Having grown up in Midcoast and Southern Maine, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get to Sabattus Disc Golf’s incredible facility, which boasts four disc golf courses and an impeccable pro shop with thousands of discs to chose from. In my defense, I only started playing disc golf in 2005 while getting my undergraduate degree at The University of Maine in Orono before moving to Amherst, MA where I received my Masters in Landscape Architecture in 2010. Now that I currently reside in Western Massachusetts, trips to Maine are few and far between, unless it’s a visit to see my family or to conduct site visits and consultations at the multiple ski resorts, Universities and conference centers we are currently designing disc golf courses for.
After spending a couple nights in Southern Maine with friends and family in mid-August, we decided to get in a round or two at Sabattus Disc Golf where we would put The Chrome on the line; a coveted traveling disc golf trophy that was initially created between friends at The University of Maine in 2006. The Chrome isn’t much — a beat old disc with chrome adhesive on top, finished off with names and tally marks of champions past — but the pressure it puts on players and the conversation it starts up is remarkably round altering. After bouncing between friends in Maine for a couple years, it eventually found its home in Western Massachusetts in 2008, namely getting passed back and forth between yours truly and Jeff Bujak, a Northampton, MA-based musician and disc golf enthusiast. With the utmost confidence, I took it off my shelf and brought it up to Maine to put on the line between old college buddies at a course I’d never played before.
As we approached the facility, my buddy kept bringing up the fact that it may not live up to my expectations. I tried to reassure him it would, but even if it didn’t (it did), this was a business trip where I would gather as much information as I could through pictures, videos, conversations and playing the courses themselves. Even though I’m a Landscape Architect professional that owns and operates a disc golf design-build firm, my focus wasn’t on the course designs themselves, but on the overall operation of the business. What was the entry and arrival sequence like? What about signage? How did they handle parking — impervious surface or pervious pavement? Did the walkways and corridors lead players to congregate in nodes with shaded structures, or were there no gathering spaces at all? What was the clubhouse like, and what was their disc selection, pricing and food offerings? Was the staff friendly? What uniforms did they have on? Were they embroidered polos, t-shirts or no uniforms at all? In terms of course design: what were the tee pads constructed off, and what was their shape and sizing? Did holes cross or bring in concerns of safety? Was their ample seating for rest, relaxation, contemplation and conversation? You get the point — the questions that run through my mind are endless, so as you could see, I not only had a match to focus on, but a case study to conduct.
To get right to the point: everything at Sabbaths Disc Golf is on point. The 100+ acre property, which was once earmarked for real estate development, is now home to four courses of varying degrees of difficulty. The Owl is a 9-hole beginner-friendly course, The Hawk is an 18-hole intermediate course, The Eagle is an 18-hole advanced course, and The Falcon is an 18-championship course. As you arrive at the facility, you are greeted by a disc golf basket waterfall and ample parking in a large impervious, surface parking lot. There are entrances to each course in every which direction, but patrons are directed to the clubhouse and pro shop, where greens fees are paid and one can pick up discs, bags, snacks and more. I spent my time in here — paying our greens fee of $9 which included unlimited play on all on-site courses, checking out the walls of disc golf discs in the pro shop, and bombarding the cashier with questions that covered a wide range of topics. He gladly answered my questions, but after a while, you could tell he was tired of my constant barrage. What can I say — I get excited by business and disc golf, and my one goal in this trip was to squeeze out every piece of information I could…and I did.
After my questioning session was over, I headed to the first tee. The young cashier, extremely polite in his responses, proved that there was still plenty of room to expand on such an amazing facility. Don’t get me wrong, the place is incredible and the disc golf community is lucky to have it, but a few integral pieces were missing, of which I was surprised, yet admittedly excited to hear, as some future aspirations of Explore Disc Golf include something similar to what Sabattus Disc Golf is doing…just with a twist. Next up were the two courses we chose: a warm up round on The Hawk, followed by a Battle for The Chrome on The Eagle.
All things considered, the two courses we played offered a variety of shot making, and took advantage of water, steep slopes and prospect points whenever possible. Even though the rolling topography was utilized often, slopes were never too steep to traverse, nor did safety ever become an issue. The number one thing I was looking forward to about the course was the stone pathways that denoted the fairways of each hole. As incredible as that is (think of the capital expenditure and time to achieve this infrastructural element), my main concern was how it fit into the landscape. I was worried that it wouldn’t look natural. I was wrong — it looked great! Not only did it take away the handicap accessibility factor, but it enabled strollers and carts to be pushed along the pathways with ease. Don’t get me wrong, the stone pathways in the fairways didn’t negate the steep slopes and make it handicap accessible (as handicap accessibility has to be less than 8.3%, and less than 5% without the use of handrails), but it did “soften” the course and cover up several of the roots and stumps that would traditionally be seen in a wooded section of a disc golf course. Pair the stone pathways with scattered wood chips in close proximity, and you have a clean cut, professionally presented disc golf fairway and rough line that is meticulously taken care of.
The thing that did jump out rather quickly on the course was the use of concrete. Every single hole had a concrete bench that was situated on concrete footings, a trapezoidal concrete tee pad and a concrete pillar that held the tee sign. For me personally, especially coming from a landscape architecture background, there was a little too much concrete. Impervious services should be reduced whenever possible — especially in close proximity to water — and the seating/signage aspect should include a softer, more natural appearance. Some of the benches were awkwardly far from the tee pad, so enjoying conversation or setting your bag down when teeing off wasn’t always a viable option. With all that being said, the inclusion of these amenities that are often over looked on most courses continue to separate Sabattus Disc Golf from the competition, while surprisingly, the concrete fixtures still fit into the natural wooded setting relatively well.
As much as I would’ve liked to see a more natural approach to the seating and signage areas, the wayfinding signage throughout the course more than made up for it. One of the simplest, most cost effective things in proper disc golf course design is good signage. Wayfinding in nature, while not knowing your true orientation, is one of the most stressful things for a human being. This can be easily negated by signage — and Sabattus Disc Golf does this well! The facility has extensive signage throughout the courses, leading players from basket to tee without confusion, in addition to large mando or directional arrows in the fairways and tree lines to help navigate you to blind baskets.
As far as shot selection and use of topography on both courses went, everything was wonderful. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through my entire bag, and I most definitely did that in Sabattus. The Hawk was less demanding than The Eagle (as expected), but the technical shot requirements were still there. The shots were a little less demanding while the pars were higher so the course was a little more enjoyable for the recreational player, but the skill set needed to put together a good round were brought out through a mixture of open field bombers, technical wood shots, and a good use of change in elevation. The Eagle on the other hand was a wonderful challenge from start to finish, with water lining a good portion of the holes. Prior course knowledge would have been beneficial as there is a good bit of hidden water over steep slopes and ridge lines, but for the most part, what you see is what you get and you have to hit your line every time.
By the time I was halfway through The Eagle, my game was struggling and I was frustrated — especially after carving up The Hawk and shooting one of my best rounds of the year. The smack talk of The Chrome was at an unusual low, but we were all still vying for it deep into the second round. After it was all said and done, Zach “Flickmaster” Morse took home the coveted prize with a round of +2. I was extremely disappointed not to be bringing it back home to Massachusetts for more friendly competition, but my time spent at Sabattus Disc Golf — and the nearly 600 pictures taken — was an extremely beneficial visit and I look forward to coming back to play The Falcon in the near future. Everything from the immaculate pro shop to the detailed signage was on point and would leave any player no option, but to come back here time and time again. This is a wonderful facility for all age and skill levels with four courses, all of which are enjoyed for an extremely affordable price!