Disc golfer preps for tournament, new courses

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If you go

What: Thunderhead Disc Golf Course

When: The course is free and open every day through the summer.

Where: The course is near the base of the Thunderhead chairlift at Steamboat Ski Area. Drive up Burgess Creek Road and park in the available parking near the lift. Signs direct the way to the course. Maps and scorecards also are available at the ski area information center in Gondola Square.

— A year ago, Ron Pannesi wasn't sure Steamboat Springs would even have a disc golf course for the summer of 2009.

The course he had worked so hard to establish near the base of Steamboat Ski Area had turned into a wasteland, its once green canopy giving way to the red rot of beetle kill. The 18-hole track closed early last year at the insistence of the ski area. Many of the trees that made the course so challenging, so fun and so popular had died and were slated to be destroyed.

Now, midway through the summer that at one time so worried Pannesi, he said disc golf has never been more popular, in the state or in Steamboat.

"It's just growing by leaps and bounds," he said.

A little creative hole-making allowed the already-established course near the Thunderhead lift to return for another summer.

The course today cuts around the decimated Rough Rider area near the Thunderhead base.

"We had to redesign about six holes," Pannesi said. "The upper part of the course is totally different. There are definitely still a lot of dead trees, but it's much better than it was. Now we get into a lot of aspen and scrub oak areas - things we haven't had in our course."

The effort to save the Thunderhead course already has started to pay off, Pannesi said. It recently was listed as one of the nation's top adventure disc golf courses.

"In the middle of nowhere, yet it's a great destination town. Every picture you take will be beautiful, and it's hard. You will sweat like you ran a 10K," reviewer JD Andrews wrote.

Pannesi said that publicity has helped raise awareness across the state for the course, and that a steady stream of the region's top players have stopped in this summer to unleash a few throws in the often-challenging terrain.

He hopes that awareness gets another boost later this summer. The Colorado state championships are behind being contested on a mountain course near Fort Collins. Seeking to draw a large field for the second-annual Steamboat Open tournament, Pannesi moved the tournament to the week before that state championship.

The Steamboat tournament will be Sept 5 and 6.

"We're billing the Steamboat Open as the last mountain course prep for the state championships," Pannesi said.

The Steamboat Open event attracted 61 competitors from across the region in its debut last year.

"It should be even bigger this year," Pannesi.

Pannesi, the driving force behind the sport in Steamboat, won't stop dreaming after the tournament comes, either.

He led the charge to have a new course included at Rita Valentine Park.

"It's kind of a flat park with a few rolling hills, so it wouldn't be a mountain course," he said. "It's still a long way down the road, but it would be great for that course to be designed in a family orientated way."

He said he also would love to see a second course on the slopes of Mount Werner.

"It'd be great if we could get a course at the top of the gondola," he said. "I will make the pitch for that next year."

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