Aerodynamic feats on display at new Taylor Mountain disc golf course in Santa Rosa

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The sixth fairway ran between two spreading oaks with little space to pass through the crooked upper branches.

But Trepp “Andy” Gabbard stepped atop the black tee pad and let loose with a “hyzer,” a drive that curved high right to left. His blue disc dipped its left side, clipped a tiny branch and landed cleanly in the metal basket standing on a pole 213 feet away.

Those standing nearby cheered and high-fived Gabbard, a Healdsburg resident, for making the first hole-in-one Saturday at the new Taylor Mountain disc golf course. It meant he would get at least a share of a few hundred dollars that had been tossed into a jar for those who ace a hole.

“Andy’s buying the beer,” declared Kent Parkhurst, president of the United Flyers of Sonoma disc golf club.

Nearly 100 people turned out Saturday to celebrate the club’s opening of the public course at the 1,100-acre county park in southeast Santa Rosa. After a brief ribbon cutting, the vast majority there took part in a shotgun start at the 18-hole course.

Formed in 1976 at Sonoma State University, The United Flyers counts itself the oldest chartered disc golf club in the U.S. With nearly 100 members, the club’s events include five tournaments a year.

Counting Taylor Mountain, the club has installed five disc golf courses in the North Bay between Stafford Lake in Marin County and Lake Sonoma north of Healdsburg.

The comparisons with the older form of golf seem inevitable. Here there are no electric carts, no clubhouse watering holes behind the 18th green and, by late autumn, not much green along the fairways.

On the other hand, there aren’t any green fees. The courses are free to play.

“I stopped playing golf when my dad stopped paying for my rounds,” joked Jake Schultz of Santa Rosa.

Schultz picked up disc golf about 20 years ago in his native Michigan. He maintained the strategy between the two types of golf is basically the same: trying to move an object just the right distance; judging how to best make each shot; and anticipating what could go wrong.

For example, on a hilly course like Taylor Mountain, a common risk is that a bad throw can send a disc rolling on end down a slope for 100 feet or more.

On Saturday, the golfers threw backhand, sidearm and overhead, showing their mastery of aerodynamics. The discs skimmed low, curved high and occasionally knifed on end over the fairways.

“You’re not just throwing something. You’re flying something,” said member Thom McRann, who was the 32nd golfer to join the Professional Disc Golfer Association.

Saturday’s duffers were decked out mostly in T-shirts and shorts, but with footwear fit for hiking cross country. Most carried bags with eight to 15 different types of discs, each one costing between $8 and $20, Parkhurst said.

Installing the tee pads and baskets at Taylor Mountain cost roughly $18,000, he said.

The course length totals 4,895 feet and wraps around the park’s main parking area at the Kawana Terrace entrance. Volunteers worked there a total of about 2,000 hours over three months and had to move boulders as big as 1,000 pounds to install the tee pads, said Josh Sommers, the member who oversaw the work.

Gabbard exulted Saturday morning upon acing the sixth hole. But a few minutes earlier at the fifth, he had winced when his “putt” of about 15 feet hit the basket and bounced off.

Chris Lyons of Novato watched the putt and observed: “Just like golf, there’s a love-hate relationship with the whole thing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@ pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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