definitely get a workout and relieve stress.

How many courses are in the area, and what sets Mt. Airy Forest’s disc golf course apart?
When I started playing in 1990, there were only seven or eight disc-golf courses in the area. Now if you go within a 30-mile radius of the city, you’ll find about 50 disc golf courses. It’s exciting the way the sport has taken off. The Mt. Airy course was installed in 1993, and it was only a nine-hole course. But even as a nine-hole course, the incredible beauty of the Forest made it very popular. In 1995, it hosted the Disc Golf Amateur World Championship, and the success of the event convinced Cincinnati Parks to invest in a full 18-hole course. In 1998, the professional world championships were held here, and the course’s popularity has kept growing since then. The Mt. Airy course has been ranked among the top five courses in Ohio and the top 50 in the world. We have players from Europe and Asia come in and play the Forest’s course. It’s beautiful, it’s easily accessible, and it’s great exercise.

What’s unique about operating a business on Park property?
We are extremely lucky to be here. There are one or two other businesses that maintain leases to operate on park property. Another is Moerlein Lager House (within Smale Park) downtown, which is quite a different setup from here. It’s a sweet deal. Technically, it’s a legal lease where they own the building, and we do what’s required to maintain it. We’re paying a lot less than we would somewhere else. They cover expenses such as water and electricity. I always ask them if there’s anything that might change, and they tell me not to worry. They want us here as much as we want to be here. There aren’t many courses out there that have a shop like this. I think there might be a dozen nationwide, out of thousands of courses. There are plans for renovations to widen the roads and expand car parking, which will help us better serve customers and course players. We’re very appreciative. We make a donation to Cincinnati Parks every year.

How many employees do you have?
Jason and I are full-time, and we have one full-time employee, Jamie, who’s been here about two years. We will have part-time employees for extra help during peak summer business. We try to give each other one day off a week, sometimes two. But when you own your own business, you’re never really off.

What are some ways you and the Mt. Airy Community have supported each other?
We’ve partnered with the Mt. Airy Town Council to co-host events in the park, such as tree plantings and course cleanup. In the summer, we host Mt. Airy Elementary students over four Tuesdays, teaching them various aspects of the game each week. We’ve also partnered with the Town Council in sponsoring Mt. Airy Forest events like HallowWest. I only live five minutes away, just outside of Mt. Airy, and love being near such an awesome backyard. There’s been mutual support between the community, the park system, and our business, and I think we’ve all benefitted.

What’s the trick to being a good disc golf player? Is it all in the wrist?
Anyone can learn, it’s easy to pick up, but it takes a while to get good at it. If you have any athletic background, you have an advantage. If someone has played baseball, they have more shoulder strength for certain types of throws. It comes down to being smooth and fluid. People often try to throw too hard and make bad throws. Slow down and focus on your timing. You try to simplify things when you’re teaching and coaching. There are dozens of YouTube tutorials with professionals offering tips to become better players. You can learn a lot yourself. The resources are always there.

Slow down, don’t overdo it, and listen. That’s good advice for a lot of things.
True. I like to take it all in and relax.

Jason Kerl, The Nati Disc Golf

How has the business grown, and how do you see it evolving in five years?
The first five years I was involved with the business brought steady growth, and then COVID hit. Once the park opened back up, the course’s traffic exploded. Parks were all that was open. Before COVID-19, we’d had 16-18% of annual growth in participation. In 2020, it shot up about 100%. There were challenges. All these new players needed discs. Discs are made of plastic. Plastics were in short supply because plastic was needed for shields, masks, syringes, and other medical needs. We couldn’t order anything, and shelves were getting empty. Supplies have stabilized somewhat, but I’d still say suppliers still only have 50% of their inventory at any given time. In the future, I think we’ll expand to open another location at another park. We’re bursting at the seams here and have become very creative in maximizing space. We’d like to be able to grow into a 6,000 sq. ft. facility somewhere so we can grow our online business.

What do you find most satisfying and challenging about being a business owner?
Time management is probably the biggest challenge. There’s always a list of priorities, but it’s important to designate a certain amount of time for what I enjoy. I used to compete at 25 disc golf events per year, now I just play a handful. When I play the course, all I see is stuff that needs to be repaired or cleaned up. It’s a common sacrifice when you’re running a business.

Anything else you want to say to advocate for disc golf?
Anyone who has an interest in any kind of sport or activity, or even if you don’t, can enjoy it. It’s like golf, but it’s free to play with no tee times, and it’s more inclusive. The demographic is 18-25, but it’s appealing more to families and all ages. I’ve played a lot of sports, but this is the only one that felt like a family. There’s a spirit of cooperation in this game that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

You can read earlier articles in the Resilient Neighborhoods – Mt. Airy series here.

The Mt. Airy series has been made possible with support from the City of Cincinnati and Homebase, the leading resource for community development, focused on sharing resources, funding, and expertise that helps transform neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for the residents of Greater Cincinnati.
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Read more articles by Steve Aust.

Steve is a freelance writer and editor, father, and husband who enjoys cooking, exercise, travel, and reading. A native of Fort Thomas who spent his collegiate and early-adulthood years in Georgia, marriage brought him across the river, where he now resides in Oakley.