Disc golf competitors from across the country will flock to South Lake Tahoe this weekend for the Battle at Bijou, a two-day disc golf tournament for both professional and amateur players.
It's the largest tournament in the Sierra Tahoe Series, which includes six other competitions throughout the Reno and Tahoe regions. According to Tournament Director and Vice President of the Reno Disc Golf Association Gayle Baker, the event is full with 140 participants. Thirty-one of those competitors are professionals, some of whom traveled from as far away as Tennessee, Colorado and Oregon for the event.
It's top-level competition that should appeal to anyone who likes to watch traditional ball golf, Baker said.
"You'd be amazed at how far these pros can throw (the disc). The level of the pros is just amazing. Some of these guys can drive it 600 feet," Baker said.
The Bijou course is one of the longest courses in the series, with 27 baskets instead of the standard 18. Baker estimated that between Saturday and Sunday, athletes will play about 5 miles of disc golf.
The players will be separated into groups of five at every hole, or basket. Professionals will compete for cash while amateur players will have the chance to win merchandise and other prizes.
This is the first tournament at the Bijou Community Park run by the Reno Disc Golf Association, but it's just one of a long line of competitions that have been held there. Craig Getty, one of Lake Tahoe disc golf's founding fathers, directed his first tournament in 1996 at the park, but pro/am tournaments have occurred annually since 1994.
Getty took over management of the Bijou disc golf course 16 years ago. Back then there were only 12 baskets, some of which were made from recycled Tahoe Daily Tribune ink drums, Getty said. It took a year, about $4,500, and lots of volunteer labor, but Getty and the new Tahoe Disc Golf Association were able to complete the course in 1997 with 27 baskets, all Professional Disc Golf Association-approved.
Over almost 20 years, Getty has seen the sport evolve significantly. Today, the players in tournaments like Battle at Bijou tend to be younger and, thanks to studies in disc aerodynamics and composites, are able to throw farther than their '90s counterparts . There's also more of them.
"The demographics are changing. There's a growth of about 18 percent annually, and the age group is a lot younger. The disc itself has developed quite a bit. They're flying further and further," Getty said.
In 2000, the PDGA reported 6,230 active members in the association. Eleven years later, that number had more than doubled, with 16,109 members in 2011 according to the PDGA website. The number of courses has also grown, with about three times as many disc golf courses in the county in 2011 then there were in 2000.
Both Baker and Getty attribute the slumped economy as part of the reason for the sport's increased popularity. Getty calls the sport the best dollar-for-dollar recreational opportunity available and Baker said she became interested in disc golf 16 years ago because it was a low-cost, family-friendly sport.
"I started playing because it was a cheap sport to get my kids involved in. Going to the movies can cost $100. Disc golf is free if you have the Frisbees," Baker said.
There's no cost to play at the Bijou course, although Jonathan Paget, a vendor at the Bijou Snack Shack in the Bijou Community Park, sells discs at the stand. Paget said he records about 30 people passing through the course every day. On tournament weekends, those numbers grow significantly, he said.
The disc golf course sprawls throughout Bijou Community Park, using most of the available space, Paget said. Proposed plans for a Bijou Bike Park had some disc golfers worried about what would happen to the course, but Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association Trails Director Ben Fish stated that there's not going to be any conflict.
"It's not going to affect the disc golf course. We have pretty accurate digital data on the 3 to 4 acres it's affecting, and we're not going to touch the disc golf," Fish said.
In fact, he thinks the plan, which includes a BMX track, a children's skill area, a terrain park and more, will complement the course. Fish said that the proposed construction date for the bike park is set for next spring. Like the work on the disc golf course, the construction will be almost entirely volunteer-based.