Discmasters, the world’s first disc golf variety show

Most of you who read this blog know that I run School of Disc Golf as a side-gig, mainly because I thoroughly enjoy getting new players hooked on the game and helping those already addicted to get better. You’ve likely at some point read that I used to play all the tournaments I could get to, topped out at a 999 player rating (so close!) and for a time was an officer of the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club.

What I don’t think I’ve mentioned in quite a while in this space – if ever – is another off-and-on project of mine- Discmasters TV. Since the first new episode in quite a while just hit YouTube I thought I’d take a little time to tell you about the show and its origins.

It all started when I came across a video on YouTube that covered a tournament in Santa Cruz called the Faultline Classic. I thought the video was well-produced given the obviously limited technical resources and decided to approach the guy who posted it with an idea I had been tossing around for some time. The concept was for a ‘lighter side of disc golf’ type variety show that would incorporate instruction, interviews, and cheesy, badly-acted comedy. It should come as no surprise the last part came naturally.

My original model for the show and indeed the name itself came from a cheaply-produced fishing show from the 80’s called Fishmasters that itself was a spoof on another show called Bassmasters. I liked the way Fishmasters turned their minimal technical capabilities (which I think were still greater than ours) into a positive by having it add to the comedic element of the show- knowing that anything we could muster would have the same limitations.

So as I said, I contacted the guy who posted that original Faultline Classic video and learned that he worked for Community TV in Santa Cruz, and the video had actually been broadcast there first, on local TV. At this point, let me introduce that guy- Ben Baker.

Ben had a year or two before that graduated from San Francisco State University with a film degree, and his job at the TV station was his first film-related position. He liked the idea as much as I did, and was even more excited when I told him that I had spoken to disc golf luminaries (and friends) Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins and Avery Jenkins and gotten them to agree to participate as well. As luck would have it, the disc golf touring season had just ended and Nate, Val and Avery would be in Santa Cruz for the next couple months, enabling us to spend time in both the studio and on courses shooting footage.

A side-note about Ben: When we started the project he was enthusiastic about disc golf but pretty much a novice player. His sidearm shot had power yet score-wise he was all over the place. I even hustled a lunch out of him giving him a stroke per-hole at DeLa (that’s 28 strokes!). Ben was not altogether pleased with that introduction to disc golf gambling. That was a couple years ago. This past season, he captured the overall Championship for the venerable NorCal Series tour in the AM2 division. Good for you, Ben! I’d like to think that my instruction and Val, Avery and Nate’s excellence rubbed off on him.

As we envisioned, the show has covered lots of disc golf-related territory. There have been instructional posts by me (on the show known as Jack Tupp), Nate, Avery, Val and even one on putting by Nikko Locastro. There has been lots of tournament coverage, including the 2011 Pro World Championships and the Otter Open in Monterey.

Lots of disc golf celebrity appearances in addition to our regulars: Greg Barsby, Eric McCabe, and Nikko come to mind, but there have been plenty of others (you’ll have to watch the shows to find out who else.) Viewers also get introduced to players known better in Santa Cruz than the rest of the dg world, like Shasta Criss, Don Smith, Tony Tran, and Jon Baldwin (who became World Champion in the Masters division after his Discmasters appearance).

We ¬†managed to get a cool logo created by Nate’s step-sister, the talented Audrey Karleskind. Even a cool theme song (lyrics by Yours Truly). And of course, there have been numerous bits of cheesy comedy.

My favorites are the ones that involve me playing bongo drums while Avery tries to putt, followed by Avery nailing me with a disc with Kung-Fu like accuracy, and magic minis that adversely affect my wardrobe. And of course there is the hipster-doofus named Jimmy Shank. Gotta love that guy. And possibly the best is yet to come as we shot some great footage in which Valarie stars. Stay tuned for that.

The just-released clip I mentioned earlier is a 48-minute studio interview of disc golf hall-of-famer Tom Schot and Monterey disc golf pioneer Merle Witvoet. It was shot just before the 2011 Pro Worlds so part of the talk is about that, but I think the most interesting discussion centers on the history of disc golf in Santa Cruz, of which Schot is principally responsible. Disc golf historians should find it interesting.

The best way to see all the episodes and other¬†miscellaneous short clips is to visit the DiscmastersTV channel on YouTube. And if you’re eager to see new episodes, visit the Discmasters page on Facebook and let us know. Hope you enjoy watching them as much as we do shooting them.

DeLa with Nikko

Nikko Locastro is in town to defend his title at the Otter Open in Monterey, and decided to get here a week early to practice the courses that’ll be played at the 2011 Pro Worlds. I played some holes at DeLaveaga with him on Friday to get some action footage while interviewing him for the upcoming TV show Discmasters.

I’ve heard that Nikko is a workhorse before, and Friday I got to see it for myself. On each hole he threw as many drives as the flow of play would allow, along with multiple putts. That pattern culminated with at the Top of the World, where he emptied his bag trying to ace the basket in its mega-short position. Ironically, his very last shot is the one that hit the cage- and I think we did catch it on film.

He seems to me to be a decent enough guy, and more mature and focused than I was at his age. We’re supposed to play a full round at Black Mouse and talk some more next week, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a funky tight little wooded course with all kinds of blind shots that you gotta play to learn the lines. Maybe, just maybe . . .¬† either way, I look forward to learning more about what makes this rising star in the disc golf world tick.

Triumph of a ‘Younger’ Gun

Another new wave of young talent has made its mark on the disc golf scene, with the legitimacy of a major championship to make it official. Nikko Locastro, at age 19 (or maybe 20- I’m too lazy to look it up), charged from four strokes back of former champ Dave Feldberg and three behind reigning champ Nate Doss to win the 2009 USDGC.

Nate was the first to cut into Dave’s lead early, cutting the three-stroke lead to one before succumbing to Winthrop Gold’s OB rope again and again. Then, after a slow start, Nikko began racking up birdies on hole 4 and never seemed to take his foot off the pedal. On hole 10, a par 4 bunkr hole that makes players choose between trying to carry 430-plus feet to the green with a chance for eagle or laying up short left in the narrow fairway, he missed his first attempt to drive the green, but succeeded the second time, then made the putt for a birdie. Under bunkr rules, he didn’t get charged a penalty stroke for the miss, and his resolve and confidence on the tee paid off. Nate, in contrast, missed in his attempt to drive the green, then opted to play safe with the short layup. And it seemed to continue like that the rest of the round. Other tidbits:

  • Josh Anton came from the third card to take third place by shooting a course record 53 (15 under par). He was 15 under par after hole 16, but only managed par on 17 (the potentially round-killing island hole) and 18.
  • I heard tales about the way Harold Duvall tweaks the course each year, and I can’t help but wonder what will be in store next year after the top players really carved up Winthrop Gold. There were quite a few rounds where players were double-digits under par and bogey-free or had only one or two flaws
  • I can’t help but think of Nikko as the Shaun White of disc golf. His big white man ‘fro and goofy attire (unmatched knee-high socks) could end up being a draw as sponsors aim for the 15-25 market.

Quick hits on Day Three

  • Nate closed the gap to one between him and Feldberg, then lost two strokes on 17 and 18 (one each hole, by going par-bogey (OB). So he’s trailing by three going into the last day, tied for second with Nikko Locastro. I’ll be following them the whole round , happy to be nothing but a spectator tomorrow.
  • After my round today, I went back to my room to change and watched some of the live coverage on my computer. The simulation of a professional ball golf event that the USDGC strives for was eerily apparent in the coverage. You see the manicured grass fairways, the numerous tournament volunteers spotting, with the rd and green flags, and galleries just big enough to call them galleries. My only mixed mixed feeling about this is the fact that I’m proud of the fact that most good disc golf course, in my opinion, don’t resemble ball golf courses at all. They wind they their way through woods and over mountainous terrain, not through genteel grassy parks. But still, the coverage was pretty cool, albeit noticeably a nit amateurish. But the people involved did their best, and I was impressed.
  • I almost thought I was watching a telethon, they pitched the viewers for donations so often. I think it almost became a crutch when they couldn’t think of anything original to say.
  • On 13, the famous ‘888’ par 5, I can proudly say that I parred it yesterday and might have today, if the clouds hadn’t opened up and started pouring on us before I could putt out. When I began to address my 23-foot par putt there wasn’t a drop, and by the time I had a chance to putt, it was pouring. Still, my total of bogey, par, bogey on that hole, without ever throwing outside of the ridiculously narrow fairway and island green, was one of the few things I can look to with a modicum of pride.
  • One of the others is the 30-foot, steep uphill par putt on 18 to end my tournament. End on a good note.
  • I got to play with two Finnish players, Kai and Janne, and guys from NC, WV, Georgia (Pete May, a very cool 68-year old with a $600 Stetson hat made from 2o percent beaver, and no one I knew before we started.
  • The two things that make the USDGC special, in my opinion, are the course design that makes great use of OB/Bunkr rope, and the abundance and coordination of volunteers.
  • Although it strikes a blow to my ego, I’m happy to see our sport having grown to the point that probably 50 players have the skills to compete at the top level. The blow to my ego part is the fact that I’m no longer in the same area code as these guys. But I’ll get over it. The cool part, though, is that at its core this is still golf, and having the raw skills to win an event like the USDGC and actually doing it are two very different things. I watched plenty of guys throw as far as Nate, and routinely can 35-footers like they were 20-footers. But to win the USDGC, they need to pull off these feats with a level of consistency that just amazes me.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen one tye-die shirt all week
  • Watch the live webcast tomorrow if you can. It should be epic.

The Fan Experience

So far, my USDGC experience has been from the player experience, although I’m stretching that definition a little bit. With rounds of 85 and 86, I’ve felt much more like the guy that got to play by helping run the Masters Cup than the guy who missed qualifying by a stroke three years in a row.

But after finishing my 8:00 AM round by Noon, then grabbing some good Carolina BBQ (actually, it’s OK but nothing special, in my opinion), I headed back to to the course to follow Nate around during his round.

I sheepishly admit to feeling a little bit of shame, thinking that everyone knew I was either a spectator and nothing else, or a player that sucked enough (relatively speaking, of course- this is the USDGC) to have a tee-time early enough to be done already. But I really enjoyed the spectator experience at this event, and the difference between the USDGC and any other event I’ve ever experienced is quite noticeable. Volunteers are everywhere, including a very impressive number of grey-haired, non-playing disc golf aficionados. It got me wondering- what is it about other part of the country I’ve been in where older generations seem to get it about the benefits of disc golf, even though they don’t play themselves? Are they simply more supportive of their younger relatives? Do they possess wisdom that their counterparts in California do not? Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask a few questions and get to the bottom of it.

Since I happened to be in South Carolina during the USDGC, with time on my hands, I decided to follow Nate’s group and support ol’ Bobby Hill (along with his Mom and Stepdad Mark K.) in his effort to defend his USDGC title. And being the narcissist that I am, my thoughts of these top-ranked players kept coming back to what a gap now exists between me and they world’s best. At first the thought is kind of a bummer, but then it sort of justifies spending three hours walking the same course I just played to watch someone else play. I mean, why would someone do that if not to see things done I can’t do myself?

Nate is in third place right now, 15 under par and five behind the lead. Some of the shots I saw him execute (and the others in the group) were simply amazing to me. The arm speed they generate makes it clear they are dealing with a whole different deck of cards. And that makes it quite fulfilling to be nothing more than a fan- for a while,anyway.

I was tied for the lead, and then the tournament started

The warm fuzzy feeling I got from being part of this event – the USDGC – was actually potent enough that it still hasn’t completely worn off, even after a first round where I nearly averaged a bogey per hole. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t really keeping track, and was shocked when I added it all up. It didn’t seem that bad! Feldberg and Schwebbee both shot -9 fifty-nines to grab the first round lead, but players are lined up behind them, including Nate at -5.

I got to play with a good mix of guys today- Kai from Finland, US Am champ this year Blayne, and Al ‘Sugar’ Shack, an acquaintance from my days hanging with Michigan dg-ers a decade ago. Everyone was upbeat and mellow, which made things more enjoyable for certain.

I wish I could blame my hideous +17 on the fact that the course is designed in such a way that it’s more difficult for people that can’t throw 400-plus feet. While this is true (as it is for any course with reasonably long holes), Winthrop Gold provides ample opportunity for a player to shoot par, as long as he/she can throw 300 feet. The design is great in that regard, and even somewhat friendlier to left-handers. So no excuse there.

I also wish that I could say that my injured shoulder is the cause of my high score, but that really isn’t true either. Only on the par 5 hole five, where I made the ill-fated decision to try unsuccessfully three times to throw over a large expanse of water in a way that my arm can’t handle right now, was it much of an issue. Every other time my feeble arm came into play, I had another option that I opted not to opt for. So no excuse there, either.

But tomorrow at 8 AM presents another opportunity, so we’ll see. But I’m running out of excuses.