Juneau disc golfers hit the woods

Players take on extra challenge of forest course

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday's Juneau benefit golf tournament was no stroll in the park.

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"It's easy for people who play it a lot," said amateur Brett Kovach, hiking the muddy, hilly forest trail toward his disc after it banked off a tree in the second annual Puttin' for Paws disc golf tournament at Aant'iyeik Park near Lena Point. The course, he said, "has a lot of obstacles - a lot of trees."

The tournament, with 10 competing as amateurs and J.D. Brown and two-time Alaska state champion John Simpson competing as professionals, raised $343.25 for the Gastineau Humane Society, from entry fees and donations from local businesses.

"It's just you and the disc," said Brown, who wrote the proposal to the city to lay out the 18-basket course around the baseball and softball field at the park, in some places bordering the Tongass National Forest boundary. "There are no tee times, no greens fees." But he added, "It's definitely golf."

Instead of hitting balls with clubs into holes, disc golfers throw plastic discs into baskets. While players don't carry clubs, most carry multiple plastic discs. Heavier ones cover more distance while the lightest are referred to as "putters."

"It's not unusual to see kids coming out with two discs," said Kovach, who carried 13 in his bag Sunday. "I used to have 15," he said. "They're nothing like Wham-O Frisbees."

"We've got a lot of recreational players," Brown said of the use the course receives.

The tournament shared the course Sunday with some people who came out just for the fun of it, unaware there was a competition going on.

Ganesha Howell said his group didn't even keep score. They just enjoyed coming out and throwing discs through the front nine.

Owen Cruise added he had been coming out since April "for the exercise."

Mary Folletti said she began coming out between classes at the University of Alaska Southeast. She said she has even played in the winter when the gate is closed for the park access road off Glacier Highway. It can get cold, but there isn't much problem with weather under the forest canopy. "Once you're in the woods, you're covered."

Folletti started playing in Haines and finds the Juneau course more challenging, she said. People have told her the courses down south are much less challenging.

Simpson, who helped lay out the course, said that when Brown showed him where he planned it to go, "I said, 'You're crazy, J.D.' It shaped up to be a great course."

A nine-hole course was completed in 2001. The 18-hole course was set up in February 2004, Brown said.

Some of the holes run uphill. Some run downhill. Getting to the tee box, from which a player can let loose a first long throw toward the basket, can be a workout in itself. One hole has a ladder imbedded in the side of a hill to serve as a trail.

After locating the silver metal basket through the trees, the next challenge is threading a disc through the opening or curving it around to get a clear shot at the basket. Kovach said people told him when he first came out that it was like the toss was like pulling a lawn mower.

"Pulling crab pots is good practice," added Nick Polley before taking his first shot on the 10th hole, not much more than 100 feet away, but with a rise of more than 60 feet in elevation.

Brown said he followed the old hunting trails. People from out of town tell him they like the layout, he added. The course is listed in the Professional Disc Golf Association Directory, and he and Simpson have picked up people from cruise ships who call them to say they want to play it, he said.

Simpson, who said he also "ball golfs," but with less success, sees more interest in the sport. He won two state tournaments in Anchorage, but there are good young players coming up. "I'm 39. These guys I'm playing against throw a little longer."

He is hoping to get approval for a Professional Disc Golf Association tournament at the Juneau course on Oct. 15. The Greatland Cup will go on even if it isn't approved for the PDGA tour, he said.

Sunday's amateur winner, Justin Papenbrock, said he has been playing the sport for 21/2 years. After recording a 6-under-par 48, his advice for people playing the course was simple.

"Come out and have a good time," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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