The Disc Golf Destination in East Tennessee
Alex Williamson, writer, editor UDisc
Morristown, Tennessee, has given itself the title of Tennessee’s Disc Golf Capital, and its place on this list backs up that claim. The town has invested in professional design and installation of courses specifically with the goal of attracting disc golf tourism, so visiting disc golfers can always expect a top-notch experience.
It’s also in sight of the beautiful Smoky Mountains and just over an hour away from more well-known tourist destinations like Knoxville, Pigeon Forge (home of Dollywood), and Gatlinburg that offer up plenty of things to do for non-disc golfing friends and family.
Read on to learn more about how Morristown made this list and to get a more specific overview of what it and the surrounding area offer in terms of disc golf, food and drink, and off-the-course recreation.
Here’s how Morristown’s disc golf offerings fared in our analysis of over 6,000 small towns in the United States: Quantity Rank: 9; Quality Rank: 4; Overall Disc Golf Grade: 78/100
To qualify for this list, towns had to have populations under 50,000. Morristown’s population is just under 30,000.
The scores used to establish both quality and quantity ranks derive from information from the UDisc app, which, thanks to disc golfers from around the world, has the most complete disc golf course directory available with well-established courses typically having an abundance of ratings. For example, no disc golf course in Morristown used to create the town’s quality score had been rated fewer than 400 times.
The quantity rank is based on how many courses and unique permanent holes a town offers. Each town received a quantity score, and its rank reflects where that score fell in relation to the other towns we analyzed. Unlike our Top 10 Disc Golf Cities — USA rankings that considered courses within a radius of each metropolitan area, only courses in town borders counted for this list.
The quality rank was derived from the ratings of a town’s top four courses in the UDisc app. Each town received a quality score, and its rank reflects where that score fell in relation to the other towns we analyzed
The overall grade comes from a composite of the scores used to generate quantity and quality rank. This grade was what determined a town’s position in our Top Disc Golf Small Towns — USA list.
The Top Disc Golf Small Towns made their way onto this list based on data and not the opinions of this article’s author or any other members of UDisc’s staff. We were as surprised and interested as anyone to find out what the numbers would tell us.
The meeting that started Morristown’s push to become Tennessee’s Disc Golf Capital didn’t happen in a board room, a town hall, or over lunch at a restaurant. Instead, the town’s parks director, the county mayor, the president of the local Rotary Club, and professional disc golf course designer HB Clark hatched the idea while sitting together in a pick-up truck.
Not long before that meeting, there hadn’t been a disc golf course within 50 miles/81 kilometers of Morristown. Clark had only recently designed and installed the town’s first course, Morristown Kiwanis, after convincing Morristown’s parks director that disc golf was worth a shot at a trade show. Due to the town’s location very near the intersection of Interstates 81 and 40, the course was attracting a lot of disc golfing visitors to town who otherwise would have driven right on by — something that hadn’t gone unnoticed by movers and shakers in Morristown.
So those same movers and shakers had given Clark a call asking him to come down and talk disc golf with them again. And while at a local park scouting out a possible location for a new course, heavy rains started to fall, moving the group and their discussions into that pick-up truck. According to Clark, it was then that the full extent of Morristown’s disc golf ambitions became clear to him.
“They said, ‘We’re seeing so much visitation in town — people coming through here and stopping — what can we do to make it big?'” Clark said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you let me design two championship courses?'”
Clark’s idea was that putting in championship-level courses would not only attract more passers-by but also allow the town to host large, multi-day tournaments that would entice players to stay overnight and create a new customer source for local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. It was a system Clark had made work himself in his hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he ran The Amateur Championships at Bowling Green. That event annually brought over 700 participants to the area for multiple days. Clark’s pitch convinced his audience, and it wasn’t long before funds were raised, appropriate sites were found, and Clark got to work.
As a result of Morristown’s commitment to disc golf and Clark’s expertise, the town has become a disc golf haven. It now boasts four 18-hole disc golf courses, and none of them have a rating below 4.3 out of 5 on the UDisc app. It also plays host annually to the Tennessee State Disc Golf Championships, which the town’s tourism director told us “had a direct impact of $200,900” on the local economy in 2020 alone.
It Seems Like the Plan is Working.
To get a better sense of what disc golf in Morristown is like, we got in touch with Clark and the owner of local disc golf store Halo Disc Golf and Sports, Rick Gray. Read on to find out what we learned.
Morristown is in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, so you can expect all of its courses to feature at least some elevation changes. Other than that, Gray said the defining aspect of disc golf in the town was “variety.” While Kiwanis is heavily wooded, the town’s other courses all have a mixture of open and wooded fairways. The courses also offer a wide range of difficulty, which you can learn more about in the Course Highlights section of the UDisc app.
Clark, who created the original designs for all of Morristown’s public courses, also filled us in on elements of his design philosophy that are apparent on Morristown’s courses. He pointed to both his approach to planning greens (areas within 10 meters of the basket) and avoidance of artificial out-of-bounds and mandatories as tell-tale signs of a Clark course.
“One thing I don’t do is man-made obstacles,” Clark said. “Mandatories are pretty rare except to keep you from throwing at a parking lot. But one very common thing I do is challenging greens. So many players think you should have large, open areas around the basket. I don’t get into those arguments because I’m too told to argue, but I just don’t agree with ’em and don’t let ’em know.”
Clark said he often places baskets near slopes or large trees to make players think harder about their upshots and putts. He also believes the best courses force players to use touch and finesse just as much as power. And if you play any of Morristown’s courses, you’ll be sure to see examples of this philosophy at work.
Panther Creek State Park: This is Morristown’s most highly rated course and also its most difficult. Coming in at over 9,500 feet/2,896 meters in length, the course has elevation, tricky greens, and a mix of long, open shots and technical, wooded fairways. In the words of one reviewer on UDisc, “not a place I’ll play casually often; I’ll go there to challenge myself! I respect the touring pros even more when they play courses like this.”
You can actually watch one of those pros master Panther Creek — and get a closer look at Morristown’s monster course — in this video of pro Chris Dickerson playing a course-record round.
Frank Lorino Park Rotary: If you’re looking for something to pick your spirits up after getting mauled at Panther Creek, Rotary might be just what you’re after. It offers up two full sets of 18 permanent baskets that make up a shorter layout (yellow baskets) and a longer one (blue baskets). Like Panther Creek, it offers a mixture of open and wooded holes, but there are a lot more chances for beginner and intermediate players to get looks at birdies. But this isn’t a pitch-and-putt by any means. There’s plenty of length and technicality so that players of all skill levels can enjoy themselves. Gray chose Rotary as his favorite course in town.
The Local Routes
Gear: If you find yourself in need of some plastic while in Tennessee’s Disc Golf Capital, visit Halo Disc Golf and Sports, the disc golf store near Morristown owned by Gray.
Talk to the Locals: If you’re looking for some more local advice or someone to meet up with, try joining the Morristown Disc Golf Association Facebook group.