A fringe sport no more
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. The sound of clanging chains resonated loudly throughout the Colorado Mountain College disc golf course on Friday. Surrounded by wooded environs and brushy vegetation easily capable of swallowing a disc – and with a snow-capped Mount Sopris serving as a backdrop, golfers wreaked havoc on the site of this weekend’s Colorado Open.More than 100 golfers, from throughout Colorado and from neighboring states, are anticipated to participate in the Friday-Sunday tournament, a sign that disc golf is gaining legitimacy in the world of sports.”We have people from Utah, Wyoming, all over Colorado,” said T.J. Lawrence, tournament organizer and vice president of the Roaring Fork Disc Golf Club.Tourney participants range in skill level from novice players to accomplished professionals, an example of the latter being five-team senior grand master champion Peter Shrive.Lawrence, originally from Colorado Springs, has seen the game evolve – particularly in the Roaring Fork Valley – firsthand. He helped found the Roaring Fork Disc Golf Club, a small but tight-knit organization that, on top of advancing the sport locally, maintains the course at CMC in cooperation with the college.”I just wanted to get out of the city,” Lawrence – a 27-year disc golf veteran – said of landing in Glenwood. He quickly embraced the local disc golf scene.
“I knew this course was up here,” Lawrence said. “Originally, it was a nine-hole course put up by high schoolers. We got permission from the college to redesign and made it an 18-hole course, and it’s slowly starting to grow.”RFDGC is in its sixth year and the Colorado Open in its third year. Though the club remains tiny in terms of numbers, the CMC course’s popularity has burgeoned. “The course has a great reputation throughout the state,” Lawrence praised. “It’s fun, a beautiful setting, and the college is really good to us.”Combating perceptionPerception is a major roadblock in the widespread reception of disc golf, Lawrence explained. “Obviously, frisbee is always associated with hippies,” he said. “A lot of people think it’s a pot-smoking game.”While conceding that the actions of some give the sport a bad name, Lawrence stressed that it’s far more serious a sport than most realize.”Everyone signed up for this tourney takes it seriously,” he said. “They all practice two or three times a week. People don’t understand it’s a love. I’ve really tried to support the sport in that way.”
Lawrence is a glaring example of a serious disc golfer. He’s been golfing at the pro level for 25 years, in his heyday traveling all over the country for tournaments. Now, he pretty much sticks around Colorado. “I used to travel around a lot more, but with kids, work and the price of gas, not so much anymore,” he said. “Colorado has a pretty good scene. Palisade has a course, Frisco, Copper Mountain, Montrose, up and down the Front Range.” Gaining steamDisc golf’s popularity is growing nationwide, said Kevin Metzler, who runs the Arvada-based company High Country Disc Golf and runs the Colorado State Championships in Colorado Springs and Pueblo every year. “The growth is phenomenal,” said Metzler, who sells discs and equipment at the various tournaments he attends throughout the state. “It’s growing exponentially. It’s an inexpensive sport to get into to, and people of any physical capability can play. It gets people outside to do something athletic, instead of watching TV or playing Nintendo. Plus, there’s no tee times, no green fees.”Lawrence seconded his fellow disc golfer’s sentiments.”The good thing about the game is that it’s free,” he said. “It’s the same feeling as regular golf – ball golf, as we call it – but it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly. And you have natural settings. Any major city has a disc golf course these days.”
Another man who has seen the game along from its early days, professional disc golfer Kurt Lampkin, was also among the tourney field at CMC.Lampkin, who lives in Durango, has taken to mentoring young disc golfers, like El Jebel’s Kristara Lee, a 16-year-old Basalt High School student. Lee, as promising a young disc golfer as you’ll find, will be participating in her third Colorado Open.”She is the next Juliana Korver,” Lampkin lauded. “(Korver’s) a five-time world champ. In my opinion, Kristara will be similar to that athlete.”Lee and Lampkin crossed paths during tournament play. The former impressed the latter with her precocious play and Lampkin has coached Lee ever since she was 13. “I’m a 28-year guy. I’ve been in the sport that long,” Lampkin said. “I love it. These kids have passion. They’re so into it. I plan to coach her into the World Championships.”Lee, who has grown up in a family of disc golfers and took up the game when she was about 8 and started tourney play when she was 10 or 11, hopes to make a big splash at the July Worlds, which will be held in Milwaukee.”In the long term, I want to be No. 1 in the world,” she said. “In the short term, to compete in the junior worlds, I hope to be the No. 1 girl there.”Lee is proof that disc golf is not just a men’s or college kid’s sport. Drawing females and youngsters can only help the sport grow. And perhaps it’s a reason disc golf is on the rise.”The sport is expanding probably 20 percent a year,” Lampkin said. “There are probably 2,300 to 2,500 courses throughout the country.”
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.