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Community builds disc golf course

Tim Parsons

It’s summertime at Lake Tahoe. Do you know where your Frisbees are?

If so, bring them to Bijou Community Park, the site of a sports success story in a city strapped for fields and the funds they require.

And, oh yeah, don’t call them Frisbees. They’re discs.

The reputation of Tahoe’s disc golf course is growing – not just in the region, but nationally – as one of the best of its kind. For a city that underwent major budget cuts this year, the deepest coming from the Parks and Recreation Department, the course cost virtually nothing to construct. The community built it.

“I have never seen a community that has embraced disc golf like South Lake Tahoe has,” said Craig Getty, a member of the Tahoe Disc Golf Association and traveling professional player. “This is a community that is outdoors- and athletic-minded. People here are more accepting of alternative sports.”

Alternative might be a good description for the game. People often head down Al Tahoe Boulevard and wonder, just what are those yellow contraptions spread throughout the park? “A lot of people ask if they’re bird feeders,” said Russ Thaw, who came up with the idea of making the course.

The city purchased the tree-filled property in 1982 but hadn’t developed it. In 1989 a number of bark beetle-infested lodgepole pines were cut down and used for fencing around the park’s perimeter. Except for some joggers and cross country skiers, the park wasn’t used much.

In the fall of 1992, Thaw, a city maintenance worker, learned about the sport of disc golf, a game played just like “ball golf” only with discs and baskets instead of clubs and holes. The next spring he asked Parks Superintendent Steve Weiss about building a course.

“I was hesitant at first, but Russ proved me wrong,” Weiss said. “It’s a booming sport and it’s very valuable to the park.”

It’s also helping the city’s finances. Last year, the parks department made $5,500 is disc sales. Considering discs only cost $7 or $8, that’s a lot of plastic. This year the disc golf course has had more use than the city’s conventional golf course.

Thaw invented a simple, low-cost design for the course’s initial baskets.

“I put together some baskets from old street signs and used ink drums that I got from the Tribune,” Thaw said.

Baseball author W.P. Kinsella’s phrase, “If you build it, they will come,” rang true for Thaw.

“A half-hour after I put in those first baskets people were playing on it,” Thaw said.

One of the enthusiastic newcomers was Brian Jonas, a South Tahoe native who grew up playing the game in the mountains, using objects like trees instead of baskets.

“I had walked the park before and thought it would be a great place for a course but I had no idea who to talk to about it,” Jonas recalled. “Then one day I was driving by and I caught one of those blue baskets out of the corner of my eye. … It was a beautiful thing to see.”

Joe Meyer was another local disc golfer who spent his free time clunking discs off trees at an object course on Kingsbury Grade.

“We were ecstatic when we got the blue baskets,” Meyer said.

Local truck driver Bob Remeika, who has played courses throughout the country, talked to Thaw about design. By the end of the summer the course had 18 baskets, and by the spring of 1994 it had 27.

While the blue baskets enabled people to play the game, it pretty much took a perfect shot to land a disc into one. Playing with metallic professional tournament-approved baskets, which cost more than $300 each, was like a far-fetched dream. But it was one that came true.

Remeika and Meyer began a monthly tournament in which each player donated $5. Meyer suggested the winner each month would get a bowl of soup. But at the first tournament Remeika brought an entire can. And the “Soup Series” was born.

“It was so hard to get that first basket,” Remeika said. Indeed, it took more than a year to raise the money. Then another year went by before enough was raised to buy one more.

As the course gained popularity, community members and businesses began putting money toward baskets. By the end of last summer, there were 16 tournament-approved baskets on the course.

The T.D.G.A. was formed in August and fund raising was led by Thaw, who isn’t at all shy about banging on doors and asking businesses for money. Soon funds for the final 11 baskets were raised. When the snow finally melted in May the rest of the baskets were installed.

“The baskets were bought by different organizations and individuals which really speaks highly of our community,” said Terry Anderson, president-elect of Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe, which donated two of the baskets. “It’s contributing to another free recreational opportunity that draws people here from all over, plus it’s helping generate money for the parks department, which is a great thing.”

Also appreciative of the course are players on the professional NorCal circuit. The fourth annual event, which previously used temporary baskets at the Tahoe stop, has gotten so popular it will be spread over two weeks this season. The Mulligan’s Tahoe Challenge amateur tourney this weekend is almost certain to be filled. On June 13-14 many of the best players from the Western region will be in town for a pro tournament.

“Tahoe ranks in the top 10 percent of all courses,” said NorCal official Mike Ruzicka of Santa Rosa. “And its location and scenery, you can’t top it. We’re hoping expand the tournament and put Tahoe on the national circuit.”

Getty predicts the nation’s top pros will be playing the Bijou course as early as next summer. When they do, they’ll be playing for more than a bowl of soup.

Disc Golf

Where: Bijou Community Park

Cost: Free

Equipment: Any disc or Frisbee will do, but a disc specifically designed for the sport can be purchased at the South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation Center or Bijou Golf Course for $8

Course: 27 baskets ranging in driving distances of 200 to 520 feet from the tee. There are 46 basket locations on the “Back 18” which are regularly changed from beginner to intermediate to professional placements.

The sport: Rules are the same as “ball golf.” For tournament play, each basket is a par 3.

Popularity: There are an estimated 700 courses in the country, 100 built last year. The Professional Disc Golf Association grew 24 percent in 1997.

Events: Mulligan’s Tahoe Challenge – An amateur tournament this weekend with 135 players expected. Sign-ups Friday night at Mulligan’s; Professional tournament June 13-14; Fall Fun Tournament in September; City Championship at date to be determined in the fall

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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