By Sophia Kirschenman
For some it’s the challenge and the desire for competition and victory. For others it’s nature, wildlife and adventure. Some are hooked by the ever-resonating clink of the chains. But all are enticed by the draw of the disc and the love of the game.
Frisbee golf, or disc golf as it is more commonly known, has been around in various forms for roughly 100 years. But now, more than ever, it is growing in popularity as people around the world are picking up their very first discs.
Disc golf is similar to ball golf in that the same rules and terminology apply; only the object of the game is to get a disc, or frisbee, into a basket. The baskets are metal and have chains hanging down over them. As in golf, a player or team strives to play a course with the least throws possible.
Alumnus Russ Jacobson started playing disc golf 20 years ago in Santa Cruz.
“Frisbee golf sounded kind of lame, but I’m willing to try anything at least once or twice,” Jacobson wrote in an email to City on a Hill Press. “I was hooked after the first round.”
Since that time Jacobson has had the opportunity to play at disc golf courses throughout the country. In 1994, Jacobson took the bar exam and as a celebratory vacation left to tour all of the major league baseball parks in the United States. On the third day of his trip, all the baseball players went on strike. Jacobson was not discouraged.
“I had my discs and a course directory for the whole country, so I turned it into a disc golf trip,” Jacobson said. “I played 55 courses in 26 states. I think of that trip almost
Now Jacobson serves as President of the DeLaveaga disc golf club in Santa Cruz. The course is known as one of the top ten courses in the world because of its wide variety of holes and amazing views. Disc golf is relatively inexpensive to play as discs only cost from about $7 to $15 and most courses are free. DeLaveaga only asks for a donation of $1 to play.
Because of its natural beauty, DeLaveaga is one of Jacobson’s two favorite disc golf courses out of the 80 that he’s played on.
“It’s also very challenging, and requires every type of shot – air shots, rollers, overhand shots, straight shots, big long open holes and short, tight technical holes,” Jacobson said. “No other course combines its beauty and challenge.”
On May 18, 19 and 20, DeLaveaga will host a pro event as part of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) tour.
Throughout the weekend of May 4, a variety of disc golfers came to the amateur event to compete for free entry into the pro event. Out of the array of athletic locals, Chris Edwards, one of the top players on the UCSC disc golf team, came to display his skill.
Edwards, who started playing when he was 15, believes that disc golf is more amusing than regular golf.
“Disc golf has all the leisurely and sophisticated pleasures of golf only at a mere fraction of the price and with frisbees,” Edwards said. “Frisbees are much more pleasing to watch fly than their tiny white counter parts.”
On the second day of the amateur event, Edwards trekked around the 27-hole course with a group of disc golfers, including Cody Marchessault, his caddy for the day and President of the UCSC disc golf team.
The supportive group continually shouted words of encouragement as each player took their turn. All around people were yelling “nice huk, hold it, drop, through, work.” And occasionally, one would even hear, “look out below!” when a disc took a wrong turn.
Finally, after a long day of traipsing through the forest, the group reached hole 27, more commonly known to the DeLaveaga community as the “top of the world.”
The golfers gazed down the mountain and across the whole of Monterey Bay.
“You can almost see people on the beach [across the bay] â€“ all the tree-lines, all the gullies,” Marchessault said.
Finally, Edwards took his place on the platform and spun his body and arm simultaneously releasing the disc to soar through the clear sky and then suddenly plummet to the hard ground like a plane abruptly running out of fuel and crashing. The members of the group all shot well from the “top of the world.”
Even though Edwards seemed distraught at the end of day two as his last shot “chained out” or in other words hit the chains and spun through, he was still in first place.
At the end of that day Cody Marchessault described disc golf as a community.
“We all care about the sport enough to make sure the course is clean – I pick up trash if I see it and plant trees,” Marchessault said. “I’ve always been an outdoors person, so playing a sport outside without having to tackle somebody â€“ I kind of like that.”
On a disc golf course, every couple of minutes or so, the melodic clank of the chains mixes into the sounds of birds chirping and people talking. The clank signifies a disc golfer’s completion of the current challenge. Marchessault, like many other disc golfers, loves that sound.
“It’s beautiful. It’s like that’s what I was supposed to do,” Marchessault said.
At the tournament, the vast majority of teams were composed of male disc golfers. Kalena Luxon, who began playing tournaments in 1999, is among the steadily increasing number of women disc-golfers.
At one tournament Luxon threw her first ace (hole in one). The ace rule is that every person on the team of the person who got the ace has to pay the ace five dollars. Everyone in the tournament has to pay the ace one dollar.
Luxon, despite the monetary gains of the game still wishes more women were involved in the sport.
“One of my first tournaments in 2000 at San Francisco, I got first place and the only reason why is because I was the only girl who showed up,” Luxon said. “I come up and play as often as I can and I’m usually playing with my guy friends. It’s so nice playing with girls.”
Still, she said, “It’s a great place for single women to come, if you’re looking for a guy who enjoys the outdoors and is fun-loving,” she said jokingly. “You’ve got your pickings.”
Sara Fischer, one of the few girls to recently be a part of the UCSC disc golf team, realizes that it can be an intimidating sport for some women, but it’s definitely worth trying.
“While the sport is challenging at first, and you may feel frustrated or like you totally suck, don’t worry about it,” Fischer wrote in an email to CHP. “It’s fun to go out and play with friends and be outdoors in the woods. It’s a low pressure sport which I have found to be very relaxing and enjoyable.”
The DeLaveaga disc golf course, which usually has one disc vendor working out of a truck, was littered with different disc companies on the tournament weekend. The companies sell a plethora of disc golf items including a wide variety of colorful discs with interesting names such as spectra, venom, stratus, roadrunner.
The next and final day of the amateur event Chris Edwards went on to complete the tournament. He won the competition—an event he has been trying to win since he was 16—by seven throws.
“It was the greatest victory I’ve ever had,” Edwards exclaimed.
As disc golf is becoming more popular, it is slowly gaining funding. However, the UCSC team does not get a significant amount of funding and the disc golf course on the UCSC campus does not have baskets. Edwards believes that a UCSC disc golf intramurals team may be something to come about in the future.
“As soon as UCSC gets baskets for its course or for a new course to be designed, intramural disc golf will take off,” Edwards said.
The UCSC course is not the only local disc golf course lacking funding. Russ Jacobson would also like funding for the DeLaveaga course. As of right now he believes they could use a clubhouse, a paved parking lot, erosion control, new tee pads and other essential items.
According to Jacobson, more people use the DeLaveaga course than all the city parks combined.
“The Parks and Rec department is asking for $250,000 for some playground equipment at one park,” Jacobson said. “I sure wish we could get a fraction of that. In reality, we are often treated more like a problem than an asset by the City, and that can be difficult given how many people use and enjoy that park.”
Local disc golfers are currently using different forms of media to spread the word about disc golf. As people learn about the sport and begin to take an active interest in disc golf, funding will follow.
Brad Wirtz, a worker at Dayla Disc, a disc company regularly seen at DeLaveaga, is creating a disc golf documentary with Derek Hastings. The documentary, appropriately called “Chains,” is one step in the movement towards mainstream disc golf.
Wirtz, who started playing a year ago, is waiting for the premier of their documentary. He is also waiting for his first ace.
“The coolest thing is probably getting your first ace, which I haven’t done. My brother-in-law did get his first ace and even though it wasn’t mine, it was still cool because we started together,” Wirtz said thumbing through a stack of discs. “That’s probably the biggest thing, and you know, I’m still waiting for mineâ€¦patiently.”
Wirtz is not the only person who began a disc golf project. Martin Hapner, a member of the disc golf hall of fame and Santa Cruz resident, created discgolf.com, a website dedicated to providing knowledge about disc golf.
“My original purpose for discgolf.com was to use it as an information portal, and for the most part, it still serves in that manner today,” Hapner said.
Hapner, who has been playing disc golf since 1981, truly loves watching the disc in flight.
“I imagine it is some innate prehistoric feeling hidden deep in all of us that comes alive when we witness thrown objects,” Hapner said. “Of course this is just a guess, but, whatever it is, the feeling I get when I see a disc thrown for distance – coupled with accuracy – is a beautiful thing. It is reason enough to play.”
Hapner’s love of the game is not based on scores or wins; it is based on the experience.
“Don’t place too much emphasis on the outcome,” Hapner said, “it is the journey that matters.”
_A trailer for Hasting’s movie, set to come out winter of 2008, can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAo_Kyhd03s._