Anniversary of the Hambrick Day Ace

I’m not really a ‘rare’ disc collector. My home office has more than 30 discs on the wall (plus the single framed Marty Hapner created Masters Cup composition-of-many-years’ stamps disc remaining in my house), but nearly all of them are really valuable only to me. There are the discs from tournaments I’ve won, tournaments that stick out from other reasons, and there are a few ace discs. I haven’t meticulously preserved all my aces discs, though, because – as I’ve said before – most of my aces have been accidents, when it comes right down to it. I was trying to nestle it up close for a birdie . . . and . . . ching! A nice surprise. Sound familiar?

But I do have one ace disc that might be more than an accident, and that disc caught my eye just now. Stan my go-to man when I want to know potential collector value of a disc, tells me it’s maybe worth $40-$50 because it’s an 8-time KC Pro Cheetah in almost mint condition. But probably not, because in Sharpie on the front is written “Ace!, Hole #8, 8/14/97, 3:40 PM, and on the back, in Sharpie also, are the signatures of my playing partners that day- Brad Schick, M. Schick (his Dad), Brian Schick (his brother), and ‘DJ,’ a friend of theirs.

I was taking advantage of a business trip to play in an Ohio supertour (Hall of Chains Classic) on my way to the Am Worlds in Wisconsin, and decided to stop by and play the famous Hoover Dam course. As it turns out, on that day a memorial was being installed next to a tree planted a year earlier to honor the memory of Brent Hambrick. For those that didn’t discover disc golf until recently, Brent was the local legendary driving force of the sport’s growth before being cut down by cancer. There was even a camera grew from a local TV station setting up to cover the dedication of the memorial as we approached the tee.

As it also turns out, the Schick’s and DJ were close friend of Brent’s, and they grew quiet as we prepared to tee off. When it was my turn, I asked where the basket was since it was blind from the tee. They informed me that I wanted to throw around 250 feet up the wide-open, then cut the disc to the right, down into a protected green. I selected the aforementioned Cheetah, let fly based solely on their description, and heard the unmistakable sound of agitated chains. The guys got almost tearful rather than the usual yelling and high-fives, which is understandable given their connection to Brent Hambrick and the fact that the memorial was being dedicated that day. But get this:

  • The hole, #8, was well-known to be Brent’s favorite on the course
  • My home course is DeLaveaga, well-known to be his favorite course. The Masters Cup was also his favorite tournament. He traveled from Ohio numerous times to participate
  • I am left-handed, and Brent was left handed
  • The Cheetah I threw had never been thrown before, by me (I had never even thrown ANY Cheetah before) or anyone else. In fact, that trip from my (and Maybe Brent’s) hand to the basket was the only flight it would ever make.

Add those things together, and it’s no wonder my group reacted the way it did. Yes, I threw a disc I had never thrown before on a hole I had never played to a basket I couldn’t see . . . but it was no ‘accidental’ ace.

DeLa in all its finery

Another of those times to celebrate the differences between ball golf and disc golf.

The PDGA National Tour rolls into town this week for the Masters Cup, an event hosted by the DeLa Disc Golf Club for the past 25 years. Even though the course will be set at 26 holes for the event – holes 20-22 will be skipped – all the holes (and I mean ALL the holes) are in play right now. Hole 17 is in play, as are 8a and 26a, making 29 total.

Multitudes of volunteers and workers paid by the city have been busy mowing and weed-whacking the fairways and greens, and the course looks . . . . marvelous. It looks, even to the untrained eye, like a golf course. I even saw a rather larger bobcat stalking prey in the suddenly exposed short grass after the mowing.

What’s more, each hole is in the longest, most difficult position possible. 23 has a new, longer blind location. 25 is in its new super-uphill position, and 26a is from the new long tee to the old long basket position, a par four posing as a par three.

By my own personal gauge (at this point more what the average joe can do, not a touring pro), only eight of the 29 present a legitimate chance for birdie (can you guess which eight?).

So if you love being challenged to make par hole after hole, the course is like an epic set of waves right now, 15 feet over head. Here’s where disc golf transcends it’s ancestor: since disc golf is still flying under the radar for the most part, anyone can drive there, pay a couple bucks to park in the lot (or park for free and walk 10 minutes to the first hole) and start playing on pretty much whatever hole he, she or they want.

Try doing that on any ball golf course- much less one where a PGA event is coming up!

More on Aptos and the rest of the Santa Cruz DG scene

Didn’t mention it in the last post, but big props and thanks to Jake and his minions for first getting a course approved at Aptos High School, then making it a reality, and finally for continuing to make improvements to the layout, design and amenities.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that, during a round a DeLa, I said to someone “Just imagine: in about a year we’ll have FOUR courses in Santa Cruz county!” At the time we had DeLa and Black Mouse, but the Mouse was in a state of disrepair with less than 18 holes, and no way for first-time visitors to figure out the layout. Now look at us.

DeLa- What can you say . . . it’s DeLa!

Black Mouse- Although the original layout was better, at least the course is back to 18 holes. Plus, thanks to a great volunteer effort (sometimes it seems like elves come at night and refine paths from hole-to-hole), cement teepads are slowly beginning to increase and small signs help people find the next hole. This course is short, and carved into an extremely wooded and hilly 30 acres. A great contrast to the area’s other courses.

Pinto Lake- The work to get that course installed (both politically and sweat-of-the-brow style) is a great testimony to why Tom Schot is a member of the Disc Golf Hall of Fame. After getting the first nine completely installed, with cement pads, DGA signs, Mach III baskets, and tons of OB markers, the ‘back nine’ is well on the way to being completed as well. Reviews of this course are mixed, but no one can deny that it’s tough score-wise and endurance-wise, that it’s a beautiful bird sanctuary, and that it has the potential to one day become DeLa’s predecessor as a world-class disc golf challenge.

Aptos High School- This course is the perfect compliment to the other three. It’s the best choice for beginners due to its moderate length and openness, but the elevation changes, design, and wind keep it interesting for more accomplished players. It already has cement pads on all 18 holes, and Jake just announced the planned addition of alternate pin positions. Considering the steady progress they’ve achieved there, expect those new positions soon!

Whistler’s Bend in Roseburg Oregon

A few months ago my wife wanted me to plan a camping trip in somewhere in between Santa Cruz and Portland, Oregon, where her brother and his kids live. I remembered hearing that Roseburg in Oregon had two good disc golf courses, I asked around and found out that the longer course with Mach III baskets – Whistler’s Bend – had excellent camping right there in the same park. And then later, when I asked some Oregonians about the course during the Master’s Cup, I found out that a great river for rafting and swimming – the Umpqua – bent around the whole park like a horseshoe.

I told my wife that I found the perfect place, mentioning the proximity to both our homes’, the hot showers, the playground, and the river. And oh, by the way, a funny coincidence . . . the park has a disc golf course! She was thrilled for me, as demonstrated by her closed-lip smile.

Last weekend the time for the trip finally came, and we managed to get there in about 10 hours with two little kids in the car. Not bad. The weather was very unseasonable warm, with highs of 100 and lows of 60 or so. It made my plan to do my disc golfing early in the morning even more appealing. Here is my review of the course, in short-attention span bulletpoints:

  • As advertised, the baskets are nice Mach III’s and the teepads concrete. But there are only teesigns and holemaps on some of the holes. None of the holes on the longer, more spread out back nine have signs. But most of the holes do have little wooden arrows pointing to the next hole, which helped quite a bit.
  • Also as advertised, the front nine was more wooded and shorter, and the back nine was almost completely wide open. There were trees in the grassy, hilly back nine, but I don’t think any of the came into play in my two rounds except the steeply uphill #13.
  • The facilities are great, even for non-campers, and I found the first hole without a problem. It’s right by the group campsite, where we stayed (I swore to my wife that I had no idea), and the ‘first-come, first-serve’ sites are by hole 14, Whistler’s ‘Top of the World’ shot.
  • Speaking of hole 14, which I think is 600-plus feet (or maybe 700 from the extended tee I was told to look for and found), I found it to be fun and challenging in one sense only: It’s always cool to chuck a disc 700 feet down a big hill. But there were absolutely no trees or any kind of OB forcing me to take a certain route. I suppose a less-skilled player would find it challenging to throw straight long enough to clear the foliage that covered the first three quarters of the fairway, but anyone with decent power should be able to get to the large open green with little problem. Birdie or par every time unless you three-putt.
  • On the back nine, almost ever hole (except #14, ironically) was exactly the same to me in one sense: It was long enough that I couldn’t reach it, but short and open enough that upshots for par were fairly routine. I realize that players with longer arms than me (those that can throw 450 in the air) would get a few birdie looks that I didn’t get. And typical recreational players probably have longer upshots due to their shorter drives, making the second and third shots more interesting. But my range is fairly average for ‘serious’ players, and I thought most of the holes on the back would’ve been more fun if they were either 50-150 feet shorter or longer (I’d prefer a mix of the two).
  • I’m normally a critic of water hazards where you can lose a disc, since – to use a ball golf analogy – discs for us are more like clubs than balls in the sense that they are not simply replaced by another one identical to the one lost. But I have to say that I liked holes 7 and 9 at Whistler’s Bend. Both baskets were in locations close to a sheer 70-foot drop-off, with the gorgeous Umpqua River below. Hole 7 is a 400-footer that requires placing the disc in the right part of the fairway, then an accurate upshot for par. Hole nine is a wide-open gradual downhill hole with a medium-width fairway; narrow enough that you must take a straight-at-it approach if you want a chance at birdie. Problem is, when you go straight at the basket on a downhill hole with a drop-off 20 feet behind, your distance control is of the utmost importance. My most gratifying drive at Whistler’s Bend was on this hole, where I put my Aftershock within 10 feet (short). Another reason I didn’t mind the water hazards: The one time I went over the cliff – on #7 where my drive landed initially safe then trickled over the edge – I was able to scale down the cliffside and retrieve it from the narrow beach. If the river was running higher, though, it probably would’ve slipped into the Umpqua before I even peered over the edge.
  • Check out all the pictures I took there by clicking here

Disc Golf on Maui

I don’t have time to write all I’ll eventually want to write about this great disc golfing experience, but I do want to at least share the pictures I took with those who read DeLa Blahg.

The people that get to play this course regularly are to be envied. The scenery is incredible, the terrain varied, the design varied and interesting, and best of all, it’s isolated. And the homemade ‘tire-baskets do a great job catching discs.

If you’re like me and love playing disc golf courses wherever your travels take you, you’ll love Poli Poli- if you can find it. It’s the perfect combo of beauty, challenge, and uniqueness (ocean views, quirky baskets and surreal orange-lichen covered trees).

Now check out these pics:

Pinto Lake has me yearning for more (punishment)

I’ve only played the first nine holes of Pinto Lake CDGC three times, and my score has gotten worse each time. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m only now fully aware of all the OB that exists on almost all the holes, but still . . .

There is also the frustrated mindset that many of the holes play much tougher for a left-handed backhand thrower, but that’s nothing new. I often go through that rationalization when confronted with a new course or hole location (like DeLa’s new spot for hole 6’s basket), then get tired of whining about it and go about solving the puzzle. So join me as I analyze each of the nine holes and try to learn from my numerous mistakes. After carding a +7 yesterday with, let’s see, four OB strokes, many are fresh in my mind.

Hole 1
One adjustment I made already was to throw my lefty hyzer far to the left and let it fade back toward the fairway. That worked well yesterday, leaving me with a 70-footer for birdie (which I missed).

Hole 2
Yesterday I tried to play it safe by throwing a mid-range down the middle and landing it short of the fence and creek. Being left-handed, however it trickled right at the end and ended up a couple feet into the OB road on the right. I guess I have to throw something with even less fade, and maybe keep it lower.
Hole 3

Not sure how to attack this hole yet. The fairway slopes down from right to left, and a wall of trees 80 feet from the tee offers no gap to aim for larger than 10 feet. It seems that drives that don’t get cleanly (and somewhat straight) past this wall will very rarely result in a par. And even those that do must contend with a narrow, tree-happy fairway and a steep green eager to suck discs away from the basket. Looking at the hole map at left, the red sqares show the OB along the left and the basket is in the upper-right corner.
Hole 4
The layout of this short hole forces me to do something I very rarely do- throw a sidearm shot off the tee. So far, though, so good, as I’ve had birdie putts every time I’ve played it.

Hole 5
Although three holes of these 9 holes use fire roads as part of their fairways, 5 and 7 so far give me fits. On both these holes the terrain slopes from left-to-right with the right side including OB lines. I don’t think it’s a whole lot easier for right-handers, but when I throw my lefty drives they have to be perfectly straight, accurate, and flat. Too much hyzer and they will fade right and go OB; turn it over or just miss left, and the disc (with its lefty spin) will hit the steep hillside and aggressively spin back across the road and end up OB. And on this hole the road-fairway climbs slightly and curves to the left, with the basket up and on the left guarded by a steady wall of trees.

Hole 6
This 320-footer is comparitively benign, and has no OB to contend with. But all along the right side of the fairway and behind the terrain slopes steeply into nast schule. Except for that, though, it’s wide open.

Hole 7
Almost as nasty as hole 5, this par four road hole presents a more difficult drive in terms of keeping it in bounds. The drive is downhill to a flat landing area (making smooth landings less likely), and the OB on the right seems to creep in even closer than on hole 5. After that, though, at least the basket is on the road itself and visible from the entire fairway.

Hole 8
This sub-2oo foot hole presents some challenge due to trees guarding the basket and a fairway that crosses a mini-chasm, but compare to the rest of the course it’s quite a G-rated reprieve.

Hole 9
Maybe the toughest par three on the course, or at least as challenging as #3. The dogleg right is sharp enough – with OB on both sides – that throwing a full-strength hyzer doesn’t follow the contour of the hole. So far I haven’t gotten any kind of a realistic look at the basket after my first shot.

So now, armed with this reflective analysis from yesterday’s round, I went out today with a bit more of a gameplan. I threw many more mid-range discs as drives (on all three road holes at least), and in general, and tried to value placement much more than distance. The results were on the whole positive, although #5 and #7 continue to frustrate me and I still went OB twice (drives on #7 and #9. I was shooting par until a very frustrating double on the last hole that hit a hidden high branch of an early tree and trickled a couple feet OB on the left.

Score-wise, here’s the rundown: #1-par 3, #2-par 4, #3-par 3, #4-birdie 2, #5, bogey 5, #6-pr 3, #7-bogey 5 (P), #8-birdie 2, #9-double bogey 5 (P). So the strategy worked, but I still have some figuring and learning to do before I’m shooting par or better here on a regular basis. As much as I always talk about perfection in golf being a life-long persuit, this course should offer ample opportunity. And humility.

Pinto Lake CDGC- The Course and the Community

The new course in Watsonville’s Pinto Lake County Park – or at least a temporarily nine-hole version – is now officially open, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday, March 1st. Each hole has a concrete teepad, Mach III basket, and sweet tee sign with a color map of the hole. Turnout at the Grand Opening was excellent considering the rainy conditions, and attendees includes an encouraging mix of die hard disc golfers (from as far away as SoCal), local community members, and even county officials and some of California Conservation Corps members who worked on the course. It’s hard to find the words to describe how stoked I am about this course, but I’ll try. It really comes down to two things- the course, and the community.

The Course
When I started playing DeLaveaga is the late 80’s, it was the only disc golf course with baskets within 100 miles. And except for Berkeley, there were no other courses in the Bay Area or Central Coast. And it stayed that way for quite a long time. And then other courses started popping up in Monterey, San Jose, and eventually right here in Santa Cruz County. But none of these courses even approached DeLaveaga’s combination of challenge, beauty, variety, and professional tees and baskets. The Oaks course at CSUMB Monterey probably comes closest but still falls short in a number of ways. Around Santa Cruz we’re blessed to now have Black Mouse and Aptos High, but I still choose DeLa 90 percent of the time because, well, if you have a choice between driving a Rolls Royce and a serviceable Ford Taurus, which you gonna choose?

The point is, if the first nine holes and designer Tom Schot’s description of the longer, more open back nine are any indication, Pinto Lake Championship Disc Golf Course is going to rival Dela on all fronts. Also, for those that don’t know, Tom designed DeLa 25 years ago and is in the disc golf hall of fame. Usually a masterpiece can only be topped by the author of that masterpiece.

The Community
To me, Pinto Lake is potentially a symbol of disc golf as a unique and appealing sport. Golf is a great game, possibly the greatest game in the history of the world. But due to socioeconomic limitations and to a lesser extent degree-of-difficulty barriers, a large majority of the world never gets to experience the game of ‘stick golf’.

Enter disc golf. Affordable for everyone, easy to learn, and a sport that definitely brings divergent groups together rather than separate them into the haves and have-nots, can and can-nots. I see this in the near future being illustrated at Pinto Lake as much as anywhere on the planet. The course will initially attract a majority of seasoned disc golfers as they hear about the incredible challenge that Tom Schot has built into the design. But local kids will become a bigger and bigger part of the equation as they look for something to do while their parents play on the adjacent soccer fields in adult leagues (which are a big deal in Hispanic-dominant Watsonville). Then some of those kids will get better in a hurry, and grow older and stronger, and all the while their families and friends will hear about their new obsession.

Pretty soon we’ll see disc golf spreading through an entirely new demographic group in Santa Cruz County, and then that group will mesh with other divergent groups that already play the sport . . . and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m just glad we now have plenty of courses from which to choose. I’ve got a feeling we’re gonna need ’em!

Bonus Info: Tom told me that the ‘back nine’ holes will likely be spliced into the existing nine between holes 3 and 4 or maybe 4 and 5. That means the holes now know as 4-9 are likely to eventually be changed to holes 13-18. Or something like that.