90 days of disc golf: Kick her in the n…!!

“Anyone who takes disc golf seriously is a moron and should have their head examined. They need therapy.” – Mike Allen, during a round at Prairie Center. 

We shake hands before the round. We shake hands after a round. We don’t talk when someone is taking their turn. We allow other players to play through when we are moving slowly. And we help people find lost discs if we can. These are unwritten rules of play. Simple gestures that show sportsmanship and fellowship. It shows a level of civility in our crazy little game.

Disc golf stirs emotion. Most of the time the emotion is healthy and we are at a loss for words to describe our joy. It’s this feeling that fuels the addiction to the sport and makes it grow. However, there are times when disc golf gets deep under the skin in a negative way and we can barely contain our rage. I have heard of people ripping their putter apart with their bare hands after a particularly bad putt. I saw another player throw a perfectly good disc into the woods because someone we were playing with was relentlessly giving him grief about the legality of the disc. I have also watched players leave mid-round because it wasn’t their best outing. It’s hard to have a bad round and we will say and do stupid things when it happens to us. I think disc golf is beautiful, but it has a dark side too. Maybe those of us who take it seriously do need therapy. 

Spokane is a beautiful city overlooked by the rest of the world. Most people have never heard of it or could find it on a map. It’s just a sleepy city in Eastern Washington… with the first great course of the trip.

HIGHBRIDGE, SPOKANE, WA
Hidden in a lost valley below the city’s bridges is a quaint little park with a perfectly designed course. It contains every shot in the disc golf almanac and it is as beautiful as a course can be. Tall pines, a blue river, soft prairie grass and leafy, yet forgiving bushes. The course plays long and is a bit hard to navigate if you don’t have a map, which is why the name of the game on this disc golf odyssey is “find a local who is willing to help.” 

There is a right and wrong way to reach out to people for help. We discovered that what worked for us was to have Minna approach a group of local players and have her use her natural charm. It usually doesn’t take 60 seconds before there is someone who is willing to guide us around a course or give us the local skinny on where to play, or, more importantly, where not to play. 

You have to ask nicely and be forthcoming with answers they might have for you. Be kind and, as we discovered too late – you can’t play their course better than they do. That’s the wrong way to get much needed information from them. The problem was, most of the time Minna was schooling the local gentry and it was not settling well. Perhaps men don’t like to lose to women. It seemed to help relax the tensions if we pointed out that she had won Bowling Green. That seemed to give our guides an “out” and they would calm down. But what would start out as a friendly, very informative round could, and sometimes did, end up being a quiet, strained walk in the park with a miffed stranger. 

Highbridge is a course where you will need the kindness of a local to show you around. Even though there are maps at two locations on the course, it takes a local to show you the way. It’s worth it, the course is on my top five list of the great courses I have ever played. 

FT. STEILACOOM, TACOMA, WA
This is the course where I first picked up a disc and started chasing it around a park until it went in a basket. I remember thinking that a 6 or 7 was a great score for a hole. I played for two months before someone told me what was going on. By then, I was two weeks away from moving to Kansas City, where the first locals I met were Ben Taylor, Andy Lewis and Todd Henry who schooled me on how to play. 

Steeli is actually FIVE courses in one location. It’s 55 baskets, or maybe 60. And close to a 100 pads. There is a PRO course, a NW course, a SE course, an ALT course and an AM course. They are all hard. The terrain varies from pine forest to open prairie and it can be played backwards, forwards, sideways and in concentric circles. It just never ends. Long holes, short holes and if you get bored, you can move the baskets yourself. The course is just a dream. The course shows its age by having a few holes that use TIRE baskets. 

A local guide here isn’t necessary but if you want to see every hole, you will need a guide. There are so many holes spread out over such a large area that it will take all day to find them all on your own. There is an old man in van that sells discs in the parking lot and he is the unofficial ghost of Steeli. He’s a surly man but he does know the course better than anybody. He won’t show you around, but he will tell you where NOT to play. [side note – there is a prison next to the course, if you have a problem with that sort of thing. It does mean no soccer fields will be moving in any time soon]

SEATAC, KENT, WA
It’s the ugliest course you will ever see. But this course is a phoenix born out of the ashes so it has some merit. When the airport was built in Seattle, this tiny housing community had the misfortune of being directly below the landing strip. The people finally moved away and when no one would move in, the city tore down the houses and just let nature take over. The foundations, sidewalk and some of the original road are still visible albeit covered with thick vines and surrounded by dense trees which sprouted out of the concrete. Years of neglect have allowed the area to be a spooky dark park filled with homeless people, that is, of course, until the disc golf community came along and put in 18 monster holes. No mowed fairways, no lines, no tee signs, just a basket somewhere “over there.” It will require a local to go with you and get you home safely, if you can find a local who is willing to take time off from his life and go play a course he spends all his time avoiding. You will lose at least two discs here, just know that. Be kind to your sherpa and you’ll make it home. [side note – One of the Green River killer’s victims was found in this park. Just FYI]

PIER PARK, PORTLAND, OR
There is a line of people waiting to play this course at hole 1. There is also a hot dog vendor who also sells drinks and discs at hole 1. This is a great course. Tall pines, and rolling hills. Narrow gaps to hit and awkward putts to make. Very little undergrowth so you can a lot of options to work with. It’s lovely. Again, you need a guide, but if you didn’t have one, you would enjoy being lost in this park. Our guide had just won a tournament on the course and when Minna beat him, he was actually cordial about it. Everyone we met was cordial. They loved disc golf and didn’t seem too moronical, which is nice. This was Minna’s favorite course on the trip, even more than Delaveaga. She is crazy though, because she takes disc golf seriously.

MILO MCIVER, ESTACADA, OR
This is a honey! 27 holes which could easily be split up into three full courses. This course is long, mostly wide open and it plays around thick full pines that look like 300 foot tall Christmas trees. Each hole is easy to navigate, but the distances are actually so long you don’t know how to play them. There are a few short holes which seemed like an afterthought when they built the course, but they have merit, even if they don’t fit in with the rest of this bomber course. Load up on fluids, food and other essentials because this course is out in the boonies. My arm was jello when we left, but it was a glorious long walk in the Oregon woods. This is the famous course from the Beaver State Fling and every local we talked too loves it. Of course, when they spoke about it, they said it would take us all day (in Midwest time that’s 3 hours) to play it and we would need a guide. They were right. A guide would have been ideal. Not only are the holes long, the distance between each hole is long. It took longer to find the next pad than it did to play the hole. We didn’t have a guide, but it worked out in our favor and we played the course in our own order.

GOLDEN GATE, SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Found at the corner of Smack and Dab in one of the largest cities in America, is Golden Gate park. A huge monument of disc golf glory with views to kill… if there wasn’t a thick fog in the way. It was also very cold. Very, very cold. Yet the park was packed. There was a twenty minute wait on each hole where we waited for the two groups in front of us to finish. There wasn’t much of a decorum to follow and you could hear irate people on various holes off in the distance. What we know as unspoken courtesies about playing through is not allowed here. You just have to be patient and try not to catch a cold.

The ground is a red sandy soil and the variety of trees is the greatest in the world. It was designed that way. Trees were brought in from all corners of the globe to fill the park and you get to see most of them. They dominate the landscape and they are NOT fans of disc golf. The trunks vary in size, shape and texture so if you make it past one tree safely, the next tree is going to snag your throw and kill your spirits. But, in a very groovy way, the locals have put up large black screens around the bases of the trees to keep them safe from your throws. It keeps the trees healthy and it slows down the ricochet of your throw.

The course is complicated and technical. Lots of funny “shaped” shots where you have to travel uphill and then suddenly turn completely around and head down the hill in the opposite direction. It is funky and discouraging. I bet a lot of discs get ripped in half on this course. You won’t need a guide here, just follow the last group to the next tee and wait. Get to know them and hear all about the other courses in Northern California. 

The local club had just held a safari tournament on the course and that layout would have been impossible to play, but that is what you expect from a group of people who play Delaveaga all the time.

Disc golf has lots of emotional players who have issues to resolve, some of them may even be morons, but sportsmanship and genuine kindness to strangers will go a long way to making it one of the best sports out there. Disc golf is essentially a hike in untamed woods with very specific directions that need to be followed, and if you don’t have the kindness of a stranger to help you get out of those woods, you could end up becoming a permanent resident there. Not such a bad thing if that park is Golden Gate, but you don’t want to stay in SeaTac. 

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