A Fling in the Forest

Into the woods with the players of the Professional Disc Golf Association

Hammond, who admits to being a mediocre player at best, is one of only four competitors to get a hole-in-one at the Top of the World with witnesses.

"It's an epic throw," says Doss, who was lucky enough to witness one of the other aces. At 17, Doss has already been playing for 10 years and competing as a pro for four. While his friends are thinking about high school exams, Doss travels the country for disc golf competition -- he recently placed second at the Masters Cup on his home course at Santa Cruz, losing to a 32-year-old vet by two strokes -- but he is not the youngest competitor at the San Francisco Safari.

At 15, Greg Barsbyand Myles Hardingare seasoned players. Before Harding took his first real throw at 5, his father, also a competitor, used to push him along the course in a stroller. Barsby grew up next to a course and considers the players with whom he travels to be family.

A disc golf player launches a drive in Golden Gate 
Park.
Ronna Foote/Malson
A disc golf player launches a drive in Golden Gate Park.
A disc golf player launches a drive in Golden Gate 
Park.
Ronna Foote/Malson
A disc golf player launches a drive in Golden Gate Park.

"I used to be involved in a lot of different sports," says Nevada City's Michael Traversthrough a chest-length salt-and-pepper beard, "but after I started playing disc golf, my family decided these were the only people they wanted to be around. And that was just fine with me. At the height of my activity I was playing 15 rounds a week, 40 tournaments a year. My daughter grew up in the game."

"On my 16th birthday, there was big sheet cake for me at hole 18," says 23-year-old Marissa Travers. "Everyone who played through got a piece."

Of course, not every hole is so sweet.

During the San Francisco Safari, 29-year-old Ian Iversonfound his disc lying next to a putrefying cat near hole 2.

"One eye was hanging out," says Iverson between swigs of beer. "The side of its head was all sunken in and its mouth was twisted. (It must've died screaming.) And it stank! I had to putt right over it, so I was breathing through my mouth really good, then right before I let go I took a big ol' whiff. Whew, dead cat! I missed the putt."

When I ask Iverson why he likes to play the game, he snorts, "I got nothing better to do." But 32-year-old Matt Scottdisputes Iverson's answer.

"He's got plenty to do," states Scott certainly. "That guy's a satellite engineer. Works out of Fremont." Scott, a tournament regular, shares a tale about a coyote that grabbed a disc in Tahoe and the player who chased after it.

"It's all on tape," assures Scott. "Since coyotes are a natural part of that course, that guy should have played it from exactly where the coyote dropped it."

Perhaps being in agreement with this ruling, all 108 players along the San Francisco Safari course pause for the dogs, joggers, children, and horses that cross their path. Most of the time, though, they are out of sight, moving through the trees with nothing but the swish of brightly colored discs and the occasional approving murmur to mark their passage.

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