Thursday, August 21, 2008
There are many challenges for local disc golfers at the new Ryan Ranch Disc Golf Course. Large oak tree canopies act like giant catcher’s mitts, grabbing soaring discs from the sky. Bright red patches of poison oak dot the land like small bonfires. And because it’s right below the Monterey Airport flight path, the 18-hole course frequently has planes hurtling directly overhead like gigantic lawn darts, which can distract players from the task of sinking a disc into a basket.
But both players and the course’s creators agree that it’s the long length of the holes that is Ryan Ranch’s greatest obstacle for disc golf enthusiasts who want to nail an impressive score. While most of the holes at the nearby Don Dahvee Disc Golf Course hover around 230 feet in length, the Ryan Ranch Disc Golf Course has fairways that average approximately 350 feet, including three holes that are more than 500 feet tee to basket.
This all comes into focus as I play the third hole at Ryan Ranch with Paul Schlegel, a member of the local nonprofit Monterey Stinging Jellies Disc Golf Club, which created the course. We are standing on a dirt tee pad on the top lip of a ravine with the basket 400 feet away and almost 80 feet down. The hole reminds me of the famous 27th at Santa Cruz’s De LaVeaga Disc Golf Course called “Top of the World.”
Schlegel is obviously more skilled at the sport than I am– and more prepared. He carries a disc golf bag filled with 16 discs and a water bottle. I slog around with a paper cup half-filled with soda and a backpack containing the minimum equipment for any visit to a disc golf course: a driver, a putter and a mid-range disc.
“Launch real wide and high outside and drop it,” Schlegel advises as a jet flies over the canyon. “And don’t hit any airplanes.”
Schlegel, a card-carrying member of the Professional Disc Golf Association, then launches a disc high into the air to the right. The disc seems to defy the rules of gravity for an inordinate amount of time before landing in the bottom of the canyon with a small explosion of dirt. It’s just 30 feet from the basket.
The seasoned disc golfer then points out some swaths of thick underbrush I should try to fly my disc over. “This is where it gets a little complicated,” he says. “You have to worry about all these things that are jumping out and trying to take your disc.”
I stagger backward then forward, depositing my disc in a tree whose many branches make it look like a hairbrush. After extricating the disc from the vegetation, I throw it into some chaparral before getting it down into the bottom, more open section.
After Schlegel sinks a disc for par, my next shot reminds me why I bother to play disc golf. I send my putter to the right and it slashes back left, landing into the basket, which is more than 50 feet away. We both jump up and down for a few seconds. Unfortunately, on a course this challenging, celebrations rarely last very long.
Later, I speak with Sean Allen, a founding member of the Stinging Jellies and a key person in getting the Ryan Ranch Disc Golf Course constructed. He says that when the Stinging Jellies initially approached the city of Monterey two years ago hoping to build a disc golf course at Don Dahvee Park, officials suggested the Ryan Ranch property instead. Eventually, the Stinging Jellies got the go ahead from the city to build the Don Dahvee Disc Golf Course. But in the fall of 2007 (after the Dahvee course was constructed), the club’s attention turned to the Ryan Ranch land, a 95-acre plot of oak woodlands and open sections owned by the city.
Allen says almost 30 members of the Stinging Jellies worked from May to mid-June clearing brush and setting up the course. “It’s an evolving process,” he says. “This is our initial layout.”
Next up, the Stinging Jellies are planning on laying down rubber tee pads. They also hope to put in nine more holes so that the Ryan Ranch Disc Golf Course will be a 27-hole course. They just need to secure more funding for the project.
Allen says that the nonprofit’s ultimate goal is for the Stinging Jellies to host a PDGA Disc Golf World Championship at Ryan Ranch. “We are looking to make it a venue,” he says, “for a world-class event.”