A handful of buildings and mining relics are all that remain today of the once-thriving mining town of Russell Gulch, Colorado. Today this town, located nearly two miles above sea level, is home to a very small population—and a disc golf course.
In the spring of 1859, William Greeneberry Russell, a prospector from Georgia, discovered gold near Idaho Springs in Colorado. By autumn of that year, nearly a thousand prospectors had arrived to seek their fortunes, calling the place Russell Gulch in his honor.
The town sprang up quickly, as people continued to arrive in droves. In roughly a year, Russell Gulch’s population grew to about 2,600 residents—the U.S. Census for 1860 shows 600 residing in the town and about 2,000 camped around the gulch. At its height, the town boasted a school, an Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge, and numerous mills. One mill was owned by George Pullman, who sent the earnings back to his famous Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago.
About five years after Russell’s discovery, the supply of placer gold, or gold that could be panned from the surface, began to dry up. Mining operations continued for about 20 years after that, and Russell Gulch remained a strong economic force in the region. As late as 1907 the Russell Gulch mining district claimed 29 of the 78 producing mines in Gilpin County, and was considered one of the most important districts in the county. But the population dwindled, and by 1930 the Russell Gulch was down to just 75 residents.
In 1999, Brian O’Donnell purchased several pieces of property in Russell Gulch. He put in a few disc golf targets for his own use, and in 2003 he built a complete course and opened it to the public.
The front half of the course sprawls over steep terrain dotted with ruins and rusted-out vehicles. The back half opens out onto a broad, open gulch where play can navigate some of the still-standing ruins of the town. Bounded on nearly all sides by mining claims, discs can easily go out of bounds and into someone else’s property, adding an extra level of difficulty to the course.