By Joseph Robertia
As Mikhail Parrish, on vacation with his family from Germany, stepped up to the tee, he realized the immense task that stood in front of him. There was a deep dogleg to the right obscuring his drive. Even without the bend the narrow fairway had tall spruce and dense vegetation on either side, also obstructing his field of view, and the course dropped dozens of feet in elevation from the tee.
Still, if he felt any trepidation, he didn’t show it as he stepped up, focused on his foot placement, aimed for an end goal he could not see, then let a flat, tangerine-colored disc rip into the nearly cloudless sky.
Not a hole in one, but not a bad toss, especially given that Mikhail is all of 5 years old. It was good enough to bring a smile to his face, and to the faces of the organizers of the inaugural Salmon Toss Disc Golf Tournament held Saturday on the new course at Tsalteshi Trails behind to Skyview High School. Roughly two dozen people took part in the tournament, which involved 19 holes of play, as well as longest drive and closest-to-the-pin events.
“This is a good turnout for our first event. I’m really pleased with it,” said Stephanie Musgrove, an organizer of the event and co-chair of River City Rotaract, a group of young adults who are service partners with Rotary International and responsible for the course’s inception this past year.
“The purpose of this event was primarily awareness,” she said. “We wanted people to know it was here, so they could come all summer and play.”
The goal of the organizers also was to give kids, teens and adults an opportunity for fitness, friendship and fun. Those involved Saturday were of varying ages, experience levels and from different regions of the country and world, all engaged in the fun of disc golf, whether they call it that, “frolf” or aiming for the chains.
While Parrish was one of the youngest players of the day, Mike Guilliame, 49, of Anchorage, brought much more experience. While he only began playing disc golf about two years ago, he said that when he was a kid he played Frisbee on the beaches of Florida, from which he originally hails.
“Within eight months I started winning events and last year I was the Ace Race winner in Anchorage,” he said.
Stocky-framed, silver-haired and accurate with his throws, Guilliame said that he got so good so quickly by putting in a lot of practice hours.
“I play a lot more than most people,” he said. “Some people play once to twice a week, but I used to live next to a course, so I played two to four times a day for eight months.”
Why so often? The same reason that prompted him to drive down from Anchorage over the weekend to participate in the tournament.
“You play yourself, just like with regular golf. Even when playing with other people, you’re still playing yourself and you’ve got to make your shots. Plus, it gets you outside and walking. I’ll walk three to six miles in just a few hours.”
Guilliame is a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association and he’s played on some of the best courses back in the Sunshine State. Still, he said the Soldotna course offered its own unique challenges, much different from what he was used to.
“There’s nothing flat here like in Florida. There’s a lot more elevation changes here, which makes it more physically challenging. But the heat here isn’t as bad as in Florida,” he said.
Eli Martin, 34, of Homer, also made a drive to play in Saturday’s event. He began playing disc golf recreationally in 1998, but moved to competition play around 2007.
“Since the Jack Gist Park, a nine-holer, opened last year in Homer, I play at least once a week,” he said — including winter. “It’s actually easier to find your disc in winter. Unless there’s fresh powder down, then it’ll sink in a bit.”
Martin said that he looks at disc golf as a sport, and like all sports, it takes training on a myriad of courses and in differing conditions to excel.
“This is a sport, it requires athleticism and it’s competition, so I like to check out new courses when they open, and there’s a lot opening here as the sport starts to boom,” he said.
Statistics from the PDGA would seem to back up Martin’s assessment. From 2000 to 2008 the number of disc golf courses in the U.S. tripled, and as of 2009 there were 3,082 courses nationwide.
Locally, in addition to the Homer course and the new, 19-hole Soldotna course, there are two other courses in Kenai — a nine-hole course on the Bernie Huss Fitness Trail behind Safeway, and the 18-hole Kenai Eagle Disc Golf Course behind the Oilers’ ballpark.
“They’re busy courses, especially the one behind the Oilers’ field,” said Bob Frates, director of Parks and Recreation in Kenai. “People will get out there as soon as the snow is gone, and they’ll play until it flies again. Being close to several schools, a lot of groups go there for extracurricular recreation, too. It’s also really popular with the college age kids who come home for summer.”
The Kenai course behind the Oilers’ ballpark also hosts a summer tournament. On Aug. 10 the Kenai Peninsula Association of Realtors will host Playing for the Peninsula Disc Golf Tournament. Proceeds from the event will be split equally between Habitat for Humanity and Hospice of the Central Peninsula.
To learn more about the Soldotna tournament or the River City Rotaract, visit the club’s Facebook page. To learn more about the Kenai tournament, visit the Playing For The Peninsula page on Facebook.