Have you ever played a disc golf course that you absolutelyloved, never to have played it again? Have you only played HALF of a disc golf course that you absolutely loved, never to have played it again? Well, until this summer, I thought the second half of that statement was applicable to me. Here’s the back story on a beautiful course: In 2008, I took the summer off to travel. I spent the first part of my summer in Honduras and Guatemala, with the later half of the summer spent trekking across the US hitting up all the festivals I promoted for throughout the school year. Early July found me at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA having the absolute time of my life --- raging late nights into the early morning, only to do it again the next day with new found friends. After four days at High Sierra, I hitchhiked back to San Francisco, eventually making my way to Arcata, CA for a couple nights of couch surfing before an even wilder trip led me to Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, OR.
The two days in Arcata, CA found me exploring ever piece of the town I could. I ended up in a park playing Frisbee and listening to some banjo pickers before seeing a couple kids walk by with disc golf discs. I picked up my gear, tracked the kids down and joined up for an afternoon of back nine disc golf. These kids were a blessing for a couple reasons --- 1.) I would never have found the course if it wasn’t for them and 2.) I would never have been able to find the next hole, either. This course was INTIMIDATING! If I could get past the sheer size of the redwoods that laid the framework of each hole, I still had absolutely no idea where the next hole was or where an appropriate place was to miss, as the vegetation was so thick and the signage so poor. Playing the course several times, I was only able to play six or so holes before getting completely lost, only to find the remaining three holes a day later. I never did play the front nine as my time spent in Arcata was limited, but I did enjoy the local bars and music scene with the guys from the disc golf course and a couple kids I met on the ride in. I was bummed I barely completed the front nine of the course, as I was leaving early the next morning to meet up with friends I met at High Sierra for a couple day hikes that would take us to who knows where.
Fast forward to July of 2011 and I’m back at High Sierra, tour managing Zach Deputy who is playing a total of four sets over two days. After a fly in date to Electric Forest Festival in Michigan and a show in Mendocino County, we were tired, but ready to wake up early for a trek up to Arcata and a round at The Redwood Curtain. Last time I played this course I walked from the park to the college then over to the back nine of the course. I can’t remember much of the back nine other than it started with a par 3 over water with an elevated island green. The island green was created by a three foot retaining wall that turned good enough shots into bad shots, as the wall would spit discs right back into the pond that your disc just cleared moments earlier. The rest of the back nine have a mix of long, narrow holes that are framed by towering redwood trees as opposed to the skinny pine trees that I’m used to in my home state of Maine.
We parked our 50 foot long Sprinter and trailer under the shade of the redwoods as those in the back laced up their shoes and get mentally prepared for what we thought was going to be a long, grueling round. Coming up to the message board that denotes the first hole, you could see that this course had put in some effort to educate the public about the vegetation along the course. In my opinion, this is the least that a disc golf course can do, as the holes are just an extension of the landscape, grabbing you and forcing you to interact with nature. The message board, signage on the tees or even in the fairways can and should educate the public about their surroundings, as there is so much to be know about this wonderful world. How the hell do these trees get so big? Why can you eat some of the plants on the course and not others? And how do you know which plants are edible?
The first hole wasn’t the hardest of holes, but the visual intimidation was extremely significant. The uphill, dogleg left hole called for an Eagle that would split a sliver of redwood trees, while making it far enough up the hill to leave yourself with a clear second shot to a pin that was guarded by a couple fallen trees. The fascinating thing about disc golf (as well as golf in general), is how some holes just don’t fit your eye. The opposite end of that would be holes that perfectly fit your eye, but this was not the case on the first hole for me. Usually I pick a line and try to keep it, but this time I just looked at a couple big windows in a general area and hucked it. Lucky for me, it landed perfectly at the bend of the dogleg, leaving me with a kick in par and a significant weight lifted off my shoulders. The second hole boasted one of the more unique features I’ve seen in all my disc golf travels...the tee was located on top of a redwood stump! There were a couple hand and foots holes to help players climb up the stump, as it was a good 8 feet above grade, giving a neat perspective of the second hole as well as looking back down to the first hole and the flying discs coming up the fairway. I ripped a Shark on this tee, turning the corner to the right and moving hard to the basket. There wasn’t a lot to this hole, but the experience on the tee is one of the coolest I’ve had yet.
The remaining holes then headed deeper into the Arcata Community Forest, at one point even criss-crossing and blending in perfectly with the local bike and hike trail system. I love disc golf so very much, and with more courses trying to fuse the sport with its surroundings will bring the sport more promotion as there are far more number of hikers, bikers and dog walkers than us disc golfers. The signage on the course was a unique feature, as the wood burned placards were nailed to the massive redwood trees, giving a unique appeal to a common feature in the disc golf world.
Overall, the front nine of the course was relatively easy in comparison to what I remember about the back nine. I’m not going to say I was disappointed, but I was hoping for much more of a challenge and some better scenery. The trees were significantly smaller on the front nine and there were even a few holes that didn’t have the same feel as the rest of the course. These holes could be considered “field” holes, but were just clear cut woods that were now home to access roads for a plethora of vehicles. This is all well and good; it just took away from the continuity of the rest of the course, as well as a lot of the challenge. I finished at +1, but felt like I left a couple strokes out on the course --- showing how easy it was playing. All in all, the course is one I would recommend to any avid disc golfer, as the sheer size of the redwood trees and the rugged terrain you play on makes it all worthwhile. There aren’t too many big D opportunities out there, but precise driving and precision approaches are in high demand. With a couple pole holes dotted throughout the course, disc golfers must be ready for a challenge, as these narrow poles are significantly smaller targets than the normal baskets that we are used to. With a plethora of challenges and unique course features, if you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest for any reason, check out The Redwood Curtain in the quaint town of Arcata, CA for a real sleeper of a course. Be forewarned --- don’t be awestruck by its beauty, cause if you’re not on your game, it will eat you alive!