More than just a game of Frisbee
By Nick Walden / Towns Correspondent
While many people might understand the concept of disc golf, playing a golf-like course using a flying disc or Frisbee, the number of people who have actually played a round is still in the minority; but that number is growing steadily.
In Sonoma County disc golf has had a continual presence over the years, thanks in part to Kevin Parkhurst. Parkhurst, 52, of Windsor, has been playing the game for thirty years, first starting at Sonoma State with friends. From humble beginnings they started a chartered student club at SSU in 1976 that has now become the sporting nonprofit organization, the United Flyers of Sonoma.
“We had a big discussion about 5 years ago and figured that the Flyers are the oldest club in the world,” said Parkhurst, who is also known as the “Volvo Doctor” in Rohnert Park and has been the president and director of the Flyers for over 15 years.
The game, which is similar to golf, is a way for Parkhurst and many of the other disc golf enthusiasts to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, practice a game of skill, socialize and compete.
“You have to be in pretty good shape to do it,” said Parkhurst, noting various injuries over his long disc golf career. “It is a lot like golf in that it involves a lot of technique and skill.”
Disc golf is played much like regular golf except you substitute a flying disc for the ball and clubs. There are 9 and 18-hole courses with the goal being to complete the hole in the fewest number of throws. There are over 20 disc manufactures and a wide range of styles of discs that are much like drivers, irons and putters with models that feature different weight, skill level and flight tendencies.
“I like to say that throwing a disc is a lot like a pitcher in baseball. You have different types of pitches you use depending on where you want the disc to go,” said Parkhurst who might carry a dozen different discs in his bag.
The sport was formulized in the 1970′s but origins of the game remain somewhat of a mystery. The first known instance of anyone playing golf with a flying disc was in 1926 when a group of kids in Vancouver, British Columbia played a course using tin lids, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Disc golf as a competitive sport started in 1970 with a small group of people in Rochester, New York. In 1974 they created an event called the American Flying Disc Open. From there the popularity of the game has grown and now the PDGA has over 600,000 members worldwide. Much like golf’s PGA, the PDGA operates a national tour and features amateur and pro world championships each year.
The 2013 PGDA Amateur and Junior World Championships held in Emporia, Kansas had a total of 536 people compete which included men, women, seniors and boys and girls ages 10-and-up.
“Really it is a great sport for anyone,” said Parkhurst. “You might play a long course which involves hiking 4 to 6 miles, but a game only takes a few hours and it is very inexpensive.”
Many courses have no fees other than parking. The professional-level track at Stafford Lake near Novato charges $3 to $8 green fees depending on the date and time of year. Discs can cost anywhere from $7 to $16.
Locally Crane Creek is home to the Steve Werner Memorial Course. Most days you can find at least a few disc golfers playing the course, like Bill Christmas of Petaluma.
Christmas, 48, plays very regularly and tries to fit in at least 3 rounds a week, schedule permitting.
“One of the nice things about this versus ball golf, which I used to play, is the time. You can easily play a round in an hour and get some exercise which fits into a schedule that has familial responsibility,” he said.
The father of two is a member of both the Flyers and PGDA but only has time for one tournament a year. Sometimes he brings along his 10-year-old son to play as well.
“It can be a fun activity for kids. You see a lot of families come out and play on the weekends,” he said.
Even though Christmas doesn’t compete as much in regular tournaments he feels that disc golf is a nice way to keep the competitive juices flowing even if it is just against yourself trying to beat your own score.
Along with the Crane Creek and Novato courses, there is also a course at Lucchesi Park in Petaluma and the course being built at Lake Sonoma already has 9 holes up for play. There is another course that is in the planning stages for Taylor Mountain and then after that Parkhurst hopes to develop courses around Windsor and Healdsburg.
“Land is the most expensive part of development,” said Parkhurst who said it take anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 to develop a course. “The nice thing is that we can work with or around other facilities. Disc golfers are generally quiet and don’t have much impact on the land.”
There is some misconception about the sport that associates it with college students and sometimes poor behavior, but Parkhurst and Christmas both feel that the demographic has changed a lot in the sport and it is a few people giving the game a bad rap. On any given day at Crane Creek you can find people young and old tossing a disc around.
However plenty of SSU students do enjoy the game. Audrey Goetz, a current student at SSU and disc golf enthusiast is looking to obtain a charter for a club to then compete against other college clubs in Santa Cruz and Monterey.
“It’s just great being out here.” said Christmas. “It is like being out for a good walk that’s not spoiled,” he added noting the old golf cliché’ that ball golf is a good walk spoiled.