By Matt-Jackie Bertram – for Rattling Chains
We’ve all been to parks or hiking trails or fields and immediately had those disc golf lines appear before our eyes.
We’ve all stared down a line of trees and thought, “That would be a really fun fairway to play.” Maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to set up a few safari holes or played a round of pirate golf in those areas. But chances are you’ve never thrown a disc across raging rapids, or down 200 feet of sheer cliff side.
Unless, of course, you’ve played in the Steady Ed Safari, held at Ausable Chasm in the far north of New York State.
Sponsored by DGA, the Steady Ed Safari wrapped up its sophomore outing on September 21. More of an event than a tournament, Ausable Chasm provides a full weekend of disc golf, camping, and hiking tours through the chasm proper, if you choose to stay. The property also boasts a permanent 18-hole (soon to be 27) course, named Campgrounds, which is used for some casual glow golf on the night prior to the main event and also for one of the tournament rounds.
The other tournament round, however, is the main reason for attending.
The crew at Ausable Chasm builds a Frankenstein of an 18-hole safari course up and down and over the chasm itself. Some baskets involve a 10-minute hike down the cliffs to take your second shot. Others require a raft to ferry you across the rapids to reach your lie. And one hole makes use of a vacant boathouse that contains the basket at the end of a challenging par 5.
Does that sound like an interesting round of golf to you? It should.
I’ll try not to fall too oppressively into praise-mode here, but the safari round inside the chasm was the single most enjoyable 18 holes of disc golf I’ve ever played. I’ve played better courses, sure. It was even a very frustrating experience at times. But the combination of scenery, challenge, thrill and uniqueness is something I have not seen any other course come close to reaching.
There was a catch, if you can call it that. The round inside the chasm requires players to use ONLY the discs given to you in the player’s pack. Those discs would be the Steady Ed signature discs — the Blowfly, Blowfly II, Blunt Gumbputt, and Powerdrive Gumbputt.
There were two reasons for this.
The first is to protect the chasm. Players launching their own discs at full power have the potential to dislodge or damage the formations in the chasm. The second is to prevent players from losing their plastic in the rapids. Two of the DGA discs are floaters and actually handled the rough waters remarkably well. Ausable employees kayaked through the rapids during the round, retrieving any discs that met a watery end. To the credit of the course designers, each hole is set-up with the DGA discs in mind. They don’t expect players to reach a 300 foot drive over the water.
And honestly, once I got over the fact that I was holding a Gumbputt, I realized it’s more fun finding ways to throw the disc for a birdie opportunity that aren’t just straight at the basket. For example, if a basket happens to be placed against the backdrop of a steep wall, forget about ranging your drive and just throw it high and watch the disc hit the wall and drop straight down for an easy putt.
Another hole consisted of a 6-foot wide fairway down 150 feet of steep, narrow steps. One player on my card bounced the disc down the stairs like a Slinky and made his birdie. I witnessed three aces during the round, so the DGA discs didn’t seem to slow many players down.
And this was another immensely enjoyable aspect of the tournament. Many fairways were in full view of each other, so I could watch other groups throw on various holes. At one point I found myself standing 200 feet in the air on a cliff top watching four separate cards play out at the same time. It’s not an understatement to call it awe-inspiring fun.
The other tournament round at the Campgrounds course allowed players to use their own discs. The course itself is also slightly out of the ordinary, with about an equal mix of short ace run holes, long wooded golf holes, and holes built within a huge pine tree farm.
The pine tree holes were an interesting challenge. At the outset, it looked like one massive grid of trees. I had to search out the fairway lines, and it wasn’t always easy to see. But even if I found myself off-course, there were always lanes to get back into the fairway.
The course is still a work in progress, and within a few years could be home to a truly unique tournament experience by itself. It was an enjoyable complement to the safari round. The most challenging aspect of the round was deprogramming my throws from the hours I had just spent dialing in a Blowfly.
The biggest detriments to this tournament, though, were location and exposure.
Ausable Chasm is found about as far north in New York State as you can go without hitting Border Patrol in Canada. The area boasts a very dedicated group of local disc golfers, but it’s still a relatively scarce location. Many players in my home area didn’t make the journey because they couldn’t convince themselves it would be worth the trip, or the whole concept of the tournament sounded so bizarre or daunting that it didn’t offer enough appeal. Fewer than 40 disc golfers have played each year of this tournament.
I loved the small group feel of the event. But at the same time, I felt badly for all of the work that went into creating this event relative to the turnout. I know that I, for one, won’t be able to hype the event up enough for next year. Come next September, I’ll be selling it as hard as I can so that others might experience the Steady Ed Safari. This tournament has a way of reminding you why you picked up your first disc. It was just that much fun.