FLINGING INTO SPRING
Watson Island Disc Golf Course a work in progress
Russ Hamilton strolled to where his orange disc had nestled into the dirt, but he wasn’t thinking about his second shot yet. Instead, he was busy looking around, seeing what else could be done to the disc-golf course.
Tree branches that should be cut, some piled debris waiting to be removed and other little things.
“We still have work to do,” he said.
The Watson Island Disc Golf Course is not a gem. But compared to what it was in the beginning, this diamond-in-the-rough course is spectacular.
With a gentle breeze slicing through the course on March 19, John Adams flung his second shot, and it curved and floated in toward the basket, and a cheer went up from his four disc-golf cohorts as the disc landed near the basket during a fundraiser tournament for the course.
Years back, Watson Island was an undesirable swath of desolate land, a scary place to many. It was known as an encampment for the area homeless population, cluttered with junk and garbage strewn throughout.
There’s an unmistakable pride in Hamilton’s tone when he talks about the course.
“It’s been a tremendous amount of work, and it’s been all volunteers. I’ve been playing this sport since 1977, so I thought I’d put something back in that I’ve gotten out of it. It’s a labor of love, it’s really fun, it’s a good deal,” he said.
AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT
As a founding member of the Grand Valley Disc Golf Club, Hamilton flung himself into a variety of volunteer projects, including helping build the Palisade Riverbend Disc Golf Course in 2001.
But the Watson Island project was as ambitious as they come.
“I’ve been wanting to put a disc course in here since 1990,” Hamilton said. “Mainly because of the trees and the location of the river. With all courses you want open spaces, and with disc courses you want through stuff, through trees and stuff like that.
“I’ve been playing for 40 years, so you can figure in your mind what would be fun and what wouldn’t.”
In November 2009, Hamilton and the disc-golf club approached the city with a plan to build a course.
The Watson Island property was once a dump site to discard old cars, junk and all kinds of garbage.
Rob Schoeber, director of the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department, said it’s turned into a special place for visitors and has enhanced the 130-acre Las Colonias Park area.
“The entire riverfront area now has the potential to be such a grand experience for people,” he said. “Before, for people to come upon that trash, and it was an eyesore, had to be so disappointing to everyone.”
Area Lions Club volunteers started the cleanup, then after thousands of volunteer hours from the disc-golf community, the course started to take shape. Junk cars and parts, downed trees, tons of debris and even an old abandoned house were hauled away.
“I think the city hauled 27 semitrailer loads out of this place,” said Hamilton, who is an aircraft mechanic.
The course started with 13 holes, said Brian Seeman, who helped design the course.
“We put in 13 holes on this side of the island, then we worked on cleaning up the east end of the island, and we put baskets over there two years ago. The east end was really a mess,” he said.
A POPULAR, UNIQUE COURSE
The course is unique with a variety of challenging holes, including some that run alongside the Colorado River.
The Tamarisk Coalition provided a massive amount of help in getting rid of the pesky, invasive plant.
“That really opened that up for people to see the river. You couldn’t even see the river up to that point,” Schoeber said.
When the project shifted from cleanup to design, Hamilton, 55, and Seeman, 47, were ready. Even though neither had designed a disc-golf course, they’d been waiting for that chance for years, and they tried to think of everything.
The two were conscious of having multiple pin placements to make sure it catered to the recreational player as well as serious disc-golf players. The river holes also have different pin placements to combat the high water of spring.
The sizzling heat of summer was considered when they strategically placed the tee pads near trees to provide shade.
The duo also knew it wouldn’t be right to not reward the lefties, so they designed the course in a figure-eight fashion, to provide equal difficulty regardless of which hand a player uses.
“We designed it specifically to make it 50-50 for righties and lefties,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton says Seeman, who is a carpenter for School District 51, was the main designer for the project.
ANOTHER 5 HOLES
The next phase is to add another five holes to make it a 24-hole course.
Two bridges will be built, and the five new holes will be on the west end near the railroad bridge.
The city planted 10 species of grass near the course to evaluate. Once it’s determined which grass is the most hardy, it will be planted throughout the course. With no irrigation, the grass will have to be drought resistant to survive.
The March 19 fundraiser will help pay for things like new baskets, which cost more than $400 each.
Hamilton always looked at the property as a place to build a big disc-golf course, and that’s what happened.
“We wanted to be able to have a facility to have bigger tournaments,” he said.
That’s going to happen in August when Watson Island will host the Colorado State Masters Tournament.
Hamilton prefers to deflect any credit that comes his way, but he’s always been the driving force behind the project.
“I’m just the old guy who keeps pushing,” he said, letting a smile take over.
He glances around the course after tossing his tee shot and spots some rusted junk that needs to be removed. Then, he takes in an overview of the course.
“We’ve got a lot of compliments from bird watchers, dog walkers, so it’s a real park now, and I’m pretty proud of it,” he said.