Disc golf gaining popularity in the Bay Area


When you get your first look at the sport, you might not immediately think "golf." Instead of clubs and a ball, you play with a bag of plastic discs. Think of them as Frisbees on steroids.

"These can go a lot farther," professional disc golfer John Child, said. "Some people have been able to go out and throw these things 600 or 700 feet, longest distance around 800 feet."

The shape and weight of each disc changes the direction and distance it flies. Where "ball" golf has holes, "disc" golf has metal baskets on poles. In both games, players usually start with a long drive and finish with a short putt.

About 100 people turned out for this tournament at Stafford Lake in Marin County. A lot of disc golf courses are wide open spaces, mostly flat. But this one is rugged.

"This place is the toughest disc golf course I've ever played," Lawrence Halili said.

Halili drove up from Southern California to play.

"It was lots of fun; it was just, it's extreme disc golf," he said. "The wind, climbing the hill. Every time you have a bad shot you've got to go down the hill, climb back up the hill. It's not for the meek."

The course goes in and out of the woods with tree branches blocking your view and your disc. No sand traps, but there are other obstacles.

"Stinging nettles and poison oak and blackberry bushes," Rohnert Park resident Greg Goben said.

It's not a country club sport, but it has a growing number of fans.

"I love it, it gets me outside, it gets me into the outdoors, I've probably seen more wildlife doing this sport than just hiking," Goben said.

A lot of disc golf courses are at public parks and they're either free or very low cost. The discs cost about $8-$20, depending how fancy you get. Hard core tournament players show up with lots of high-performance equipment, but beginners don't need much.

Professional disc golfer John Child is ranked twelfth in California. He took ABC7's Mike Shumann out on a course.

"Frisbee was my minor in college, by the way," Shumann said.

Child was not impressed, but he was willing to give Shumann some pointers.

"You're just using your whole body, you know, hips, legs, shoulders, arm and just get all the timing right and eventually you get it to go really far," Child said.

Suffice it to say, Shumann's shots did not go that far, but he did finally get near a basket.

Sometimes the hardest part is finding the disc. At one point, Child's was just under the tree. Shumann's disc was a little farther away.

And then there's the "ring of fire," what happens at the end of the tournament. If your disc lands in the basket you get a prize.

But the biggest winner this day is San Francisco resident Jeff Faes. He beat some of the best in the west and came out on top by one shot.

"Every little bit that you feel yourself getting better you get more addicted to it," Faes said.

The Professional Disc Golf Association estimates 8-12 million people have tried disc golf and about 500,000 play regularly.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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