If disc golf is what its proponents say it is, then The Lodge at Taylor Ranch is Oklahoma’s hidden treasure in “the fastest-growing sport you’ve never heard of.”
Seven years ago, Jim and Debbie Taylor began carving out two of the state’s most challenging disc golf courses in 160 rolling acres of the Osage Hills, a few miles south of Pawhuska. With assistance from their grown son and daughter, Jeremy and Leah, they maintain The Lodge as a public course which offers a laid-back country club atmosphere.
“For the people that come here to play our course, we’ve tried to make it so they can stay for days without ever having to go out to get anything,” Jim Taylor said.
Last weekend, The Lodge was site for the season finale of “The Dirty Dozen Tour” — a three-state regional circuit sponsored by Dynamic Discs, a store in Emporia, Kan., that specializes in disc golf equipment and accessories. More than 80 golfers competed in the event, which featured age and gender divisions for several skill levels.
The three-year-old tour includes at least a dozen tournaments, which begin in February at Emporia and continue through the summer. After alternating between tourney sites in Kansas and northern Texas, the annual campaign always concludes in Pawhuska — the tour’s lone Oklahoma stop.
“The Lodge is simply amazing,” said Adam Searle of Dynamic Discs. “Everyone looks forward to coming out here each year and it’s becoming a place that every disc golfer wants to play.”
Searle said his company will be back in the area in two weeks for the Oklahoma Open, a Professional Disc Golf Association-sanctioned event to be held Oct. 26-27 in Tulsa.
“This is still an underground sport, but it’s growing fast,” Searle said as he loaded disc golf merchandise into one of the company’s travel vans (which had a paint job reminiscent of the Electric Koolaid Acid Test). “We want to help grow the sport, and facilities like this one can be a big part of that.”
Most of the tour contestants took advantage of RV-hookup facilities or camped out at the ranch. A Texas Hold-‘em poker tournament was held in the clubhouse in conjunction with the golf tourney. During and after the awards presentations that followed Sunday’s final round, nearly every departing guest took time to thank the Taylors for their hospitality.
A sign at the front door says: “The first time you are here, you’re guests. The second time, you’re family.” Debbie Taylor said the sign truly reflects a goal her family has for the Lodge.
As golfers began departing, one woman mentioned that her young son had reminded her that she told him she would take him fishing in one of the courses’ many water hazards, so the accommodating Taylors offered her rods and reels so she could fulfill her promise.
Some golfers headed back out for one last attempt to conquer the courses, which had been even more challenging than normal due to gusting winds. One member of the tour was found waist-deep in pond water hoping to retrieve a disc which sailed off course earlier in the day.
“Bringing unity to the community” is another motto chosen to describe their disc golf venture, which the Taylors started as a way of giving their family something to be involved with together — while providing something of benefit to the entire community.
“One thing we wanted to do was give young people an alternative to sitting in front of the TV with a video game,” said Taylor, who said they hoped to turn the property into a place where families could come and enjoy the great outdoors.
Taylor said he and his wife remembered playing disc golf as college students in Arizona, during the formative years of Frisbee-related sports in the 1970s.
“In those days, you would just go out to the park, pick out a tree to be the first hole and start playing,” said Taylor. “You figured out the course as you went along.”
For the kind of project they had in mind, the Taylors decided to Google for an expert and came up with Kevin McCoy, a professional disc golf course designer in Georgia. McCoy, a Sperry High School graduate and former baseball player at Independence (Kan.) Community College, also is a past world champion in disc golf.
McCoy jumped at the opportunity and was given full reign to alter the landscape as he saw fit.
“I told him, ‘Over there is the bulldozer. By the time we’re done, you should be an expert operator,’” said Taylor.
The finished 18-hole courses were dubbed Island and Moccasin. A short time later, McCoy had his wedding ceremony performed on the front course’s No. 17 island.
“It turned out the way we’d planned,” said Taylor. “Island course is relatively peaceful and serene, but Moccasin — it’ll bite you.”
Taylor also continues to use the property for his oilfield supply business. On one Island hole, scrapped storage tanks were moved onto the fairway. Moccasin formerly included an operating (though out-of-bounds) pumper unit. Two truck flatbeds provide a bridge on the trail across water at another hole.
There are also historical components incorporated on the courses — which include the site of a famous late-19th Century outlaw shootout. Work on the courses started in 2006 and was completed in 2007. Two years later, The Lodge hosted the 2009 Green Country Open, one of just eight national tournaments sanctioned annually by the PDGA.
The Taylors pointed to the wide range of participant backgrounds — from medical and business professionals to housewives and hippies — that are brought together at disc golf events.
“Disc golfers are fiercely competitive,” Taylor said. “On the other hand, though, they don’t hesitate when it comes to offering helpful advice on ways to play a certain hole .”
An example of the competition levels was evident at last weekend’s tourney, which included a pair of former All-American wrestlers from the University of Oklahoma. Michael Lightner is now an OU assistant wrestling coach and Sam Hazewinkle was a competitor in last year’s London Olympics.
“I can’t say enough about what the Taylors have done out here,” Lightner said Sunday, adding: “Their course kicked my rear this time, but I’m still looking forward to coming back and trying again.”