Santa Cruz, CA – The putting green at the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz echoes with the sound of discs hitting the chains. For disc golfers the sound confirms their disc has reached its target: a large chain basket mounted a few feet off the ground on a pole.
Nearby Jack Trageser fills a bag with about twelve discs. He says each has a different function. "This is a driver type of disc, and it's much more streamlined and thinner. Then something like this is actually a putter," said Trageser. Discs are to disc golf what the clubs and ball are to traditional golf. The two sports have a lot in common including terminology, scoring and goal: get to the target in the fewest number of strokes.
Trageser is a former professional player who is writing a book about disc golf and running communications for the Pro Disc Golf World Championships being held all week in the Monterey Bay Area. The competition courses include CSU Monterey Bay and Ryan Ranch, Pinto Lake Park in Watsonville and DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz. Trageser says this region is known for its courses. "This is considered the Pebble Beach or Augusta National of Disc Golf," he said of DeLaveaga.
Along with being known for its courses, the Monterey Bay Area is known for the late Ed Headrick, known as Steady Ed. He invented the disc golf basket in the 1970s. His legacy lives on at the company he founded, the Disc Golf Association, headquartered in Aromas. The DGA is the leading manufacturer of disc golf baskets. General Manager Scott Keasey says before Steady Ed invented the basket, players aimed for trees or light posts. "Once that was developed that was the start of the sport. We finally had a goal. Something that people could then throw at," said Keasey.
Steady Ed also founded the Professional Disc Golf Association, the sport's governing body. Its numbers show consistent growth. In the past decade, courses worldwide have tripled to around 3500. There's no tally of recreational players, but the PDGA has about 50,000 members. "We have people here in the World Championships this week as young as 13, 14 years old and then we have some gentlemen in their late 70s playing. So it's truly a lifetime sport," said Executive Director Brian Graham. Graham in part credits low cost for the sport's growth. Most courses are free and to start players only need one disc. They cost about $7.00.
Jack Trageser agrees that value is key. "I believe that golf is possibly, arguably the greatest game ever invented. It's just got all these barriers that so many people can't overcome. Whether it's the fact that it costs too much for them to play or it takes too long for them to play or it's too difficult to learn," said Trageser. He sees no barriers in disc golf, which is what inspired him to write his book. It's also what's kept him playing for the past 20 years.
The Pro Disc Golf World Championships wrap up Saturday. Here's a schedule.