There's a Disc Golf Town, It's a Place I've Found, There's a World Going On Underground
15 Helpful / 0 Not
Pros: 1. Variety. While lacking in topographical diversity and abundant foliage typical to disc golf, the course presents a decent mix of obstacles and "airways" ranging from straight to left- and right-finishing shots, as well as a few subtle elevation changes and some water shots (including a fun carry on one of the later holes). The prevalent sandstone pillars are used to create many multi-route holes. All baskets are within reachable distance from the tees, but not all baskets are necessarily reachable with the lines available, with a few exaggerated doglegs that really take a placement shot then an upshot. Playing with walls and ceilings offered a truly unique and unparalleled disc golf experience and gave new meaning to the DG term "tunnel shot," and it was a blast to watch some of the ricocheting shots. Any little change in elevation was used especially well with pin locations, and while there was no extreme uphill or downhill shot, the designers seem to have utilized what they could. Most other reviewers have mentioned "The Rabbit Hole," which is a standout hole and fortunately not an overused gimmick down here (though gimmicks might succeed in distracting from some of the repetition and blandness of the golf in general), and it is arguably the signature hole.
2. Equipment. Gateway Titans are in great shape; I wish we had these on courses all over Wisconsin like they do in this area! The rope lights didn't appear to affect the catching ability of any of the baskets. Tee signs, where they existed, showed some minimal information. Most tees were sand marked with either boards or rocks, or had a patch of carpet/Astroturf to throw from; while not an ideal teeing surface, it's not the worst if you can adapt, and indeed when I played Toboggan it involved teeing off from sandy patches of Michigan soil, so the tees here weren't much worse than a course that received a 5.0 rating from me.
3. Uniqueness. Disc golf in a freakin' cave! As a geology major, the combination of caves and disc golf was too much for me to resist, though I can understand the attraction of this place to all the disc golfers who don't necessarily care about geology/industrial relics. My wife and I and some friends have an annual tradition of taking a Memorial Day voyage to various disc golf destinations; for several years it was Highbridge, then we incorporated Flip City, finally last year making Ludington and Mason County our destination, and for this year we decided to hit Crystal City and whatever St. Louis-area courses we could hit, then do Lemon Lake. We drove down from Wisconsin and headed straight to Crystal City at around 9:00 instead of checking into our nearby hotel (there is abundant lodging in Festus). The drive up to the complex was awesome, and I was the only person who was aware of "the bridge," so when I pulled up to it my wife asked, "Are you sure you're supposed to drive over this?! Wait, maybe we should back up and check the GPS!" while I chuckled and stopped halfway through and said, "Don't worry honey, this is the right way." Driving through the tunnel to the parking lot added even more excitement, and it was busy on this night with some live music, a bonfire outside, laser tag, and a few groups playing volleyball. I snapped photos inside the entrance like a stereotypical tourist, just amazed for the first half hour or so while we wandered around, had a few warm-up drinks and chatted with the bar staff (there was another group from Colorado that had driven out just to play the DG, and the employees were impressed that two different groups had road tripped to play there; not many of the workers seemed to know much about DG itself), then made our way to the first tee. I've played plenty of night/glow rounds, but this again was a new and exciting twist to the familiar, with illuminated Titans lurking eerily down poorly lit tunnels and around dark corners (we had some discussion of the film "The Descent" to keep the adrenaline pumping). LEDs purchased at the entrance and taped to transparent plastic were sufficient (I don't think we had any incidents of the lights popping off after hitting a wall), though I also carried and frequently used my LED Mag-Lite. Underground water holes are another very original concept, and walking to your lie after the forced carry on #16 via a path flanking the pond felt like something out of a video game (like "Borderlands" or some first-person horror shooter); I guess only those who've played it (slightly buzzed on $3 cans of Shock Top) and can relate to this sentiment will know what I'm getting at with that, but that hole might actually have been my favorite. The fact that there are TWO full courses down here is a definite bonus; alas, I only had the opportunity to play one.
4. Amenities. Okay, nothing country club here except the bar, which is pricey but not outrageously so with a semi-decent selection of drinks. Ample parking, though I could see it getting crowded with multiple large groups going out for the various activities. For a wee or worse, you'll have to settle for port-a-potties (one of which, according to my wife and another female companion, was "atrocious"). Multiple other activities, mentioned above and in most other reviews, make this a place where anyone can enjoy themselves. It appears that the facility is open to change and improvement (especially looking at the older reviews), and business seems to be decent, so I imagine the owners will enjoy long-term success with this multifaceted "recretainment" complex and will improve the courses to meet the demands of serious disc golfers.
5. Cleanliness. Obviously if you're picky about sand, you might not consider this the "cleanest" place to disc - and you'd be right, so be prepared to get SANDY. But as far as litter, I didn't see too much with my flashlight, and the trash cans appeared to be used by most groups. The water wasn't gross, either, just muddy.
Cons: 1. Navigation. Despite other reviewers' complaints, getting to the complex itself using GPS wasn't an issue; we used the lat/lon coordinates as opposed to a street address, which may or may not have been a factor. The course rating gets docked pretty severely in this department, even with the generous wiggle room I give them by default for being underground and having the nearly insurmountable obstacle of providing a well-lit 18-hole course as the issue wasn't just darkness. The map on the scorecard is crap (same one provided in the links on this page, although ours appeared to have gone through several more incarnations of poor photocopying and thus were even blotchier), and getting around can be a nightmare. Most tee signs were so rudimentary that it was almost preferable to just scout everything yourself. Lit-up barrels are intended to guide the way and show the next tee, but confusion cannot be avoided when you are surrounded by pillars and have a spray-painted arrow on a barrel pointing off into an ambiguous direction of various potential routes, and occasionally you'll spot the wrong basket before the right one. We got REALLY mixed up somewhere around #5 and #6 (or maybe #4, I don't remember), but the most annoying part was the number of holes that required scouting ahead to spot the basket - walking in the sand is a workout, so going back and forth down the fairways looking for the pin gets tiresome.
2. Design. I recognize the inherent limitations to creative design with this terrain; there just isn't much other than sandy tunnels and pillars with some water thrown in for spice. The golf challenge falls way short here, as the prime obstacle encountered by your disc will be the walls. Lacking are tight gaps and narrow obstacles, two key ingredients to a "good" course. Way too many shots that finished to the right (in fact, as we walked through the parking lot we encountered a family heading back to their vehicle and asked them about the course; the dad said, "All I can say is, stay right!"). Many of the blind baskets required a placement shot, then a boring upshot and a par putt. Not nearly as much "wow" factor as I had hoped, unfortunately.
3. Limited availability. One of the things I love about disc golf is being able to just go and play, usually whenever I want, including at night with only a few lights; Crystal City is open about 30 hours per week, mostly on the weekends from late afternoon/evening into late night. While I understand that as a business they would require paid staff to have the facility open, I think that to make this a true "disc golf destination" it will eventually need broader access including more weekday hours.
Other Thoughts: Ever since the announcement that there was a disc golf course underground on the DGCR forums, I have had Crystal City on my wish list. Was it worth the road trip?...Absolutely, even if my rating does not necessarily reflect that! But whether or not it is worth YOUR road trip is for you to decide, and that is partly why I write reviews; I would like to be as well-informed as possible before traveling a great distance to play a new course, and I was a reader of DGCR reviews before I was a Trusted Reviewer! Now, since I only got to play the North Course, would I plan another road trip to play the South Course? Absolutely not, unless the facility itself and the surrounding courses (ESPECIALLY completion of the anticipated Deer Creek multi-course complex) can draw me back. I wish I'd played some of the other highly rated courses like Jefferson Barracks, but time constraints and weather prevented much more course exploration on this journey. I love the fact that I can tell people that I played disc golf in a cave, and I will encourage my fellow disc golfers to make the journey to Crystal City.
There isn't a lot that can be done to the course to improve the golf other than improved tees and navigation, although I do have some suggestions to add to the experience: 1) Obtain some old telephone/cable poles (check with whatever utility companies are responsible or get some trunks from a lumberyard) and use these as vertical obstacles to mimic tree trunks both in effect on disc flight as well as effect on the plastic itself (hitting the walls repeatedly is, as noted in numerous reviews, pretty rough on base-plastic discs); I personally can envision hundreds of these implanted in a veritable underground forest, which of course is probably unattainable at the moment, but those kinds of obstacles mixed with some form of artificial bushes, and even a few more gimmicks like a creative mando or two, would go a long way in assuaging the repetition that this course suffers from. 2) For having such limited hours and being pay-to-play, I would expect some kind of CLEAR signage, glow-in-the-dark arrows on the cave walls or battery-operated LEDs, floor-to-ceiling netting to eliminate confusing intersections and create more discernible fairways, just something to a greater degree than what is currently provided. 3) Put in a course above ground! I remember reading that this was possibly in the works, and the terrain above looks like it would be fantastic, and a GREAT course up there would counteract the not-so-great golf down below and make this a place where serious traveling discers would spend an entire day or more.
One final note: Avoid "St. Louis Style Pizza" at all costs. Not only is their cardboard-like crust covered in tomato paste, they use some disgusting processed blend called "Provel cheese," and its only redeemable quality is its meltiness, but other than that it is pretty tasteless and was completely underwhelming even to a pizza glutton like myself. Sorry, STL, your pizza sucks.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful.
Put This One On Your "Bucket List"
12 Helpful / 0 Not
It's really hard to give this course a "subjective" rating since there's nothing else to compare it to?
You HAVE to put this course on your bucket list. It is the most "unique" disc golf experience you'll probably ever have...
This is an old Silica Sand mine that they used to make glass (Crystal City). The mine was closed in 1986.
Day or night, whether the weather ;-) outside is 110º or -30º, snowing, raining, it's always a fairly humid 55º inside.
There are 2 courses:
NORTH easier and one water hazard,
SOUTH: Longer with water on about 6 holes.
You will get a pretty good leg workout walking in the loose sand for 18, 36 or more holes.
The Gateway Titan Portable Baskets are lit with Rope-Lights running through them.
The Tee marker Barrels are white plastic Barrels with lights inside of them.
>>>Hole #17, North Course, "The Rabbit Hole" Very Cool. Only 104 feet, but, you throw blind around a corner and through a 4 foot hole through the cave wall, go through the hole and to the basket.
>>>>This is a work in progress. With that said...
>>>>My biggest complaint and the reason I am dinging the rating is the navigation.
There were no maps for the North course which made it tough to even find the first hole, and, had to search for quite a few holes after that.
>>>>Mark the baskets and tee barrels with numbers to aid navigation...
There are lights but you'll still need glow plastic or lighted discs for some of the darker sections.
>>>>Bring a GOOD flashlight for navigation and finding your discs. a couple times we had discs bury in the sand floor enough to hide the light and would not have found them without a flashlight.
The cave walls, ceiling and pillars are sandstone and will EAT your discs. I just used some older Champion plastic discs and they held up pretty well. A DX disc would most likely be toast after a round if you don't keep it off of the walls.
There is also a 30 min. Barge ride (Pontoon Boat) on the 150 acre underground lake through the flooded parts of the mine which is also where the "South" course is located.
Inside the cave there is also:
They have Bands
They show movies
SCUBA Diving in the lake
Kudos to the owners for having the vision to turn this property into an entertainment mecca with all of the different activities they currently have, plus, plans for lots more...
A really cool way to get some use out of this old "abandoned" mine
12 of 12 people found this review helpful.
14 Helpful / 1 Not
It's getting better
Pros: -The only subterranean course on the map!
-The owner now has portable Titan baskets in.
-Some very technical as well as aceable shots.
-Just got done with the second course.
-$2 bud lights :)
-They sell led lights if you need them.
-100 degrees outside/ 60 degrees inside.
-The owners plans are to put an outdoor course up too!
Cons: -The second course is not really ready for complete play, its set up but a lot of work is still needed to be done.
Last time i went it was $5 for unlimited dg, not it's $5 every 18 (which i don't really mind paying as long as its going to help make the place better).
-Sand tees (Bring shoes you don't mind getting messed up, and bring extra socks for the ride home)
Other Thoughts: -I have started to devote a handful of discs for this course that i've been calling cave discs. reason being the cave walls tear up the disc pretty good. So don't bring your favorite discs down here.
-Another thought is that yes we all know the signs and tees are bad but most of the time it's just the owner working on it all by himself back there. He's getting up there in age and between busting it in that cave and putting up with Crystal City, i give him respect.
14 of 15 people found this review helpful.
2 Helpful / 9 Not
Pros: It's in a cave.
Cons: Baskets - some cloth, some metal, kind of a variety
Tee Pads - sand, hard to get footing
BUSY = backups
Other Thoughts: There really isn't much to say about this. How often do you get to play a round of DG in a cave! If you're in the St. Louis area and have time, it is worth it just to play in a cave. I wouldn't bring my tournament bag because the walls will tear a disc up. Again, it's disc golf in a cave, until I see other places to do this, I have to give this a pretty decent review.
2 of 11 people found this review helpful.
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