According to disc golfers on UDisc, The Fort in the town of Ogden is not only the best disc golf course in Utah but among the best in the world: It came in at #63 on our list of the world's top 100 disc golf courses for 2021. But the hype it has earned from those distinctions pales in comparison to what's about to happen this week.
The Fort is one of two courses being used for the 2021 PDGA Pro Disc Golf World Championships in Weber County, Utah, and has the distinction of hosting the much-watched final round of Worlds. That means it's about to get more intense media coverage and be seen by more disc golf fans than perhaps any other course this season.
Such accolades and attention are no accident. From the beginning, the people behind the course wanted to create a world class venue that could attract premier disc golf events. This is according to pro disc golfer Justin Bilodeau, who lives just a four-minute drive away from The Fort.
"The Fort was designed and built with the specific intent to get a large event held there, be it a Disc Golf Pro Tour, Major, or Worlds," Bilodeau said.
That intent quickly turned to reality. Opened in 2018, the course helped host a DGPT event in 2019 and is now primped and preened for its prime time appearance at 2021 Worlds (which would have happened in 2020 sans the pandemic).
To learn more about how The Fort roared onto disc golf's biggest stages and what its warm reception there has meant for the Weber County community, we got in touch with both Bilodeau and Weber County's Parks and Recreation Director, Todd Ferrario. Bilodeau gave us the perspective of someone deeply connected with the local disc golf community and Ferrario provided the viewpoint of an influential person who has supported the project since its infancy.
What Type of Course Is The Fort?
If you haven't already had a look at The Fort on coverage from the 2019 or 2021 Utah Opens, it's worth knowing what the course is like before diving into its history and impact on Weber County.
Though there are a few open shots, a typical fairway at The Fort is tightly wooded and tests a player's accuracy and patience more than their capability to boom throws long distances. This is a huge contrast to Weber County's first-ever world class course (the other course in use at the 2021 Worlds), Mulligans, which is on the open fairways of a nine-hole traditional golf course.
"The Fort is certainly more of a golf game – touch and angle control are paramount," Bilodeau said. "You can certainly try to blast your way down the tight fairways for the hero eagle or birdie. However, one kick and you're all but guaranteed a bogey. The seasoned players will find themselves throwing controlled putter or mid shots and tapping in an easy par and the occasional bonus birdie."
To illustrate the point of exactly how specific shots need to be on some holes, give the clip below of a drive on the 655-foot/200-meter, par 4 hole 4 from one of the world's best disc golfers, Ricky Wysocki, a watch:
In that clip from Gatekeeper Media's coverage of the 2021 Utah Open (two rounds of which were at The Fort), Wysocki throws a shot that fillets an extremely tight fairway and lands in an open area. The commentator (pro Nate Perkins) calls the shot "exceptional," but he also mentions that it didn't finish in the absolutely ideal landing zone. Wysocki paid for this by having an awkward angle for his upshot. He ended up parring the hole, not taking the birdie we'd expect after a player of Wysocki's caliber throws an "exceptional" first shot on a par 4 under 700 feet/213 meters.
For a little more insight into this hole specifically and the level of challenge it poses from the longest tee position, know that it yielded a lower percentage of birdies at the 2021 Utah Open than a 985-foot/300 meter par 4 at the 2021 Portland Open.
The course asks players for such exactness from tee and fairway again and again, sometimes using trees and sometimes the risk of finding out-of-bounds water to punish imprecision.
Before moving on, it's important to note that there are multiple tee pads at The Fort, and the most challenging shots are reserved for those who opt to take on the longest layout possible. Meant to be a course that a wide variety of players can enjoy, less experienced or ambitious disc golfers can opt to take on many holes from shorter distances while still playing an official layout.
Building the Fort Disc Golf Course
The driving force behind The Fort was and is Jade Sewell, the designer of both The Fort and Mulligans. He's also the tournament director of the Utah Open and the 2021 Worlds. After the Utah Open had successfully attracted big names to the area with just Mulligans to host them, Sewell wanted to build a second championship-level course in Weber County to make it capable of hosting even larger events.
In particular, the Pro Disc Golf World Championships.
While floating the idea, Sewell found that the local government was very receptive.
"As a county, we are always curious about new recreational opportunities," Ferrario said. "Jade’s proposal was in the concept phase, which allowed for good general discussion around property options, layout options, and usage effect on the overall park. The county had some unused acreage which needed a purpose, and as we looked into the potential, it all fell into place."
According to a report on the course from 2019, the "unused acreage" was a wooded area of a park that had become a common place for the homeless to camp, and Ferrario and other local officials saw the course as a way to develop the land for its intended recreational use.
With the county behind him and a team of disc golfing volunteers ready to help, Sewell went about creating a course with the world's best players in mind. According to Ferrario, the local government put approximately $40,000 into the original course that paid for hardware (baskets, tee signs, etc.) and some labor, but he said that investment didn't cover every piece of the puzzle.
"The missing piece is the countless hours put in by Team Utah Open and other volunteers throughout the build and to present," Ferrario said. "The local disc golf community, led by Jade, has been arguably the biggest piece in getting the course to what you see today."
Thanks in part to the commitment Sewell, his team, and Weber County officials had to making a great course, the area won its bid for the Pro Disc Golf World Championships the same year that The Fort opened: 2018.
The Fort's Impacts
There's no doubt that The Fort has made Weber County a more attractive host for large disc golf tournaments attended by the sport's biggest names. And Ferrario told us that such tournaments have upped the economic value of the course to the local community considerably.
"There is no replacement for the benefit of the tournaments and the marketing value they bring," Ferrario said. "We still overall have a higher percent of players coming from local communities, but the visitor impact is real. When a municipality looks at costs vs. revenue, we have to realize the economic impact that players, both local and visitors, have on our cities and county. It isn’t always about just the fees collected, but the hotel rooms, meals, gas, snacks, et cetera purchased in our county."
Though, like Ferrario mentioned, the course is still mostly played by locals, Bilodeau says he's certainly noticed an increase in interest in the area far and wide in the disc golf community, undoubtedly resulting in purchases of those "meals, gas, snacks, et cetera."
"Being situated in the heart of the U.S. there are many pros that stop by on their way to and from tournaments," Bilodeau said. "Likewise, surrounding state players venture down on weekends and holidays far more frequently to get a taste of the 'Worlds Course' and test their mettle. It's far more entertaining to watch a filmed round when you have played the course. Everyone lavishes that moment where they know they threw it better than the pros!"
Bilodeau also noted that the chance for locals to see the biggest names in the game play in real life has either awakened or inflamed passion for the sport in many.
Should You Build a Fort?
Up to this point, we've made it sound like building a course like The Fort can result in near immediate notoriety in the disc golf world that brings significant economic impact to the community. But cooking up results like Weber County's takes the right ingredients.
"You really need to judge available space, community support, and available resources," Ferrario cautioned.
However, despite Ferrario's warning that areas shouldn't dive headlong into disc golf without a carefully considered strategy, he still believes that for those in Parks and Recreation, disc golf "should be on everyone’s radar for its potential."
And you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of what that potential can look like than The Fort.
Those interested in having a disc golf course in their own community can get advice in our resource "How To Get A Disc Golf Course In Your Area."