Saturday has been designated Save My State Parks Day, and in Dade County the Friends of Cloudland Canyon State Park will use the occasion to raise money for the park through “Disc Golf in the Clouds,” a benefit disc golf tournament.
“We’re looking forward to a good turnout,” said Ranger Bobby Wilson, park manager. “We’ll see what happens but it sounds positive right now.”
Registration for the three-division tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday and tee-off is at 9:45. Entry fee is $20 for adults and $10 for children 14 and under. There will also be closest-to-the-pin and Ace pots for a $3 ante.
Friends President Tom Pounds reported that Dade County businesses had stepped up generously to sponsor all 18 holes. “I didn't get one ‘no’ from any of our establishments in sponsoring our events,” he said. “In this day and age, with the condition of our economy, it speaks volumes for how the local establishments support our park.”
Pounds has worked hard to make Disc Golf in the Clouds happen, but the true genius behind the tournament is FOP member Gary Holsted, who has also been the driving force of the chainsaw gang responsible for clearing Cloudland’s trails in recent months.
Holsted was familiar with disc golf through his two sons, 21 and 25, and during a FOP brainstorming session put forth the notion of a fundraiser tournament. “We identified early on that the disc golf course was an asset for the park,” he said.
Disc golf, he said, is a populist game favored by the young. Cloudland’s course charges only $2 for 18 holes, and many others are completely free, so that players can get started for the price of a couple of Frisbees. “For a $20 investment you can go and take on a whole new sport,” said Holsted.
For guidance in organizing the tournament, Holsted contacted Scott Homberg, disc golf director of the Chattanooga Flying Disc Club. Homberg helped him, and Homberg was also kind enough to explain the game for the benefit of those of us familiar with Frisbee-throwing only as an activity on the same level of competitiveness as, say, watermelon-eating or beer-drinking, and generally undertaken on the same occasions.
Disc golf, said Homberg, is played much like regular or what he calls “ball golf,” with individual players trying to get from a tee pad to a basket in the fewest number of throws. “You can play it as competitive as you want or as recreational as you want,” he said.
Homberg agreed with Holsted that the typical disc golf player is young, from 18 to 35, say, but says he’s played with people aged 5 to 75. “It’s really just broad demographics because anybody can play it,” he said. “You don’t have to be super-athletic to do it.”
On any given weekend, said Homberg, there are 10 to 15 disc golf tournaments taking place at the United States’ almost 3,000 courses, and who knows how many in some three dozen other countries where the sport is played. It is possible to go pro in disc golf though the big money in the sport is still not that big; top-ranked disc golfers probably rake in about $50,000 a year in prize money and sponsorships, said Homberg.
But the professional organization, the PDGA, publishes a complete rulebook dictating how disc golf is to be played. “Just like ball golf, there’s rules and etiquette associated with the game,” said Homberg. “You have drives, fairway or upshots, and putts.”
Disc golf, like its relative, Ultimate Frisbee, a fast-paced team sport similar to soccer, goes back to the 1970s, said Homberg. Cloudland Canyon’s course was the first one in the Chattanooga area, though hobbyists in recent years have established another eight or nine.
Courses are considered “technical,” or challenging, if they have obstacles such as trees players must maneuver their discs around with specialized throws. “The more tricks you have in the bag, the more successful you are,” said Homberg.
Proceeds from Saturday’s benefit tournament will help pay for projects at Cloudland Canyon that the park simply has no other way to pay for, said Manager Bobby Wilson. “We don’t have money here at the park level to do everything we want to do, and the Friends fill in the gap,” he said. “The Friends are able to help with things that we wouldn’t necessarily get the funds to see
For example, said Wilson, the only part of his Dear Santa list the state delivered this year was $5,000 for a revamp of the park’s Interpretive Center. Wilson was tickled to get it – the project had been on hold for years – but that money will only pay for the first phase of the work.
Meanwhile, the Interpretive Center is an ongoing project for the Friends, who have already donated a laptop computer and audiovisual equipment for programs there, and hope to be capable of more as a result of this fundraiser.
In addition to the disc golf tournament, there will be geocache hunts throughout the day Saturday as well as free fishing at the park’s catfish pond. The Mushroom Club of Georgia is coincidentally planning its annual talk and walk for the same day at 11 a.m., and the Friends Group will be selling barbecue and other lunch items.
The Friends’ Tom Pounds thanks hole sponsors Ace Hardware, ALFA Insurance, Bank of Dade, Brock’s Restaurant, Canyon Grill, Canyon Quick Stop, Citizens Bank, Clark Lumber, Dade Tire, Farm Bureau, Geneva’s Restaurant, Gross Furniture, JB Variety, KJ Shoes, State Farm Insurance, the Hitch-N-Post and TVN.net.
For more information, call Gary Holsted at 423/902-6167 or the park at 706/657-4050.