Walking through Lydgate Park in Wailua, you might hear the sound of chains rattling. After a moment of scanning the park, your eyes might land on players enjoying a round of disc golf, a sport that has been rapidly evolving and expanding here on Kaua‘i.
Being a relatively new sport, this may be your first introduction to “banging chains.” If you are familiar with golf, then you already know the basic concept. According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, “the sport was formalized in the 1970s and shares with golf the object of completing each hole in the fewest strokes (or, in the case of disc golf, fewest throws).” The most common “hole” in disc golf is a metal basket as pictured at right. The sound of chains being struck by a flying disc is a sweet serenade to the avid golfer.
Disc golf is the perfect social-distancing sport since each player takes their turn individually and there’s no shortage of personal space. In fact, you will often see golfers toting around their coolers alone and quite content. With social-distance mandates in place and many people unemployed (and bored), the sport has gained momentum quickly. It doesn’t cost much for a beginner to get started, either. You can buy the basic three: a fairway driver, mid-range and putter, for less than $40 at Kaua‘i Discs in Lihu‘e. Two courses on island are completely free to play, Lydgate Park and Weliweli Prk in Po‘ipu, making it affordable even in our new COVID-19 reality. While playing disc golf here costs little to nothing, the cost of building a course is another story.
Starting from the ground up
I had the pleasure of speaking with Larry Lasota, who conceived the idea of and played a leading role in the construction of the Lydgate Park course, in a telephone interview. The history behind the making of the island’s most-played course is impressive, and to say the least, a perfect example of our local community coming together to achieve big things.
Larry relocated to the Eastside of the island from the North Shore in 2011. He began playing an unofficial course at Lydgate Park using poles, trees and park objects as “holes.” Faded red bands can still be seen on some of the trees today from the 27-hole “pole golf” course. After playing solo for a few years, a small following began to develop on the Eastside, and Larry had a big idea. Why not build a real course? A friend offered to finance the baskets for an 18-hole course, and with Lydgate Park gate being the location of choice, Larry began the arduous task of acquiring permits and developing a plan of action. A project estimated to cost about $24,000, it was no small installation. Chuck Kennedy, famous course designer and Professional Disc Golf Association Hall of Famer, was hired to design the course. Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Lydgate, agreed readily to the proposal and offered invaluable support from start to finish. The finish, however, would take much longer than expected, and look much different than he envisioned.
The investor who agreed to finance the baskets, which can cost between $500 and $1,000 per hole, left the island, and he took his offer of assistance with him. This financial blow to the project did not deter the community. From 2015 to 2018, members of Disc Golf Kaua‘i ‘Ohana, a club spearheaded by about 10 players and supporters of the project, volunteered with Friends of Kamalani at organized cleanup events. They prepared Lydgate Park for the future course by landscaping and cleaning the fairways regularly. The course design was modified to nine holes to cut costs, while the question still remained: How would the holes be financed? This is the part in the interview when I could hear heartfelt appreciation in Larry’s voice. “Ryan Moen started a Gofundme fundraiser, and members of the club put money in from their own pockets. They raised the funds to pay for the baskets. Everybody chipped in.” One of the original club members, Ryan Jacobsmeyer, hosted a big raffle fundraiser and sold club merchandise. On July 1, 2018, about five years after the beginning of the project, the baskets were purchased.
Still another hurdle presented itself. Disc-golf baskets are generally secured in the ground by poles buried 18 inches down. The land at Lydgate Park, like much of the land on Kaua‘i, covers ancient burials. Due to protective laws, the poles could not be buried further than six inches. Now the brainstorming began to find an alternative method that would secure the baskets properly. A large box of cement? Very costly. Then the idea came, a truck tire filled with cement buried at the legal depth. The community wasted no time. Members of the club with skills in construction volunteered their time and resources, mixing cement, installing baskets, and building tee boxes. This community-built course, costing just under $10,000, got the attention of Harold Duvall, co-founder of Innova Champion Discs, soon after its completion. I imagined a big grin on Larry’s face as he quoted Duvall, who in correspondence thanked him for the opportunity to enjoy “one of the most beautiful course views that I have played in 35 years of disc golf.”
A dream realized
It’s been over two years since the realization of Larry’s vision, and he tells me that local golfers still maintain the course on their own time and dime. In fact, he attributes the success of the entire project to group effort. So many hands were involved that I cannot mention them all here. In November 2019, Larry designed an alternate 18-hole route, and was pleasantly surprised when local enthusiast Aaron Feinberg volunteered to create an aerial map of the new route for the public. Why? Why did so many people invest in this six-year process? “The whole point was to bring people into the park,” said Larry. Well, that has certainly been the case. The growth of the sport on Kaua‘i in the last two years is really remarkable.
Excitement, participation grows
Jacobsmeyer is the tournament director and fundraiser for the island. I noticed that “group effort” seems to be the common theme to all my interviews, as he described to me the various ways that people help make these tournaments possible. Many hands are involved in preparing for and hosting tournaments at the Lydgate and Weliweli courses. With categories ranging from pro to beginners and a new women’s division, the tournaments offer new players an opportunity to get involved and mingle with others in the community. Tournaments provide valuable insight on the growth of the sport here as well. In just the nine months from December 2019 to August 2020, the number of participants jumped from 14 to 42. There is no sign of the growth slowing down. There is still more evidence of expansion in local business.
Until recently, disc golf gear had to be ordered from the mainland. But in response to the growing demand, one local business owner has stepped up to provide Kaua‘i with disc-golf essentials. Dustin Stonner (you may know him as “Uncle D”, of Kaua‘i’s well-known craft BBQ joint) opened a pro shop in his retail space at Harbor Mall, Nawiliwili. Dustin has been playing on Kaua‘i for about three years, and saw the opportunity to fill a growing need. His investment in the sport goes further than selling professional merchandise. He plans on offering clinics for beginner and intermediate throwers to support the growing community. I had the pleasure of checking out his storefront, Kaua‘i Discs, in August, and received some valuable tips and help picking out the right discs to get me started.
What does the future hold?
In an interview, I asked Dustin, “What do you see the disc-golf culture looking like on Kaua‘i a year from now?” He replied, “The disc-golf community is great in that we all want to grow that sport in a healthy and sustainable way. I think we will come together to look at some even-larger societal problems and figure out how to use the sport to host tournaments and fundraise for some greater causes. One of my best friends died by suicide, and I have been trying to figure out ways to honor his life and also give to nonprofit organizations that help with suicide prevention and depression. This could be done by hosting a tournament, donating proceeds from disc sales or even having specialty discs made which 100% of profits go toward deserving organizations.”
It’s clear that disc golf has had a positive impact on our local front and I am excited to see what the expansion will bring. In my interview with Larry, he referenced a quote from the early 1800s credited to Horace Greely, which aptly sums up the journey of disc golf to the Garden Isle: “Go west, young man.” “Well, we brought it out west.” I can still hear the chuckle in his voice. If you are looking for ways to stay healthy and release some stress during this challenging time, give disc golf a try. The next time you hear the sound of chains banging, may it be your own disc landing in the basket.
Cynthia Fowler is a certified personal trainer (NASM), corrective exercise specialist (NASM), registered vinyasa yoga teacher (RYT 200), certified Enhance fitness teacher, group exercise instructor (TRX, Indoor cycling, HIIT, SMR, etc), owner of FoundationUp Fitness, blogger, and health coach. Cynthia can be contacted through her website at foundationupfitness.com or directly at Cynthia@fullyfreely.com.