Disc Golfers Having a Fling That Fits Them to a Tee

Times Staff Writer

They “tee off” every Thursday evening at 6:13, flinging Frisbees up and down the beach, attempting to hit designated “holes”: trash cans, various poles, hard-to-hit crossbars on lifeguard towers and the notorious drain pipe they affectionately call “the toxic-waste hole.”

This all-male foursome of Manhattan Beach residents has been playing Frisbee golf--generically known as disc golf--for about two years. And they play it the old-fashioned way, which is to say, with ad hoc rules and a course designed at whim, week to week, hole to hole.

Only a few guidelines do not change: Any player who scores a hole in one must buy a round of beer after the game, any player whose Frisbee hits a human receives a two-stroke penalty, and any woman with the talent and audacity to play and actually beat the men is not invited back . . . for a while.

Other rules are about the same as conventional golf, the chief difference being that flying discs are substituted for golf clubs and balls.


Brian Zamlicka, 36, explains his and his buddies’ continuing interest in the sport: “All of our friends go out and play golf or tennis, but we’re beach people. What do we like to do most? Go to the beach and play Frisbee. We started out originally just throwing the Frisbee back and forth, but this makes it more interesting.”

The foursome plays year-round, deterred only by rain, says player Howard Allegan, 39, who notes that the beach is sometimes so cold the group plays in heavy jackets, shoes and socks. Winds sometimes are so strong that Frisbees will fly only about 4 feet.

Now Official Rules

According to Dan Roddick, the director of sports promotion for Frisbee manufacturer Wham-O, most disc golf players play in similarly relaxed fashion. But, he says, there are now official rules to the sport, professional players, a Professional Disc Golf Assn. based in Memphis, Tenn., and many disc golf courses throughout the world.

Some courses, like the one at La Mirada Regional Park, even offer as many as 27 holes, an on-site teaching pro and a pro shop, Roddick says.

Originally, Zamlicka, Allegan and their neighbors Steve Fair and Nels Tahti would hurl their Frisbees (the 165-gram World Class model) into the trash cans on the beach (a tradition on beach courses). Though that system allows players to know for sure that targets have been hit, “it got too messy fishing the Frisbees out of the cans,” Zamlicka says. Thus the group switched to simply hitting targets.

And though the Manhattan Beach foursome prefers the World Class model, professional players now tend to use a 21-centimeter disc, “which would go four times as far as 165 would go,” says Ed Headrick, former chief executive officer of Wham-O and the self-described “steady geezer” of his firm, the Disc Golf Assn.

Based in Lakeport, Calif., the company created the aforementioned Professional Disc Golf Assn. and installs and supplies course hardware (disc-trapping devices that make it possible for players to know decisively if targets have been hit).


“It’s really catching on in Japan,” says Headrick, who estimates that the modern version of the sport has been around as long as Frisbees have--since the mid-1960s.

Favors Nation’s First

Though Headrick has seen hundreds of disc golf courses spring up, he is still particularly impressed with the one he designed in 1975 at La Canada’s Oak Grove Park, which was the first municipal disc golf course in the country.

According to Roddick of Wham-O, there are now about a dozen official disc golf courses in the greater Los Angeles area.


At La Canada’s Oak Grove park course, players often are scientists from the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory or students from Caltech.

“You can go down there and find 100 kids playing disc golf at 8 o’clock in the morning,” Headrick says. “The scientists, they come down there at lunch. They call it their martini lunch. Then they go back to work and start flying their satellites.

“I imagine one day they’ll be playing satellite golf, saying, ‘OK, let’s take Mars for that next hole.’ ”