With his target in sight at a distance of about 230 feet, Anchorage resident Mike Miles pulled out his trusty red flying disc and let it rip down the fairway as it curved around trees then landed a few feet from the chained basket.
After a weekend of dipnetting on the Kenai River, Miles and his wife Meadow, along with their dog Nova stopped in for a round of “frolf” at the Kenai Eagle 18-hole Frisbee golf course, one of four courses on the Central Kenai Peninsula.
Kenai also has a 9-hole course at the Bernie Huss Memorial Trial while Soldotna and Nikiski each have 18-hole courses. The course in Nikiski is the newest addition, established in 2013 at the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, and has a hilly and wooded landscape. For all the local courses, bud dope is a necessity to deal with the hordes of mosquitoes.
Friends introduced Miles to the sport a couple years ago. On Wednesdays he plays in doubles tournaments at the Frisbee golf course at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, only a few minutes from where he lives. About 30 people show up, everyone pitches in a few bucks and are randomly matched up with a partner. At the end everyone tallies up his or her scores and the winner gets the cash, he said.
“It’s all about having fun,” Miles said. “(Frisbee golf) is getting more and more popular in Alaska. It’s just nice being outside walking through the woods.”
The concept in disc golf is the same as traditional golf. The goal is to see how many shots it takes to get the Frisbee in the basket. Like any avid disc golfer, Miles brought 11 Frisbees, some for distance, midrange and putting.
The Kenai Eagle course, located behind Oilers Field, winds through the East End Trail between the baseball park and golf course. The first hole is just beyond the right field fence of Oilers Field. With a distance of 150 feet to the basket, the first hole is the shortest on the course, but not indicative of what lies ahead.
As Miles stepped up he reached into his bag for the right disc. With a quick flick of his right wrist, the disc flies to the right before curving and coming in toward the basket 5 feet short, set up for an easy birdie.
As players advance through the 18-hole par 3 course, trees, hills, ledges, tall grass, bushes and creeks come into play and must be maneuvered around. It is not uncommon to see players looking down in the gully for their disc thrown off course.
Soldotna resident Chet Henson has played at all the Frisbee golf courses in the area. On Sunday he played a round with his dad David Henson friend Symphony Skubal in Kenai. He said he finally got his dad to come play and he was teaching him on his throwing form and where to place certain shots.
“At first I wasn’t very good but I picked it up pretty quick,” Chet Henson said. “It’s a great sport to play with a group of friends.”
Henson said while he is more familiar with the course at Tsalteshi Trails for its long open fairways lines with dense woods, he favors the Kenai Eagle course because each hole presents a variety of challenging shots.
“I like that it has diversity with some short holes and longer distance one with trees that obstruct a clear shot,” he said. “The challenge is what makes it fun.”
Hole 3 has a tricky approach to the basket. Beyond the green, the area around the basket, is a ledge that drops off into an overgrown marshy area. The next couple holes, with an average distance of 250 feet, has a narrow fairway with a drop-off ledge to the right, where many discs have been lost in the overgrown grass, Chet Henson said.
On hole 5 Henson’s first shot is thrown with accuracy as it curved around a set of trees and came to a stop a couple feet from the basket. He then stood as a target for his dad to aim for as David Henson’s second shot was thrown from the bottom of the grassy ledge.
The most difficult hole is number 8, not only for his distance – 309 feet to the basket – but also for the assortment of trees on the fairway that obstruct a clear shot, Chet Henson said. Holes 12 and 16, both about 300 feet to the basket are difficult to birdie without a good first shot, he said.
Some holes are set up for right-handed players while other holes favor a left-handed throw, which runs from left to right. The baskets are specifically placed behind trees on some holes, requiring the player to throw around the trees on the approach shot.
Miles drives are thrown with distance and accuracy. He mixes up his throws from forehand but is dominate with a backhand flick. Like a discus thrower he lines up his throw and reaches back and lets his momentum follow through in his shot. His shot is low to the ground because the higher it gets in the air, the more unpredictable where the disc will fly.
On hole 17, Miles executed a skip shot, a low but hard throw that bounced off the rooted tundra and glided gently near the basket where he would make a birdie shot.
While on this day he had success getting close to the basket on the first shot, he had trouble with his short game and missed a few birdie opportunities. He said the shorter shots are more difficult to control. He finished his round six shots under par.
“It’s is a technical course,” he said. “If you are on you can probably play a pretty hot round out here.”
Henson said he just likes to play for fun but does keep score and is competitive to be better with each game. He is looking forward to playing in a Frisbee golf tournament in September at the Kenai course. He said he loves the sound of the Frisbee when it clangs against the chains.
“That’s music to my ears,” he said. “I am at peace out here.”