Ask any of the disc golfers in town this weekend what brings them to Hays’ Flying Bison disc golf course and many have the same answer — the course itself.
“I would dig up this park and put it where I live if I could,” said Doug Bjerkaas.
Bierkaas was just one of 129 players participating in this weekend’s 33rd annual Frontier Open disc golf tournament at Frontier Park.
Bjerkaas knows disc golf courses. He’s a tournament director for Dynamic Discs, one of the most popular brands of discs, based out of Emporia. He’s even directed the Frontier Open before.
It was at Frontier Park where company founder Jeremy Rusco learned to play disc golf while at Fort Hays State University, Bjerkaas said.
Today, the company has a 10,000-square-foot distribution warehouse in Emporia, is an exclusive distributor for Swedish disc maker Latitude 64, has a line of accessories and clothing, and organizes tournaments and promotional events all over the country.
It’s all in line with the explosive growth that disc golf is undergoing. Chris Wiggins of Dynamic Discs said 400 courses were opened in the country last year.
The Hays tournament and the sport itself are a far cry from when Ron Rice designed the Frontier Park course, which opened in 1983. Rice played in a foursome Saturday with Bjerkaas, Kevin Rorabaugh, Hays, and Darren Bottom, Little River.
When the tournament began, there were eight competitors, Rice said.
Along with this year’s 129 players, the tournament offers nearly $4,000 in cash and prizes from sponsors.
“It’s just wild to see how many people do it,” Rice said.
He still plays the course frequently, but that won’t give him an edge in the tournament, he said.
“Not really,” he said with a laugh, “because they redesign it. A lot it’s just temporary holes for the tournament.”
While the course has had improvements through the years, it is one of the few in the country whose original design has not been altered, said tournament director Brett Straight. Straight returned as tournament director for 2017 after moving back to Hays from Texas two years ago.
The setting of the park gives the disc golf course a good challenge level, he said.
“You have to understand this is just an amazing park, and when it comes down to all the different variables that people look for, you’ve got wooded areas, you’ve got a little bit of elevation and you’ve got water. So you’ve got those three different variables and then throw in the unmitigated challenge of the wind, and yeah,” he said.
But it’s not just the course. It’s also the people involved.
“When I saw Brett was running it again, I said we have to go back to Hays,” said Susan Lande, Laporte, Colo.
Lande, known among disc golfers as SueB, has been coming to the Hays tournament for approximately 20 years. Strictly an amateur player, she used to travel to around 25 tournaments a year, but now plays in about three or four.
One of the reasons she loves the sport is the variety of people involved.
“That’s the beauty of it. It’s for everybody. I’ve played with amputees, I’ve played with blind people, I’ve played with deaf disc golfers, women and little juniors. It’s family oriented and it’s friendly,” she said.
And there just seems to be something special about the Frontier Park course, Straight said.
“I’ve been to other tournaments where’s there’s friction among people and it’s not as fun. Here, if there is a conflict of some sort, it gets resolved real quick,” he said.
“People have always said there’s something special about this place, and we’ve never been able to put our finger on what is different than the other tournaments that are out there,” he said.