Owning and operating your own business is incredibly stressful and rewarding at the same time. If that business is a disc golf design-build firm, some would say that we have a dream job. As much as we agree with that statement, it’s incredibly rare to be able to travel as much as we’d like to play disc golf, conduct course case studies and see as many tournaments and facilities as possible. That being said, when we can travel outside of work, we do, and that opportunity came in the form of a Colorado trip with dozens of friends this past weekend to see our favorite band, Umphrey’s McGee, play a run of shows at two of the most incredible venues we’ve ever seen. Tickets and flights were purchased back in April, so needless to say, we had plenty of time to plan what we were doing, who everyone was staying with, where the pre-show meet up spots were, and what we couldn’t afford to miss. As the time for our vacation grew near, we had a bucket list of what we wanted to do and see, but no set schedule on when it was going to happen. On the top of that bucket list? Disc golf, of course!
As the shows for the Umphrey’s run were Friday and Saturday, we knew Thursday was the day for outdoor adventure time. Several of our friends were already in Denver when we arrived at 10:00a on Thursday morning, so we wasted no time in meeting up with them. We hoped in the rental car with excitement as we began our 25 minute trip into downtown Denver to meet up with friends and get the day’s events underway. I, personally, have played my fair share of Colorado-based disc golf courses while I toured the United States as the tour manager for a nationally touring band, and sadly, was quite disappointed in the majority of the Denver area courses we played. This time was different – we had no agenda, only to disc golf and enjoy each other’s company as we prepared for a two show run with one of the most progressive — both musically and businesswise — bands on the circuit today.
Our diligent research left only one option, Beaver Ranch in Conifer, CO, a meticulously maintained disc golf course located in the mountains 45 minutes outside of Denver. After a gorgeous drive, we arrived at Beaver Ranch, and were excited for a round of disc golf at 8,500′ in elevation. The dirt parking lot had plenty of space for vehicles, while the adjoining playground was frequented by a handful of families. Traveling to Colorado with gifts for friends limited our ability to bring our disc golf bags, so discs were quickly divided up to friends before heading to the message board to get out bearings and began the 5 minute walk to the first tee which was located in the valley, surrounded by trickling streams, towering pines and exercise stations.
As we approached the first tee, we quickly learned what this course was all about — breathtaking views, a plethora of amenities for disc golfers, and lots of topography! I was too enamored by the signage, tee boxes and gorgeous sponsored wooden benches to realize the daunting first hole that laid ahead of us — a short par 3, roughly 215’, and dead straight up hill! The change in elevation wasn’t marked on the sign, but I’d say it was 80’ or more — it was so steep that they provided a staircase up the side of the fairway. We were hoping that only a few holes were going to traverse the mountain side, as throwing directly uphill is a skill shot, but quite discouraging after a while. That being said, our reward for struggling through the first three holes was a gorgeous, well laid out course that took advantage of changes in elevation, moved users to scenic overlooks and created slippery, challenging greens whenever possible.
I can’t stress enough how wonderfully maintained this course was, and how much physical labor went into it! While the tee pads were natural, they were free of roots and rocks, and rather well graded so that water seldom collected in the center. Railroad ties denoted the four sides of the tee box, and were sometimes stacked three high to create a retaining wall when the tee box was shoved into the grade and a cut/fill was necessary. Hole signage was done with a very natural appearance as the cedar post blended in with its surroundings, and the green metal sign and bag holders were placed in such a fashion that they only benefited the overall presentation of the course. Large wooden benches were stationed on concrete footings, with decorative signage that informed the disc golfer about the business that sponsored the hole. While mostly all of the sponsorships were displayed in a consistent manner, some benches were painted with business information to further the artistic appeal of the course. While the hole signage depicted multiple pin positions, obviously only one basket was in play at a time, while the other sleeves were covered by valve boxes that were flush to the ground. Each hole had 2-3 pin positions, and while valve boxes were easy enough to find if you looked for them, for the most part they lay flush to the ground so they weren’t obvious.
There are very few negative things that one can say about a course in this condition. That being said, I will say the two that popped out. First, tee drainage. Although tees appear to be completely flat, they should always have a pitch to them so that water never pools in the center of the tee box. Flat tee pads tend to puddle in the middle, rendering the throwing space useless. This was the case on multiple holes of the course, but for the most part the tee boxes were dry and obviously included a ton of physical labor to get them in the shape that they’re in. The only other negative was proximity of baskets to tees on some holes, in addition to some holes running dangerously close to one another. While some shots would have to be incredibly errant to land in another hole’s fairway, we did see that in some instances. That being said, that wasn’t as big of a concern as the proximity from basket to tee on some holes. This is a very common thing in disc golf course design that we don’t necessarily agree with. While some instances are hard to avoid (think of a PERFECT pin location and flat tee spot with a GORGEOUS view that may be very close to one another), for the most part, this safety concern can be mitigated by just stretching the walk of the course and moving users into the depths of the property by having basket locations and tee pads a safe distance from one another. Disc golf, while offering a wonderful form of passive recreation, is a terrific means of MOVING users through the site — namely significant on-site features, prospect and refuge points and more. If baskets and tees are crammed together, it’s very likely that the extent of the property has not be utilized.
With all that being said, from what we saw, the site was wonderfully adapted to disc golf and provided a challenge on every hole. Coming from the Northeast and a traditional golf background where “trees are 90% air,” that was not the case here. The pine trees were THICK (to the point where they would catch your disc in mid flight), so hitting your line was of the utmost importance. The severe changes in topography also demanded proper placement of your disc in the correct portion of the fairway on several holes, most namely the 13th. The 13th hole was only 330’ in length, but the “turtle back” green demanded precision or a large number was waiting in your future. While the pin was placed on the slippery “turtle back” the complexity of the green was compounded by the fact that the fill of the “turtle back” was created by a cut of the land itself. The cut of the “buncr” was roughly 3’ deep while the fill of the “turtle back” was 3’ high, in addition to the pin another 3’ above that grade, so needless to say, unless your disc was PERFECTLY positioned; you had a tricky putt where a miss was quickly compounded.
Overall, the disc golf course at Beaver Ranch provided one of the most memorable disc golf experiences that we have had in a long time. This plot of land is a disc golf course designers dream — varied density of plant material, groves of quacking aspen, large changes in elevation, sweeping vistas, significant on-site features like teepees, trickling streams and much more. We would HIGHLY recommend any disc golfer to play this course, if they live locally or are in town and looking for a course. We look forward to next year’s run of Umphrey’s McGee shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, so we can once again have another excuse to play Beaver Ranch and meet up with friends to dance deep into the Colorado night.