The first time I ever played disc golf was in Fernie. I was home from University for the summer, and new friends took me for a round. I had no idea what disc golf was, and when we parked outside of a private residence on Anderson Road, I was quite confused and then quite impressed that someone would create such a wonderful community asset and allow people to play for free. Betty and Rick Spitzer designed and built the nine-basket, par 27 course and held the Rickyglen Disc Golf Tournament annually. According to a 1999 news article, the course averaged 50 people a day, and the tournament around 150 each year.
Unfortunately, there was mistreatment of the course leading to the Spitzers closing it to public, and recently the property was sold. Fortunately, we have members of the community who are equally as generous and passionate as Betty and Rick, enter Serge Gosselin stage left.
Serge is originally from Sudbury, Ontario and was originally drawn to the Rockies for the skiing and biking.
“I started visiting here in the mid 90s, and moved to Banff after finishing university,” he shares with me. “I played ultimate frisbee at a pretty competitive level both in university and in Banff and was introduced to disc golf at practice as noticed teammates throwing discs further than I had ever seen and had to try it out.”
There was a new disc golf course at the Canmore Nordic Centre, which is where Serge first played the sport.
“If I wasn’t playing ultimate frisbee, I was there,” he adds.
So, what was it that grabbed a hold of Serge? He admits he has been obsessed with throwing frisbees from a young age. “And the organized sport component I just loved,” he says. It didn’t take long for Serge to take it to the competitive level, competing in either ultimate or disc tournaments every weekend across Western Canada. Interestingly, his first disc golf tournament was at the Rickyglen course in Fernie, a place he would call home just a few years later.
Within the first couple of weeks of Serge moving to Fernie, he went to play recreational ultimate frisbee and collided with one of the players. Afterwards they went for a beer, and Serge was asking people, “who should I talk to about building a disc golf course in James White Park?” It turns out the individual he had bumped into was the mayor at the time, Randal Macnair. The parks and rec manager was also there, and they both agreed that they should do it. Serge got to work designing the course, sourcing baskets, etc. with the support of the City.
“It was all on volunteer time, so we didn’t have to fundraise,” he tells me. “The Lizard Range Course opened in the summer of 2004 and I held the first tournament that year.”
This year, Serge held the 18th annual tournament, “We would have hit 20 if not for COVID,” he says. “I’ve been organizing it all on my own since the beginning, with help from people over the years. We offer everything from 8 years old to 75 years old, pros to amateur. It is a PDGA event, so everyone collects points and if you earn enough points you get invited to worlds.”
Serge himself has played worlds three times, twice as an amateur and the third time as a pro.
“People come to compete from all over the world,” he shares.
The Lizard Range Disc Golf Tournament, now called the Fernie Tournie, was drawing 70-80 players. Post COVID, he had to cap it at 100 and sells out… this year in two days, two months before the tournament. I ask him why he thinks the sport has been growing so exponentially.
“During COVID, it was something accessible, free and safe to do,” he says, and I agree. How many sports these days can you go out and play with a $30 (or less) investment? “It’s the fastest growing sport in the world, and now there’s a pro tour. I became a PDGA member in 2004 and was member # 27,374. In 2019, it hit 120,000 and when COVID hit, it became 280,000 in just two years. And this doesn’t count recreational players. There were under 200 courses when the PDGA began and now there are 75,000 courses (and growing) world-wide.”
This July 8, a PDGA-sanctioned tournament is being held at the Lizard Range Disc Golf Course as part of the National Amateur Disc Golf Tour (NADGT).
“Winners of each division collect points and earn spots for the finals in Texas this November. We’ve had three people go to Texas the last three years!” Serge says.
When Serge isn’t buried in Disc Golf, he is working for the City of Fernie in the Parks and Rec department, where he has worked the last 17 years. Not surprisingly, he is also the Director of the East Kootenay Disc Golf Club, which encompasses the Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie and Wycliff courses, and the Vice President of the Aspen Meadows Disc Golf Club in Sundre, Alberta where he also runs the tournament, the Falcon’s Flight. Additionally, Serge runs the Kootenay Up and Down tournament, which is the biggest tournament in the Kootenays held in Cranbrook.
The day we’re meeting, he is about to head to meet with the Elk Valley Special Olympics athletes.
“I really enjoy working with them, and taking them out disc golfing once a week,” he shares, as his eyes light up. Having interviewed Wayne who competes with the Special Olympics a couple of months ago, I know the feeling is mutual!
Although I feel as though Serge is doing far enough, I can’t help asking, what’s next?
“I am always looking for new places to develop courses, so if anyone has 1000 acres, give me a call. We need so much land, mostly we have small courses compared to what the pro tour is developing now.”
He may have shared some current things in the works, but that’s for me to know and for you to find out! Until then, grab some discs and head out - I can attest it is both humbling and a lot of fun. And if you see Serge out on the course, which is likely, give him a big thank you – he deserves it!
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here?
I moved here permanently in 2003, and it was skiing, mountain biking and disc golf that brought me here.
2. Who do you remember first meeting?
Shelley Vaness who runs the Hoz hotel, she was helping with the Rickyglen registrations at the first tournament I played.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Valley?
It was quiet and there was a lot of snow!
4. What keeps you here?
It’s home. I love the mountains.
Disc golf, for sure.
I’m going to say fall, because town is quieter, I can still disc golf, ski and play hockey.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years?
The way it was ten years ago. Ha.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
Coffee in the morning, scrolling through messages and checking out scores… I’m always checking tournaments.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
Although disc golf is my biggest passion, hockey is my favourite sport.
10. Quote to live by: Putt through it not to it!
Photo by Raven Eye Photography