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  • “the Pebble Beach of disc golf”

    A good article from santacruz.com...

    The 27th hole at DeLaveaga is called “the Top of The World” for a reason. The last hole of the course known as “the Pebble Beach of disc golf” is one of the most famous in the sport, a spot close to holy for disc golfers and famous for its sweeping panorama of the Monterey Bay. “So we were sitting at the Top of The World, and we didn’t want to throw off there because it’s a long throw, and we,” Brad Wirtz laughs, “weren’t very good.”

    It was only Wirtz’s second time playing disc golf, and his brother-in-law Derek Hastings’ first. Hastings is a veteran sports television producer. Over the course of an 18-year career he’s worked at ABC Sports, ESPN and HBO on everything from the Triple Crown to the Superbowl and won three won three Emmy Awards in the process. In 2006, he had just moved to Santa Cruz to work on Bass Fishing, a program for the FLW Outdoor Network, when a college buddy brought him and Wirtz up to DeLaveaga.

    At the Top of The World, Hastings and Wirtz got to talking about how, hypothetically, they would go about capturing the sport of disc golf on film, and that’s when a funny thing happened. “This hummingbird comes out of nowhere and flies in front of Derek’s face and looks right at him,” Wirtz says, “then flies and looks right at me, and just flies away.”

    It was the second such encounter that day. Earlier, while the pair was picking out discs in the parking lot, a different bird had flown by, grazing Hastings’ head as it passed. It felt like a sign.

    Right then another group of disc golfers came up to play through them, a group that had overheard Hastings and Wirtz talking about filming disc golf. “They told us, ‘This is the home to the current world champion. He’s 20 years old, his name is Nate Doss. That’s his dad down there,’” Hastings recalls. Doss’ father, a retired radiologist, was the man selling discs out of a van parked at the bottom of the course.

    That’s how the idea for the disc golf documentary Chains was born. The film premieres at the Rio Theatre on Tuesday in a screening scheduled to coincide with the Professional Disc Golf Association World Championships, which will take place Aug. 7-14 at courses in Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Monterey. The first full-length documentary on the sport, Chains delves into the history and chronicles the rise of the sport’s popularity, following several top players over the course of five years.

    Hastings started filming in 2006. His first day of shooting was at that year’s World Championships on the day Doss lost the title to his childhood hero, Ken Climo. Back then, Hastings figured the film would be a yearlong project consisting mostly of following Doss, who grew up in Soquel, between the 2006 and 2007 World Championships. The first trailer, which is still up on YouTube, closes with the words “Coming Winter 2007.”

    Driven By The Disc
    Seven months into filming, though, Hastings says, “The bottom fell out.” His wife became sick with Chron’s Disease, and the couple moved their two daughters back to New York City, where Hastings took a job as a creative director at HBO Sports. It was a good job, but his thoughts kept wandering west, back to DeLaveaga, Doss and disc golf. “I’m sitting there spinning my disc in my office, looking out at Bryant Park, thinking, ‘I don’t really want to be here,’” Hastings says. Within a matter of months he was back in Santa Cruz and working on the film.

    Hastings spent the next three and half years working out of a trailer on 38th Avenue, filming Doss as he traveled around the country playing tournaments. Through Doss, he began connecting with other players on the circuit, and soon what started as a 12-month project following one world champion grew into a five-year project profiling five world champions: Doss (World Champion in ‘05 and ‘07), Avery Jenkins (‘08), Avery’s sister Valerie Jenkins (Women’s World Champion ‘07, ‘08, ‘09), Dave Feldberg (‘09) and Ken Climo (‘90-‘98, ‘00, ‘02 and ‘06).

    The more Hastings worked on the film, the more he realized he had to say about a sport that has languished in relative obscurity. “This guy, Ken Climo, has won 12 World Championships—that’s unprecedented in any sport. He’s won nine in a row,” Hastings exclaims, “and no one knows about it.”

    As the film grew in scope, the sport itself was growing. According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, between 2006 and 2009 alone, active membership grew by 28 percent and the number of courses grew by 30 percent. Locally, the last couple of years have seen the founding of a Santa Cruz County high school interscholastic disc golf league; Aptos High even has its own permanent 18-hole disc golf course. It’s not just in the U.S., either. Doss recently returned from playing a tournament in Finland, where, he says, “They are gaining 25,000-30,000 new players a year in a country of 5 million.”

    “When we started we’d tell people we were making a disc golf movie and they’d say, ‘A disco movie?’” producer Vince Sanchez says, laughing. “‘No, no—disc golf.’ And now you don’t have to explain it.”

    After five years of filming and editing, when Chains finally premieres on Tuesday it will be something of a small miracle. “It should have died several times,” Sanchez says of the film. “We ran out of money, people had to take jobs other places, but it’s always come back.”

    Every time things were on the verge of falling apart, something would happen to bring the film back from the brink. In the last seven months of production, for instance, Vibram, a rubber company that recently got into the disc-making business, came through with a large injection of cash to help finish the film.

    Wirtz has a theory about the film’s luck. Thinking back on that first day at the Top of The World, he says, “Ever since then, it seems like something outside has been pushing the entire film. I like to think of it as the spirit of Steady Ed.”

    Known as the father of disc golf, “Steady” Ed Headrick invented the modern Frisbee while working at Wham-O Corporation. He would later go on to invent the sport’s basket, a metal pole fitted with a tray and a halo strung with chains. Headrick passed away in La Selva Beach in 2002, at which point, legend has it, his ashes were molded into several discs that are now scattered around the world, including one that ended up (on the roof, naturally) at the Steady Ed Memorial Disc Golf Museum at the PDGA Center in Georgia. As for the others…well, there is no saying how many could be lost in the trees, bushes and long grass at DeLaveaga.

    Tuesday 8pm
    Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
    Tickets $10 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course, Streetlight and ChainstheMovie.com
    Tournament details at http://www.2011proworlds.com

    It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.sigpicJohn Wooden
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