Casual golf’s competitive summit: an epic and friendly grudge match

I rarely dedicate an entire post to a first-person account of a disc golf round, but on rare occasions I feel it makes for good enough reading and I break my own rule.

This round is at DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, California, and I’ve included links to hole descriptions so you can better visualize the situations.

jackFirst, let me give you some background. My friend Alan and I have played together since the late 1990s. We used to gamble small wagers. In the early days, he was an established — he won the Faultline Classic/California State Championship in DeLaveaga in 1994 — and I was playing Am1 and still learning.

More often than not, he hustled me. But I paid attention and, eventually, my improving game and injuries on his part swung things in my favor. I’ve had the advantage for the past eight years or so, but Alan has really cranked his game up in the past few months. We’re pretty even now. I’m sure most readers would agree that it’s more fun if your more evenly matches with a playing partner.

We attempt to play when the courses aren’t too crowded. This time, however, a 2 p.m. Saturday round was the only time that worked for both of us. We’re not used to being on the course at such a peak time and it was like a party spread out over 80 acres. For us, that’s not a goof thing on a golf course.

Discs were flying everywhere and voices continually cascaded up and down the ravines. It was wild. Crazy wild. The wind was crazy, too. It was pretty gusty, but the challenging aspect was that it kept changing direction. You’d factor the headwind into a certain shot and then it would change to a tailwind.

The first hole wasn’t indicative of how the rest of the round would go. Alan missed the very generous double-mando, taking a bogey  He wouldn’t do that the rest of the round. After that, we both kind of dug in our heels for the next six holes with matching pars. Granted, we missed opportunities on some birdie holes, such as No. 3 and No. 5, but considering the rowdy groups we had to play through, at least we played relatively mistake free.

I had to save par on No. 6 after my drive went OB by one foot, just to the right of the basket. But otherwise, it wasn’t much drama. Even though I’ve been landing across the OB line lately, Alan noted “it makes sense to go for it when the putt to save par is less than 20 feet.”

Things get interesting

On No. 8, we played through a foursome, who were courteous enough to let us through, but then, out of ignorance and not malice, moved and talked during out drives.

Still holding the tee after the first hole, I teed off and my drive clipped something on the left side of the fairway, which made the disc shoot across the fairway and into the rough on the right. Alan laced his Z-Glide on a nice hyzer line, resulting in a birdie to get him back to par and tying us up.

I complimented Alan for how well he dealt with all the commotion, though it could have been taken as being of the backhanded variety, because of his well-known preference for absolute silence and stillness. He took the high road and thanked me without a hint of sarcasm. I saved par to prevent the dreaded two-stroke swing.

Alan’s second straight birdie on the short, but technical, No. 8A allowed him to take the lead. He hadn’t been missing any makeable putts lately, and his 25-footers on 8 and 8A were dead-center perfect. We enjoy playing subtle mind games, but I refrained from making this comment out loud just yet. At this point, it was he and I against the crowds.

We each had pars on No. 9, which was good considering the slurring slackers among the group we played through. One guy in yellow-framed pimp shades mumbled a prediction that we’d hit trees guarding the narrow gap — like all his pals did — though he wouldn’t wish that fate upon us. Something along those lines, anyway.

We didn’t. He and his friends were left in our wake, for the time being.

Looking down the 10th hole from the tee. Jack Trageser's left-handed drive was a technical S-turn, passing through all the trees in the fairway to the left, before cutting back right to the hole. (photo by John Hernlund)

Looking down the 10th hole from the tee. Jack Trageser’s left-handed drive was a technical S-turn, passing through all the trees in the fairway to the left, before cutting back right to the hole. (photo by John Hernlund)

On the 10th hole, I impressed the next group we passed with a high-flex hyzer with a Blizzard Ape. The disc soared left of the trees before fading back to the right (I’m a lefty, remember) to within 28 feet. My putt rattled the chains for a birdie to tie Alan.

After 11 holes, we were both 1-under-par.

The basket was in the long-left position on No. 11, so even good drives require accurate upshots to earn par. My shot was too aggressive on the left and after another ricochet, I ended up barely inbounds on the right with probably 50 large trees between me and the cage.

I scratched out a bogey — the best I could do — and Alan turned a great second shot into a par, putting him back in the lead. He increased it to two strokes with a nice drive for an easy birdie on No. 12, which was in the “island green” position.

After we both carded a four on the 580-foot wooded No. 13 (aka I-5), Alan hit a 40-foot par putt on No. 14 that had me wondering if he was ever going to miss a putt again.

This time, I couldn’t help stating it out loud, though I sincerely meant it as a compliment rather than a sinister bit of psychological warfare.

The lead increases

After routine pars on the 15th hole, Alan picked up another stroke when I bogeyed No. 16 with a drive so horribly right that I had no option but to pitch out sideways to the fairway.

“The wind!” I cried. Then his birdie putt on No. 18, where we once again encountered the rambling, drooling fools from back on Hole 9, gave him his largest lead at four strokes.

Alan and Jack Trageser (right) after a tense match, sharing some songs as Alan plays the ukelele.

Alan and Jack Trageser (right) after a tense match, sharing some songs as Alan plays the ukelele.

I received a glimmer of hope on No. 19. We both threw near-perfect drives down the middle. Each of us skipped into the fallen log, which crosses the fairway about 20 feet in front of the short pin. But Alan’s must have rolled backward a bit because he was left with a 35 footer.

He wisely chose to lay up rather than risk the steep ravine behind the basket. My knee-knocker with the same backdrop went in for birdie and the tee for the first time since No. 10. I admitted after that I’ve never been so happy to see him lay up as I was certain he’d make any putt attempted.

With the pin in the right position on Hole 20, I threw a tall, climbing shot with my Ape. It started with a steep anhyzer angle to the left, over high tree tops, and faded for the second half of the flight to the right, landing within 15 feet. Another birdie and I was within two strokes.

Alan joked it was getting warm “right around here” as he pointed to his head. The guys on the next tee overhead that and yelled “he’s breathing down your neck, eh?”

Everyone had a good laugh, and it’s worth mentioning that Alan and I haven’t always been able to jointly enjoy the moment of close competition. We’ve come a long way. We stopped wagering even small amounts years ago because things were too intense.

Roaring back

We parred the next couple of holes and came to No. 23, a prime birdie hole. We both got to within 30 feet with our drives. I went first, nailing my tricky, downhill, low-ceiling shot. Alan came as closes a you can possibly come to a perfect putt, but missed by a fraction of an inch — Alan called it a micrometer — to the right and spit out. He also had to putt a bit firmer than normal because of the wind, or it likely would have stayed in.

The lead was now one. The drama had been on a slow simmer until this point and the heat was about to crank up for the final four holes.

No. 25 is uphill, with another slope running left-to-right and an OB road all along the right. The basket is behind a wide oak tree. I threw a perfect drive, starting it left and letting it fade just enough to land under the basket without skipping toward the road.

Alan needed to start his drive over the road, trusting it to stay right long enough to clear the oak, then hyzer back in bounds at the end. Mission accomplished. Both birdie putts were easy, keeping at one stroke.

Before marching up the hill to the next tee, we shared a square-on high-five and a couple of warm smiles. We both had an inkling how the round might end.

Hole 26 is also uphill, with a dramatic and steep left-to-right slope. I collected a par, but Alan’s upshot caught a lip to the right of the basket and rolled away, resulting in a bogey.

Tied with two to play.

Alan had given away so little during the round and now an ill-timed bad break brought us even. He lamented how close the disc came to doing exactly what he planned, but kept his emotions in check admirably well.


Hole 26A at DeLaveaga. (photo by John Hernlund)

No. 26A is flat, on a mountaintop of sorts. There are short drop-offs on each side. Drives need to clear a ceiling early and must start straight to avoid early trees and finish straight to keep from the drops.

Alan’s drive was perfect, giving him a routine par. My drive, on the other hand, ground into the fairway early and left me an almost impossible upshot into the teeth of the wind. I thought I had it, but the wind carried it over the basket and just over the edge of the slope on the right. Bogey.

All that work coming back from four strokes down, only to bogey the second-to-last hole. I don’t remember how well I controlled my frustration, but it was definitely fighting to get out.

Finishing strong

It was obvious why DeLa’s finishing hole is called Top of the World as we stepped up on this clear and windy day. We could see everything from several holes spread out in front of us to the glimmering Pacific Ocean and a forest of trees in between.

Hole No. 27 has one of the best views, with the city of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean in the background. (photo by John Hernlund)

Hole No. 27 has one of the best views, with the city of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean in the background. (photo by John Hernlund)

Alan threw first and his drive seemed perfect out of his hand. But near the end of the flight, when it should have started to fade back to the left and the basket, the wind kept it right and straight. It finally came to rest about 80 feet to the right, and about 30 or so short.

I knew his par was assured and a birdie was needed to tie. A couple of mountain bikers approached us just as a couple of other golfers hiked from below — playing the holes out of order, which in disc golf, of course, is no big deal. Alan and I looked at each other and laughed because Alan had remarked earlier that people approached when it was his turn. Now, it was my turn.

After spouting some kind of bravado such as “I feed off this,” I launched my Obex hard and well left of the basket, counting on it to hyzer back at the right time. For those who don’t know, the long downhill hole requires throws with a downward trajectory to get all the way there. As the disc headed for the tops of a grove of large oaks, I yelled “get up!” four or five times in rapid succession. It cleared the trees as it began to fade right, then disappeared for a second behind those trees. When we saw it again, it was sweeping toward the basket, landing 18 feet away.

The guys watching were impressed and after a little cheer, I realized if I didn’t hit the putt, it meant nothing.

Because of the wind, Alan chose to lay up, conceding a tie. I hit the putt and we each finished at 2 under.

jack_dela_scorecardI was glad nobody had to lose such an epic back-and-forth struggle. Alan may have felt differently, but he didn’t show it.

After, we stuck around a bit and sang a few songs in the parking lot. Alan played his ukelele. We’d never done that before — at least there — and I think we just wanted to bask a little longer in the glow of camaraderie of casual golf’s competitive summit — an epic, friendly grudge match.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at You can reach him at

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0 thoughts on “Casual golf’s competitive summit: an epic and friendly grudge match

  1. As the playing partner in that story, I must take my hat off to Jack for describing such an epic round pretty accurately and making it accessible for others to enjoy. I think he captured the spirit of the game quite well, especially our mutual high regard for each other and appreciation for great moments when they occurred in the match. I hope we can have more matches like that. I also hope that the readers can experience the quality of play where everyone is really present with each shot in a focused yet relaxed way, and able to feel good about their competitors playing well too. May your dicss fly long and go where you want them to, Alan


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