As clouds dotted the sky and a light breeze chilled the air on a 55-degree day in San Marcos, California, I couldn’t help but think one thing:
Not bad for an Ice Bowl.
But, more than the weather, what I took from the 6th Annual San Marcos Ice Bowl, held January 6 at Montiel Park, was that the aforementioned business was actually quite casual, especially for what is dubbed a tournament.
Sure, there was a player meeting and scorecards were passed out. There were backups on tees and people wanting it to be quiet during a putt.
Other than that, though, this Ice Bowl felt like a casual Sunday round with friends — except these friends were strangers I had just met for the first time. It helped that there were only a few divisions, and that the course is, at least on the first nine holes, a pitch and putt.
Or maybe it was the mulligans players could buy and use at their leisure.
Yep, I’m pretty sure it was the mulligans.
Regardless of what made the event feel as light as the wind that day (until the final nine, when it started to kick up pretty well), I left realizing that an Ice Bowl is a great way for new players to dip their feet into tournament play.
First of all, it was inexpensive. Twenty dollars got me a tournament-stamped Innova Star Wedge, a mini, and three mulligans to use as I pleased. So, for the price of a high-end disc at the local brick-and-mortar, I also received some extra swag and an organized tournament.
Second, it was easy to know which division to sign up for, as there was only Advanced, Intermediate, Women, and Juniors. This made the registration much less confusing, and also made me feel like I was on more of an even playing field with those in my Intermediate division.
The mulligans were another piece of the puzzle that made this Ice Bowl enjoyable. I purchased an extra 10 before the tournament began, as they also doubled as raffle tickets to raise money for the local food bank. However, I vowed not to use them the whole day. I wanted to test myself to see if I could play my regular game without the crutch of being able to throw an extra shot when I missed a gimme putt or grip-locked an upshot.
Others on my card, though, let them flow freely from their pockets.
I had no problem with this, as it actually made the round more fun. Rather than somebody in the group being angry about clanging a 10-footer off the basket, someone would just say “mully!” and out would come a ticket. Sure, our scores all ended up mostly the same because people were buying strokes, but the camaraderie that was built drowned any issues of people feeling the system was unfair.
I only used one mulligan, on a drive where I landed out of bounds. Other than that, I was clean.
This friendly spirit extended beyond just my card, though. Every player in another grouping a few holes behind mine would, at the same time, reach into the basket, rattle the chains, and shout in unison. After the second or third time hearing this, we realized it was not ritual sacrifice, but rather a celebration of every player on the card scoring a birdie.
Would you ever see that at a standard tournament?
I honestly don’t know, because Ice Bowls are the only tournaments I have ever played. And, truth be told, they might be souring me for regular tournament play. I mean, I would much rather have friendly chatter and chain rattling than tension and people calling each other’s faults. Maybe I am just not competitive enough, or maybe I just like disc golf for the escape it brings from daily stress.
At the end of the round, everyone gathered for a fairly sizable raffle, which furthered the community spirit as players traded their prizes and razzed repeat winners mercilessly.
When trophies were passed out, I was quite pleased to see two young brothers — no more than 10-years-old — had duked it out in the Juniors division, with the gap between the two being only a couple of strokes. When the one brother went to collect his handmade trophy (inspired by the “Ice Age” film series, complete with a plastic polar bear) and the other followed him, both received cheers for their participation in the event.
I left the course that Sunday feeling uplifted and refreshed, rather than drained. That’s how this sport should be played. Ice Bowls deliver on this spirit and bring players together. I highly recommend participating.
Steve Hill is the associate editor for Rattling Chains. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @OneMileMore.