Hitting the ‘sweet spot’: Disc golf popularity rises and Kern County has a variety of courses for players – Kern Valley Sun

Disc golf is a sport for varied skill levels and is enjoyed by people of varied ages. | Pixabay/JoshuaChoate

The history of disc golf spans back nearly a century to Saskatchewan, Canada with the use of tin lids and makeshift holes, and while the game has evolved over the years it has become a growing activity across the nation, including Kern County, which has several course of its own. 

The activity has hit the “sweet spot” (disc slang for the point of the basket where the disc has the highest likelihood of staying in the basket when hit) in popularity.

Discsportshistory.com said that the first recorded disc golf was in 1926 when Ronald Gibson and his friends from Bladworth Elementary School played a game in which they threw tin lids into circles that were drawn into the ground. It was dubbed “tin lid golf” and reportedly played regularly.

Fast forward to 1959 when George Sappenfield and Kevin Donnelly began spreading a form of the game to cities in California and called the sport “Frisbee golf” – now referred to as “disc golf.” In 1961, Donnelly was a recreation supervisor for Newport Beach, California, and he created a Frisbee golf tournament for children at playgrounds. This led to a citywide Frisbee golf tournament that was sponsored by Wham-O in 1965. The event had hula hoops for holes and also had a set of rules, hole lengths, pars and prizes. Frisbee inventor Walter Frederick Morrison even attended the tournament.

Another report by Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) said “Steady” Ed Headrick is the “father of disc golf.” He patented a number of inventions with two pertaining to disc golf. One was the Frisbee in 1966, as an employee for Wham-O, and the other is the disc golf pole hole which is what current holes are based on.

Sappenfield was a recreation counselor during summer break while attending Fresno State University. He was playing golf one day and had the idea that children in the playground could use Frisbees for a form of golf. He later found out Donnelly had been doing the same thing and they formulated ideas together.

PDGA reports that Sappenfield graduated college in 1968 and became the Parks and Recreation supervisor for Thousand Oaks, California. He spoke with Wham-O about ideas for a tournament and the company offered him a job as a promotions consultant. There he met Headrick and discussed holding an event at the Wham-O-sponsored All-Corners Frisbee Meet.

“Sappenfield went on to work full time for Wham-O until the company was sold in 1985,” the PDGA website said. “The combination of Donnelly’s — and especially Sappenfield’s — early promotion of Frisbee golf was an important factor that led to the emergence of disc golf as an organized sport in 1974.”

In 1973, Disc Golf Hall of Famer Jim Palmeri and others from Rochester, New York promoted two Disc Frisbee Championships in their city. He, his brother and a group of friends had been playing disc golf regularly since 1970, unaware of the previous history. When they found out about the International Frisbee Association that Wham-O and Headrick had put together, they were amazed that the sport was being played by others around the country. This led them to creating the national tournament in 1974 called the American Flying Disc Open, with a 1974 Datsun B210 as a prize. 

The PDGA admits that the origins of disc golf history is questionable, with Palmeri saying that it is “impossible to answer.” He said there are historical accounts over the years of people playing with a flying disc, but sometimes it doesn’t appear that they relate to each other due to geography.

Headrick created the first official disc golf course at Oak Grove Park in Pasadena, California in 1975. Seeing the growing popularity, Headrick resigned from his vice president position at Wham-O and started the Disc Golf Association in 1976. He then invented the basket for holes and founded the Professional Disc Gold Association modeled after the IFA created years before. Memberships were sold to players nationwide.

The game’s popularity continued into 1979 where Headrick held a $50,000 Disc Golf Tournament that involved the world’s best players, and was won by Tom Kennedy.

In 1982, the PDGA was taken over by Ted Smethers. Headrick died in 2002 at the age of 78 and, according to discsportshistory.com, his ashes were put into discs in commemoration at his request. The Disc Golf Hall of Fame was created in 1993 by Lavonne Wolfe of Huntsville, Alabama. The Disc Golf Center in Appling, Georgia now houses the Headrick Memorial Museum which displays the history of the sport.

PDGA reported that in 2016 there were more than 31,000 members and the number was growing by the year. 

Local courses

Disc golf has swept much of the nation with players of varied ages, and this is no different in the Kern Valley area where there are a number of courses around Lake Isabella and Bakersfield.

Hungry Gulch is a 19-hole par three year-round course that uses fire pits for holes located at Lake Isabella, according to udisc.com. The tees are asphalt and the course is open year-round. This is a par-57 course amounting to 4,853 feet. The longest hole is No. 11 at 995 feet.

About 50 miles away in Bakersfield is San Laurean Park, built in 2008. It is a nine-hole course with a par of 27 spanning 1,897 feet. There is also an option to do a full 18 and it can be done with longer tees that make it 18 holes with a par-54 spanning 3,959 feet rather than 2,172 feet. The course is open all year.

Down the road from there is Riverview Park, also in Bakersfield, that is an 18-hole course with front and back tees. Tees are concrete and the targets are Mach III. This is a 54-par course covering 2,191 feet. The longest hole is No. 8 at 361 feet. The park was established in 1992 and is open year-round, according to PDGA. The course uses baskets for targets and has concrete trees. The elevation is fairly flat with grass and there are a few trees. Night play is also allowed as there are security lights on-site.

Kern River Golf Course is an 18-hole course in Bakersfield that was established in 2019. It sports grass tees and a Mach VII target. The area has some hills and flat areas, and also has some trees. It is a 7,590 foot course with seven holes over 400 feet. PDGA says that the course is available for disc golf after noon every day and people are asked to call ahead to schedule a tee time. 

Also in Bakersfield’s Hart Park is Shark Tooth Mountain, which is an 18-hole course built in 2008. The course is mostly hilly with some scattered trees that spans 5,471 feet. The tees are rubber and the target is Mach III. PDGA describes the court as being “very difficult with massive changes in elevations.” It advises people to bring hiking shoes and extra discs.

Located adjacent to Shark Tooth Mountain is Suicide Flats, which was made in 2008 and located at Hart Park. It is 6,355 feet in length and has 18 holes. The holes run through trees and grass in the lower park but there are also areas of water to watch out for. The course has seven holes in excess of 400 feet.

Silver Creek Park in Bakersfield is a small nine-hole course built in 1992. PDGA describes it as “flat and short with young trees.” The 2,300-foot course has all holes covering less than 300 feet. It has concrete tees and Mach III targets.

Nearby is the City in the Hills also located in Bakersfield, which is a short and open course that is good for beginners, PDGA’s website states. The tees are concrete and the elevation is flat. All holes are less than 300 feet. It was designed by the City of Bakersfield and established in 2012.

The Onyx disc golf course in Onyx is about 60 miles out from Bakersfield. It was established in 2016 and has grass tees with tires for targets. The course is a par-57 with two par fours on holes eight and 17. The course spans 7,552 feet and is located in the desert.

Get out there and tee off, approach, flex, flick, hyzer and hole out. Have some disc fun.

What do you think?

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