With the weather finally cooling off here in Texas my thoughts turn to outdoor activites, and what could be more appealing than a few holes of disc golf. You know the sport – like traditional golf, but with baskets instead of holes in the ground, and happy stoners in cargo shorts instead of car salesmen in lime green slacks.
This is the weekend of Octoberfest 7, a big disc golf tournament being held not far from here at Moody’s Disc Golf Country Club. A friend who’s playing in it convinced me to join him for the Friday afternoon doubles session. He wanted me to play the whole tournament, but with kids and work there’s no way I can take a whole weekend to play 54 holes of disc golf, but one afternoon for 18 holes is just about right, so I agreed to join him as his partner for the doubles on Friday afternoon.
Dave Moody’s course is a tribute to the ambitious vision of the disc golf entrepreneur. It’s in Red Rock Texas, about 40 miles east of Austin and just a little bit south of Bastrop. Not exactly the center of civilization. But he’s done everything he can to turn a family ranch into a disc golf mecca with the power to attract players from far and wide.
To start off with, it’s a pretty nice course with a nice variety of holes spread over about 100 acres of land with attractive scenery and a nice mix of long leaf pine, pin oaks and cedar trees. It also offers a pro shop and campsites for travelling players. But the real key to getting players there is promotion. It helps that Dave Moody is the course pro at the enormously active Pease Park course in the heart of Austin’s university community. That gives him a captive audience to advertise his home course to when they’re ready to move on to something more ambitious. With all the players who go to Pease there are going to be more than a few willing to drive a few miles to try out a new course. Another good promotion is holding a PDGA pro-tour event like the Octoberfest tournament. This brings in players from all over who’ll spread word of the course, plus it’s an excuse to produce promotional discs which get sold and traded throughout the disc golf community, further spreading word of the course.
My little taste of Octoberfest was nothing if not unusual. The course is big, challenging the legendary Round Rock course for length. Plenty of hiking, a couple of thousand-foot holes, two water hazards which are a bit dried out after a hot, rainless summer, and lots of pretty long leaf pine trees to marvel at. Moody has done an excellent job of clearing the land – with the help of his cows and horses, I suspect. There’s very little underbrush, so the course has a park-like appearance which is excellent for long, clear shots with the trees presenting just enough of a challenge.
There are only a few shortcomings to the course. One is courtesy of nature. The sandy soil of the region is great for the pine trees, but also very gopher-friendly and the tunnelling fiends pile up the sand on the surface creating patches of treacherous footing and some dangerous holes, but also making the course very unreliable for those of us who like to roll their discs for a bit of extra distance. The other is a design weakness. There’s a set of holes in the middle of the course – 10 through 12 as I recall – which are just too close together, with fairways which run parallel to each other and are close enough that when the course is crowded discs cross into neighboring fairways fairly frequently and playing groups are close enough to cause some distraction. The three holes are also rather similar to each other with medium-length straight approaches. With so much room to work with these holes seem poorly conceived and unimaginative.
Our actual round was a bit peculiar. It was doubles, which means that players are in two-man teams. Each player throws and they then both make their next throws from the better of their first two throws, and carry on like this until they finish the hole. It’s a fun way to play, but can be time consuming. Since it was Friday and my partner had to work, we arrived at the course after 5. This meant we were in serious danger of running out of sunlight, which became inevitable once we got backed up behind a couple of slow groups. With the length of the course and a large, slow group infront of us, there was a lot of waiting, and we ended up in pitch darkness by hole 15.
It gets really, really dark in rural Texas when you’re forty miles from the nearest city of any size. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to bring a mini LED marker light and we played the last 4 holes shooting at this tiny red dot placed in the basket on each hole, with other players spotting disc lies mostly by sound, or by wandering around looking for them in the light from cigarette lighters and cell phone displays. One of the peculiar characteristics of the ‘new’ plastic used by Innova is that a lot of the newer discs make quite a bit of noise while in the air, so we only lost 1 disc out of about 50 throws.
The most bizarre part of the whole experience is that our team birdied more holes in the dark than we did while the sun was up. It’s almost impossible to judge distances in total darkness, which I think helped our putting, because we just threw as hard and straight as we could right at the marker light, and it seemed to work as we hit a couple of 30 foot putts which we weren’t making earlier when we could see well enough to wimp out and lay our putts up short.
I don’t know how we actually did since they weren’t going to tabulate the scores until today, but given the conditions, how out of practice I am and the length of the course I’m pretty happy that we ended up even at the end of the round.