Optimistic About Pessimist DiscGolfPark

By Joshua Miller

Contrary to its name, a new disc-golf facility in Fort Morgan, Colo., has city officials feeling positive about the impact of this growing sport for their community.

The Pessimist DiscGolfPark opened in September 2015 at the city’s signature 300-acre Riverside Park. It complements Fort Morgan’s existing Optimist Disc Golf Course at the other end of the same park, and burnishes the city’s growing reputation as a destination for disc golf.

The Optimist course was so named because of the involvement of the local Optimist Club in its original development years ago. There had always been a dream of adding another 18 holes at the park, and the Pessimist name was set aside for the day that dream became reality.

A First For The United States
The long-awaited debut of the Pessimist course actually culminated a fast-track process to create the course. That opportunity grew out of a chance encounter for me at the High Plains Challenge, a popular annual disc-golf tournament hosted by the city at the Optimist course.

I connected with Austin Montgomery, who had recently been hired as the first U.S. designer for DiscGolfPark, a Finnish developer of disc-golf facilities that have been hugely successful across Europe. Our first conversation quickly led to the selection of Fort Morgan as the site to design and install the company’s first course in the United States.

The attractive part for me was that DiscGolfPark is a turnkey solution for installing a disc-golf course. Montgomery spent three days at Riverside Park in late July, and by the end of that time with staff input, he had laid out the course, identified every tee pad and basket location, and done general sketch work for the artists to create the course signage for the facility.

This approach overcame one of the foremost obstacles to the creation of disc-golf facilities by municipalities—a lack of expertise in design and layout of a course. The DiscGolfPark concept takes care of that key element, but still allows the city or town to handle construction of the course in order to control costs.

Design Details
Varied and versatile holes make a good disc-golf course. A memorable and challenging course offers holes with a variety of lengths, shapes, vegetation, and possibly elevation. Take the aesthetics of the area into account to ensure an enjoyable playing experience.

The city’s parks department played a big part in the rapid completion of the DiscGolfPark. After Montgomery had designed the course, parks staff prepped the areas for the tee pads and baskets, installed frames for the turf pads, and mowed the facility so it was playable for its first event.

Using the DiscGolfPark approach also helped ensure that other uses of the public park were considered in the course design, and that safety was always kept in mind. A disc-golf disc is a fast-flying object, and it may cause damage when hitting people or other objects. The possibility for accidents cannot be completely excluded, but with professional design the risks are minimized. It is important to design the holes so the safety of other park users, as well as other disc golfers, will not be compromised.

Erno Vayrynen of Discmania Inc., the parent company of DiscGolfPark, says “Safety is an essential requirement of a good disc-golf course. The use of the whole park area needs to be taken into account. Possible safety hazards need to be clearly presented on the course signs. Many times, our customers have suggested, for example, a local Boy Scout as a course designer. If that person does not have experience in disc golf and course design, it’s unlikely that the course will be popular or safe.”

The DiscGolfPark package includes informational signage about the course and disc golf in general, as well as individual signs at each tee pad with a map of the hole, distance, hazards, and other information.

Positive Feedback
One feature that has already proved popular among players at the Pessimist DiscGolfPark is the artificial-turf tee pads that provide a solid, cushioned grip for players. Artificial turf is new to the sport of disc golf, but initial feedback from players has been positive. Tee pads have a significant effect on the general impression and usability of the course. A turf mat looks tidy and natural. In addition, the mats are durable and player-friendly, when maintained properly. The turf tee pads are not as hard on shoes and the body as other surfaces currently being used.

Also receiving positive comments from players is the directional arrow on the basket cage for each hole that points players to the next tee. This is especially useful for players who are experiencing a course for the first time.

The Pessimist course garnered positive reviews from visitors in its first few weeks: “This course has a great mix of technical shots as well as long, open drives to test many different aspects of your game,” wrote one reviewer in the www.dgcoursereview.com website. “This was a great course and makes this park great with two challenging courses. Nice river views … This makes Fort Morgan more of a disc-golf destination to spend a day at now.”

Challenging Players
The Pessimist course plays through a native area along the South Platte River corridor, around the fishing ponds at Riverside Park’s east end. With a blend of par 3s and par 4s, the new course includes water shots, trees, tunnel shots, and other challenging features. This variety of terrain, hazards, and other features is another part of the DiscGolfPark concept, which can customize courses to the site, as well as the target audience.

“There’s no reason to design an 18-hole championship-level course for elementary school kids. That course needs to be designed with extra safety in mind, with shorter, yet still interesting and varied holes,” says Vayrynen. “Disc golf is a game with an easy starting threshold, but disc golf is being played by players of varying levels of skill and experience, and course design must take this into account.”

Soaring To New Heights
The Pessimist course opened in mid-September and played host to the Johnny Roberts Memorial Tournament the first weekend, with 140 participants. Like the Optimist course, Pessimist is free and open to the public to enjoy at all times, except when special events like tournaments are scheduled.

DiscGolfPark is based in Finland and has designers all over Europe, including Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and Russia. The sport is extremely popular and thriving in Finland, where disc-golf tournaments are broadcast on TV, and the number of courses has quadrupled from just over 100 in 2008 to more than 400 today.

The sport of disc golf is also growing rapidly in the U.S., and DiscGolfPark has a goal to establish 500 new high-quality courses in the country by 2020.

Fort Morgan’s reputation as a mecca for the sport is reaching beyond Colorado. City officials hope the addition of the Pessimist course will continue to attract more players and visitors to the area and make Fort Morgan a regular stop for professional and national disc-golf tournaments.

It’s possible that Opportunist, Realist, and Perfectionist disc-golf courses could be in the city’s future. Meanwhile, the initial success of the Pessimist course has the city nothing less than … well, optimistic.

Joshua Miler is the Community Services Director for the city of Fort Morgan. Reach him at jmiller@cityoffortmorgan.com.