Community: Disc golf closer to finding a home in Bozeman
By MIKE KIEFER, Chronicle Sports Writer
On the northwest side of the Brentwood subdivision, at the site of undeveloped Rose Park, Cary Silberman is building his field of dreams.
Forget rows of Iowa corn and baseball. Disc golf, also known as "frolf" or "folf," is the game, and fairways, greens, and target baskets are in Silberman's vision.
"My game plan is build it and they will come," he said.
There are the thousands of disc golf enthusiasts who have remained homeless since the sport was banned from Lindley Park in the fall of 2001.
Silberman and his collection of self-described "committed fools" who make up the "Course of DISCovery" non-profit organization are determined to turn the unused plot of land into a city park and the state mecca for disc golf.
Their project combines education, construction and fundraising efforts into a larger campaign of image rehabilitation for disc golf in Bozeman, aimed at turning what remains a marginalized, outlaw sport into an inclusive community activity.
"This is as diverse an activity as walking your dog," Silberman said. "The tread-heads, the business people, you've got parents, little kids. You don't need to have blackened eyes and baggy pants to play."
Fighting the stigma has been the main hurdle ever since the Bozeman City Council closed Lindley, citing significant damage to the park's trees.
Silberman described the City Council meetings in the spring and summer of 2001 as a series of miscommunications that snowballed into a backlash against the sport and those who play it.
"We had it worse off than the skateboarders," he said. "We were tree-killers."
The sport suddenly was in limbo in the Gallatin Valley.
The City Council went on record promising disc golfers another place to play, but for the time being they had been shuttled out of sight and mind.
The closest course was the private Bohart Ranch, which costs $5 a round and is closed during the winter. The nearest public course was over 60 miles away at Butte. Unofficial courses sprouted up on public lands around the valley. Those desperate enough played Lindley under the dark of night, risking criminal mischief fines of up to $500.
"It left the sport out to dry," Silberman said. "This was the only option they left us with, and that ensured the sport wouldn't be played for at least four years.
For Silberman, who is the Montana state champion with a 970 rating, and other enthusiasts, the situation was untenable.
"It stunted the growth of my kids," Course of DISCovery member Craig Sward said.
But plans for a new course had already been set in motion.
Silberman said that the overuse at Lindley had been a problem for almost 20 years before the tree controversy was brought before the City Council.
Disc golfers had established as many as nine informal courses in the small park. Silberman and members of what was then called the "Tree Top Flyers" recognized the overcrowding.
"I don't think Lindley should be played because there's so many other things the park's used for," said Jake Woodhue, who moved to Bozeman from Boise, Idaho, which has several disc golf courses.
"The great thing about Rose Park," Woodhue said, is that "from the onset, it's being designed with a golf emphasis."
The Rose Park site was donated to the city as part of the Brentwood subdivision, and it retains the look of a construction site with the large piles of earth scattered across the 21-acre lot.
Silberman's design calls for a central cul-de-sac, or "throw-catch meeting area," outfitted with paths and picnic tables. Course fairways radiate from the paths, outlining a 24-hole, par-3 course. A series of large berms divide the fairways and enclose the course from the outside community.
Not that Silberman's goal is exclusion; quite the contrary.
He sees the park's cul-de-sac flooded in the winter to double as a skating pond. His plan also includes 13 installations for a sculpture park that would feature local and student artists on a rotating basis.
Of course, the artwork would be integrated into the course as obstacles.
Silberman takes pleasure in building a difficult course.
"This won't be any Disneyland," he said. "This will be a tough course."
Course of DISCovery has mounted a tremendously successful fundraising campaign to pay for the construction project, the cost of which is estimated at just under $1 million. The $500,000 worth of fill dirt and top soil sitting at Rose Park was donated by PEX Incorporated, a construction and landscaping firm.
The disc golfers also landed two $75,000 grants, one from the city's Parkland Improvement initiative and the other from the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks department.
"Bozeman's really fortunate because they're so proactive when it comes to parks," Sward said.
It can't hurt that Sward and Doug Quam are putting in countless hours winning hearts and minds as the educational arm of Course of DISCovery.
Instructional video in hand, they have performed 50-minute clinics at school assemblies across Gallatin County. They expect to see interest explode with Emily Dickinson Elementary School blocks away from the park site.
"This is going to be a busy, busy place," Sward said.
The timeline toward completion shows Rose Park opening in 2007. Most of the soil for the park's earthworks is in place and will be completed this fall.
Silberman's milestones include planting grass in the sod and placing the wells for course water hazards.
Of course, the project is also still only three-quarters funded.
But if the long exile from legitimacy has taught Silberman and his group anything, it is to plan long-term. His timeline stretches far beyond the day the Rose Park site opens its fairways.
Two decades from now, the park's saplings will have grown into trees and, he hopes, it will be a landmark on the PDGA's tours.
"It'll be good in five years," Silberman said, "but it will be great in 20 years."
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