Written by Tara Leonard
SANTA CRUZ (July 2009) -- Known as “The Tunnel” the 8th hole at Delaveaga Disc Golf Course features a narrow, 350-foot fairway with a canopy of low-hanging trees. On the left is the road, on the right, a plunging, tree-covered slope. I lined up my shot and let her fly, only to watch helplessly as my Frisbee careened off an oak tree, bounced on the hard-packed dirt and wobbled pathetically to a stop about twenty feet from where it started. Laughter erupted from my fellow golfers, one of whom was wearing a Frisbee on her head. Pebble Beach it is not. But if you’re looking for a fun, free way to spend a summer afternoon this is the place for you.
The Delaveaga Disc Golf Course is located just beyond the traditional golf course on Upper Park Road in Santa Cruz. As we drove past the clubhouse on a sunny weekday morning, lush fairways gave way to dusty scrub brush, oak and fir trees. The road narrowed until we saw a small parking lot on the right marked with a plain wooden sign. There wasn’t a caddie or manicured green in sight, just natural terrain, sweeping views, and glimpses of a Santa Cruz subculture that I never knew existed.
We paid $2 to park and strolled across the road, Frisbees in hand, to the first of 27 holes. (While the correct term is “disc” my troop really was toting 1970’s-style Frisbee brand flying saucers.) Standing on a cement slab for a tee, we shot down the fairway, trying to avoid natural obstacles such as trees and rocks to land our discs inside a metal basket perched on a pole. Sounds easy, right? As we quickly discovered, anyone who has ever tossed a Frisbee at the beach can play disc golf. They just won’t play well. Members of my multi-generational group took about five to ten shots on each par-three hole, with no hurt feelings but plenty of grimaces, giggles and good-natured ribbing. I’d like to think our equipment was to blame.
It would be so easy if it weren't for those darn trees!
“Disc golf has the same elements as ball golf,” said Stan Pratt, treasurer of the Delaveaga Disc Golf Club, a nonprofit organization that maintains the course and promotes disc golf to the community. “The main difference is you’re not using a lever but your whole body to propel the disc, so it’s a little more physical. Instead of different clubs, we have discs that are aerodynamically designed to do different things. There are putters, drivers, mid-rangers, even rollers that are designed to turn right or left. Most professionals carry 14 to 20 discs a round.”
Professional disc golfers. Who knew?
Pratt confesses that he owns about 400 discs with 60 that he regularly uses for practicing and playing. If you’re picturing slender plastic plates with a wide lip just begging to be spun on an index finger, think again. These are solid molded polymer saucers, a bit thicker than you expect, selling for $10 to $20 each. Sure enough, we could pick out the serious players on the course because they each carried a small bag over their shoulder bulging with discs. Oh, and they could heave those discs about 300 feet with amazing accuracy.
Experienced players carry the right equipment.
Originally installed in 1984, Delaveaga is considered one of the best disc courses in the world, attracting both amateur and professional players. Each year it hosts the Masters Cup, a national tour event sponsored by the Professional Disc Golf Association.
The sport’s growing popularity has led to some overcrowding issues at Delaveaga on the weekends, but the day I visited the players were nicely spaced. We saw families goofing off with young children in tow. There were couples young and old and gangs of middle-aged men. Everyone seemed to be having a great time playing at their own level and following a few basic rules: Don’t Litter. Don’t Smoke. Don’t alter the course in any way. Play in groups of five or less and if your group is slow, let other groups play through. Most importantly, wait until the group in front of you has finished before throwing, since no one likes a Frisbee to the head.
“In general, everybody who plays disc golf is really good about taking in new people,” Pratt assured me. “Going up and asking questions is fine. That’s how I started. But it’s a technical and difficult course, which can be a problem for recreational players. You can have a bad day out there.”
Well sure, if you actually keep score. My merry band treated it like a nice walk in the woods, throwing discs, losing discs, finding discs, confusing one another’s discs and laughing much harder than I ever have on a traditional golf course. We were so inspired, that we came home and created our own course around the neighborhood, with challenges such as landing your Frisbee in the hammock, steering it through two trees, or bringing it to rest on top of a certain sidewalk square.
Mother Nature poses some unique challenges on Hole 19.
“It’s a fun, inexpensive way to spend two or three hours outside in a great part of Santa Cruz,” Pratt concluded.
With a bit more practice, I might just find myself ready for the Masters Cup. That is, after I conquer the course in my own backyard.