Toss the sticks, take the discs: Papa’s got a new bag |

Toss the sticks, take the discs: Papa’s got a new bag

Rick Chandler

In the halcyon days of my youth they called them Frisbees. I spent many an idyllic summer day at the beach expertly tossing them, watching them sail gracefully into the surf and out to sea, eventually arriving in Japan. What a stupid sport it was.

Today, the annoying little plastic saucers have grown up and gotten a job. They’re called discs, and they fly faster and farther than any Wham-O ever could. Their owners play disc golf – a burgeoning sport that has taken California, and much of the world, by storm.

“I used to play regular golf, and I still love the sport, but I haven’t picked up a golf club in three years,” said Craig Getty, a disc golfer from South Lake Tahoe. “It’s been all disc golf. This sport is fun, and it’s really addicting.”

Just how fun and addicting will be reflected in the Tahoe Daily Tribune 1999 Disc Golf Tournament, to be held over two weekends beginning Saturday at Bijou Community Park. A full field of 135 amateurs will participate this weekend, with a contingent of 60-80 professionals taking to the course June 19-20.

Professionals? You bet – the Professional Disc Golf Association has its own national circuit, where the pros compete throughout the nation for prize money totaling in the thousands of dollars. Geoff Lissaman of Grass Valley, who finished second in the Tahoe event last year, won 13 tournaments and more than $10,000 in 1998.

OK, that’s doesn’t compare to PGA prize money, at least not yet. But compared to the costly, time-consuming and often frustrating game of traditional golf, disc golf is quite literally a walk in the park.

“Where else can you get out into nature, take a nice hike and play a competitive sport?” asked Getty, the tournament director who was out taking a practice spin on the Bijou course on Wednesday. “Once you get into it, you’re hooked.”

I’ll be the judge of that.

Getty was gracious enough to take this reporter out for a first-time round of disc golf on Wednesday. Want to try this sport? All you’ll need is a comfortable pair of walking or hiking shoes, a few discs and about an hour. You can get onto the Bijou course for free, and there is usually not much of a wait.

The course is laid out amongst rocks, bushes and trees, making use of nature instead of eliminating it. That’s the beauty of disc golf – no trees were harmed in the making of this sport.

In fact, one will occasionally have a gallery of woodland creatures on hand to witness play, if they have nothing better to do. At Bijou, the squirrels and Stellar’s Jays were out in force to witness my debut. I could swear that some of them were snickering.

A hole is laid out with a throwing area, or tee, and the object is to sail the disc (a smaller, harder version of a Frisbee) into a basket which sits atop a pole. This basket is at varying distances, from 200 to 500 feet, from the tee.

The trick is to negotiate the trees and other natural obstacles, and to get your disc to sail far enough. Seasoned disc golfers can wing a disc 200 to 300 feet, and make them curve, loop and soar between and around the trees.

It takes a while to get the hang of it. I managed to find nearly every tree, scattering my gallery of fans (two chipmunks and a bird) with my first two throws.

Once you get distance, you can work on strategy. The pros make use of several discs, much the way traditional golfers use different clubs. There are discs for long distance, medium distance and for “putting.” There are even discs made for rolling on the ground – the rules allow for spinning a disc on its edge, which is helpful for getting around trees.

The Bijou course was originally laid out by the Parks and Recreation Department, which cut up old ink drums and put them on poles for baskets. The Tahoe Disc Golf Association came along soon after that and began redesigning the course and replacing the homemade baskets, until about a year ago they had completed a new 27-hole course over 40 acres.

There is another disc golf course at Zephyr Cove, which will be completed by the end of the summer, when Zephyr Cove will play host to the first-ever Northern Nevada State Championships.

This will be the fifth annual PDGA-sanctioned tournament at Bijou, and world-renown pros such as Lissaman, Jim Oates of Orangevale, Steve Rico of Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Anni Kreml – who was third in the world last year – are expected to be there.

I will not be there – at least not anytime soon. My game is, as they say, under construction. I did manage to make a few good approach throws, while managing to hit many trees and avoid the wildlife. No harm, no foul.

The best thing about disc golf? You never lose the “ball.” Very inexpensive.

Not like all those Frisbees I used to purchase, which now reside somewhere overseas. You can keep ’em. I’ve found a new sport.

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