Snapper Pierson prepares to putt. “I didn’t want to do the pay-for-play thing. I fought it for a long time, mainly because it was being forced on me by a guy that I really couldn’t stand."
  • Snapper Pierson prepares to putt. “I didn’t want to do the pay-for-play thing. I fought it for a long time, mainly because it was being forced on me by a guy that I really couldn’t stand."
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It’s one of those days that KUSI news weatherman John Coleman would call a “sorta Santa Ana.” It’s mid-December but it’s 73 degrees at 9:30 a.m. and a warm offshore breeze has blown clear the sky over the Morley Field Disc Golf Course. I’m here to play a round of disc golf with Snapper Pierson, the course pro.

“That’s our famous shoe tree."

After parking my car in the gravel lot just off Pershing Drive, I meet Pierson at the pro shop that occupies the west side of a concrete block building it shares with the bathrooms. “Let’s play a round,” he says after introducing himself. He grabs a black duffel bag full of discs and a straw broom from a corner of the shop and leads me around the building to the first tee, located between the bathrooms and the parking lot Dressed in tan shorts, long-sleeved blue T-shirt, and a floppy sun visor, Pierson is a medium-sized man who exudes a kind of physical enthusiasm. He walks with a quick, bounding step, covering more ground per step than would a man with longer legs. When we reach the concrete tee box, he sets his bag on the nearby bench and sweeps dirt off the concrete.

“Ed Headrick,” he continues as we huff uphill toward the second tee on the east edge of the course, “who was a vice president at Wham-O, invented the basket here called a ‘disc pole hole.’"

“On this hole, with this pin placement,” he says as he leans the broom against the bench and removes a white disc from his bag, “I like to throw a roller. I’m going to throw what’s called a ‘scoobie’ roller. Now, a rolling disc will curve toward its top side, so this should curve to the right.”

With that, Pierson takes a two-step run up and, with his right hand, flips the disc onto its edge. The disc rolls in an easy right turn through the short grass under a tree and flops down three feet from the pin, 180 feet away. It’s such an amazing sight that I can only scratch my head and laugh. Pierson, amused at my amazement, says, “There’s more to disc golf than just throwing the disc. Sometimes a roller works just as well or better.”

I throw my disc, smaller in diameter than a normal Frisbee and with a wedge-shaped edge, hoping that my left-handed drive will bend around the tree, sheltering the pin from a direct shot. I fail. The disc carries itself straight ahead leaving me 70 feet past the pin. As we stride down the fairway to my disc, Pierson points up and straight ahead, “See our shoe tree?”

I’ve played here twice before but I’ve never noticed the dead tree, about 50 feet tall, with somewhere near a hundred pairs of old shoes tied together by their laces hanging from all the branches. “That’s our famous shoe tree,” Snapper says.

I find my disc and throw an approach to the pin close enough to make the ensuing “putt.” Disc golf borrows much of the terminology from club and ball golf— drive, approach shot, fairway, par, birdie—even terms that don’t apply literally, like hole and tee. Obviously, you never use a tee, though the concrete pad you throw the first shot on every hole from is called the “tee box.” And the “hole” is actually a five-foot pole with a metal basket, two feet in diameter, halfway up the pole. From a ring attached to the top of the pole like a halo, metal chains hang down to the basket two feet below. When putting, the golfer tries to throw the disc into the chains, which absorb the impact with a CHING sound, dropping the disc into the basket Only when the disc is in the basket has the golfer completed that hole. Merely hitting the pole, chain, or baskets does not constitute a made putt. "And neither does this,” Pierson says as he picks up his disc three feet from the base of the pole and tosses it so that it lands on the metal halo on the top. “This will happen a lot, and it’s not a made putt.

“Ed Headrick,” he continues as we huff uphill toward the second tee on the east edge of the course, “who was a vice president at Wham-O, invented the basket here called a ‘disc pole hole.’ After that, the first disc golf course was built in 1975.”

That first course was in Oak Grove Park in La Canada near Pasadena. I went to high school a few hundred yards from that park but never played there and never suspected it was historically significant. “Ed had invented the modern Frisbee,” Pierson explains while sweeping the second tee box. “Next to the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee was the biggest thing that Wham-O had going. But because he was employed by Wham-O, he couldn’t get paid for his invention, which in turn made Wham-O millions of dollars. Well, after he invented the disc pole hole, he convinced the powers that be at Wham-O that if they developed these targets and put in these Frisbee golf courses, they would sell even more Frisbees. So, they started a matching-funds project. What they would do is, they allowed Ed to have his invention of the basket, which he patented. Then he went to various Parks and Recreation conventions, and he told cities around the country that if they had an area of their park they were having a problem with — if they had gang activity or just people going in there causing problems — that what they needed to solve their problems was circulation flow. And he had a game that would create a circulation flow and drive that bad element out. And if the Parks and Rec departments could come up with $2500, Wham-O would match it with $2500. Then Ed would come down and design the course and have the Parks and Rec do the installation of the disc golf course. That’s how the first 50 or 60 went in.”

Pierson throws his drive on the second hole, a dogleg right about 200 feet long. The throw banks right and lands about 15 feet from the pin. My drive takes off at too high an angle and falls 80 feet short. I end up with a five on the hole, Pierson with his second straight birdie two. The third hole’s tee pad sits right next to Pershing Drive. Pierson, after his traditional sweep, sets up to drive downhill to the northwest The pin sits on the edge of a gully overgrown with California and Brazilian pepper trees. “This is a real easy hole for righties because you’re coming in on ‘hyser,’ and the hole is so short And even if you go over the edge there, you’re not in very bad shape. You can throw it back up there.”

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