As the sun gains strength for the day on an early morning in January, two athletes emerge from the shadows that low light has cut upon the East Field. These UC Santa Cruz students are throwing what look like petite Frisbees hundreds of feet across the field. The discs cut the clear air for a few moments before skidding to a stop across the grass, still dotted with dew. One of the students, Ian Kitrick, comments on the beauty of the gliding discs as he leans back and admires his 400-foot throw.
Kitrick is the captain of the disc golf club team. He, along with Colin Chambers, the club’s president, are avid disc golfers.
“I began playing when I was four years old,” Chambers said, peering out at the field through his glasses. “My mom took me to play so I could burn off some energy. In high school I played occasionally with friends, and last summer I played pretty much every day.”
Although Kitrick has not played disc golf for as long, his enthusiasm for the sport is evident.
“Some friends got me into disc golf about a year ago and now I’m hooked,” Kitrick said.
Disc golf is very similar to regular golf. The goal of both is to complete the course in the fewest attempts possible. Players use discs of varying size depending on the distance of each shot, just as golfers use specific clubs depending on distance and terrain. And disc golf courses are sprawling grass fields, just like golf courses — though disc golfers throw toward large chain baskets rather than putting toward holes.
On disc golf courses, there are mandatories, known as “mandos,” which are specific obstacles that everyone must follow, such as having to throw a disc to the right of a particular tree. There are also one stroke penalties added to players’ score if they lose a disc or throw one out of bounds, in water or too high up in a tree.
The discs are composed of a hard, somewhat thick plastic and vary in size and width of rim. There are different styles of throwing the discs: the tomahawk, thumber, backhand, or sidearm, to name a few.
“There is a basic form to learn,” Chambers said, “but everyone ends up tweaking it to find their own style.”
Kevin “Skippy” Givens is the UCSC sports club supervisor and former coach of the disc golf club. The game has been around since the late ’60s, Givens said, and it is a natural progression from the game of Frisbee.
“In 1976, the first official disc golf course was created at the Oak Grove Course in Southern California,” Givens said. “Prior to that, people would throw Frisbees at lamp posts and objects of the like, creating a kind of course by themselves. It was only a matter of time until this game became official.”
The team is fortunate to have a world-class champion, Avery Jenkins, training them. Jenkins was gone fall quarter, but the club eagerly awaits his return this quarter.
For world-class champions like Jenkins and college-age enthusiasts alike, there are few better locations to practice disc golf than the world-renowned DeLaveaga Golf Course, located in Santa Cruz. Known as “DeLa” to the club, this course is known for the challenging shots its terrain imposes. When not at DeLa, however, the club sometimes works on distance throws down at the East Field.
Now that the UCSC team has a great coach and a location for practice, there is just one piece missing.
“We’d love to grow enough support to hopefully get a consistent group out playing,” Chambers said.
Kitrick and Chambers both said that though the team is a tight niche of friends, it has no problem including newcomers into the group. This is evident in its motto: “The most fun wins.”
As the two friends saunter out to collect their discs, the crispness of the morning fades. Hidden among the grass, the discs will eventually be found and packed away until the next cold winter morning when the team will throw them again.