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Throwing a Game : Up to 2,000 Players Tee Off Per Month at O.C.’s Disc Golf Course

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Scott Killian tossed his first Frisbee before his first birthday--when he was too young to know that flying discs found at picnics would become his sporting passion.

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But here he is now, 14 years old, and playing a couple rounds of disc golf just about every summer day at Central Park, the site of the county’s only 18-hole disc golf course.

“You just can’t stop,” the spike-haired Scott said. “It’s addictive.”

Those who flock to this free disc golf course might not be members of a posh country club where duffers pay for a chance to take a few hacks on manicured grass.

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But disc golfers are in many ways similar to their brethren who swing drivers and irons. They want to shoot low scores, be outdoors and have some fun.

It’s gotten so busy this summer that up to 2,000 people a month are using the course, many coming out for recreation in the warm evenings.

“We have guys we call the swing shift,” said Dan Simonoff, a 37-year-old Huntington Beach resident. “They come out after dark with their glow-in-the-dark discs.”

Simonoff, who has been playing the game for a dozen years, is the unofficial Central Park disc golf guru, offering advice, sodas and used discs for sale. The discs run about $5 used and a few dollars more new in select stores. They are smaller in circumference to a traditional Frisbee.

Discs for disc golf come in several weights. A heavier, thinner disc works dandy for long-distance tosses. A lighter, thicker disc does fine for short shots.

The goal of the game is to put the disc in the basket, which is a disc golf version of a golf cup. Disc golf holes are usually 200 to 500 feet apart, and playing an 18-hole round consumes between an hour and 90 minutes.

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Finding the county’s only 18-hole disc golf course is not that easy. It’s not on a Thomas Bros. map. The city owns Central Park, but there is no sign marking the actual spot of the disc golf course.

Some players feel the city would rather not have them around.

Earlier this year, about 100 disc golfers protested a city plan to boot them off their course for two months so the area could be used for an equestrian event.

Under a compromise, the city allowed disc golfers to lay out a temporary course on mostly barren land adjacent to their original 19-year-old course. The temporary course will serve as a substitute until at least mid-August.

While not as appealing as the original course, the temporary one is luring regulars and people out for a challenge or new hobby, Simonoff said.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of people come back after their first time,” Simonoff said. “It’s really an addiction. I think it’s more addicting than regular golf. You don’t have the tee times or green fees.”

On a recent weekday afternoon, many of the players went shirtless to catch some sun.

Wes Brodeur, a 31-year-old civil engineer from Huntington Beach, said he left the office early for a chance to play on the course and relax.

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Brodeur said he played the game in his 20s, and only took it up again a few weeks ago after coming across two old discs in his garage.

“It’s a big-time stress reliever,” Brodeur said. “Sometimes I throw the disc and then run to it before I take my next shot.”

Ryan Gamble, a 22-year-old student at Orange Coast College, said he came to the course with some friends to enjoy a nice afternoon.

“It’s in the sun, it takes a little skill and there’s competition,” Gamble said. “It’s doing something . It’s better than watching television indoors. And it’s free.”

Wil West, one of the pioneers of the sport and captain of the Huntington Beach Disc Golf Team, said the game appeals to many people because “nearly everyone has thrown a Frisbee before.”

“It’s a really good outdoor activity,” West, 39, said. “You don’t have to be a super athlete.”

And you don’t need spiked shoes or big bucks.

“This is the golf for everyone,” the teen-aged Scott said. “Not just for the person who can afford expensive golf clubs. It’s just fun. You never get bored.”

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