90 days of disc golf: A tour of North America to find disc golf’s best courses.

It costs two bucks to park at Delaveaga. I would love to think that the money goes to the local club for course upkeep, but I get the sense it’s a “tax” deal which allows the course to stay where it is. And where it is in a back lot behind a ball golf course high in the hills above Santa Cruz, California. The terrain is extremely rough and unwelcoming and if they hadn’t put in a disc golf course it would be the scariest place in Santa Cruz to go hiking. Don’t get me wrong, the course is stunning and well-kept, but the land itself is neither smooth nor flat and everywhere you look is a cliff that wants your errant throw.

It’s July, but it’s barely fifty degrees at 7 A.M.. Fog is shrouding the the famous “Top of the world” tee box making it impossible to see how tall the hill actually is, which makes it seem even higher than it actually is. The rest of the course looks like a maze of crazy trees; menacing steep cliffs; roots and rocks sticking out of the ground everywhere; and baskets placed in the most unsettling positions. It’s a unique feeling in disc golf to fear a course based solely on its first few impressions; And we haven’t left the parking lot yet!

The course plays as rough as it looks. The first six holes offer impossible birdies. Throwing 350 feet, uphill to the left, over a blind hill, around trees, toward a cliff. That’s the basic description of the first five holes. It should read that way on the tee sign. And then there is the rock hard greens that skip discs fifty extra feet on every shot, made more unnerving by the steep cliffs, which are ten feet behind every basket. It’s daunting. You have to stop your hands from shaking just to make the shots. Even a simple putt seem like a challenge. 

The next few holes have birdies if you go for it and luck out. Most of them are short shots through a million trees and straight at cliffs, but as the man says, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” I finally get a few birdies but then the course suddenly changes its approach and stretches out. Several 400 foot shots, huge blind shots straight at cliffs with fast greens. I couldn’t stop thinking about how truly tough this course is playing. It’s hard to keep your mind sharp and just play the shots. Those cliffs, all those trees, it wears you down. And then there is the hill…

There are a several holes where you play blind downhill. Gregg Barsby aced one of these holes with a roller. That is even more stunning when you see the hole (24). Had he missed the basket, that disc was going to roll 300 feet or more down a cliff. No shot at all at coming back. All the roots, rocks and other crap in the fairway that he had to dodge to get there is equally as stunning. The course just has too many shots where the basket is make it or die. Then if you have had enough of downhill, if you’re not totally exhausted by the course, the last three holes play up hill. And it’s a serious uphill. 

Hole 25 plays 400 uphill to the left. The basket is half-way up the hill on a slope which is impossible to stand on without using your hand to keep your balance against the hillside. Hole 26 continues the uphill climb but this time to the right and with trees. Then there is Hole 27. The famed “Top of the World” shot. It’s 400 feet down. Straight down. OB ten feet behind the basket, which is hidden behind a tree on the right side of the fairway. It’s the last hole, so we could take a break and just soak it all in. The fog had lifted and from the tee box you can see the Santa Cruz and the ocean beyond it. In front of you are the mountains and the dense forest which the course was carved out of. This is exactly what disc golf should be everyday. It is the reason many people play disc golf. 

I tried to think of a rating system for the courses I played and this is what I came up with:

1 basket – worth playing if you’re bored or need to show a newbie the sport. Practice course.
2 baskets – neat to see, not challenging but sorta fun. Play it with the opposite hand to make it interesting.
3 baskets – challenging, neat to see, great hang out, worth playing everyday. Home course.
4 baskets – challenging, neat to see, great hang out, worth paying to play. Course that owns you, and you love playing.
5 baskets – must play it before you die, top 10 courses you’ve ever played, worth tattooing on your arm.

Delaveaga – 5.

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