Behind almost every disc golf course is a disc golf club. The local Conejo Disc Golf Club started with around 15 members in 2008, and today thrives with a couple of hundred members and events which draw competitors from as far away as Nevada and Arizona. The group hosts local disc golf tournaments and partners with the Conejo Recreation and Parks District (CRPD) in the upkeep of local courses at Rabbit Flats and Sapwi Trails, both of which are open to the public.
Mike Byrne, president and co-founder of the club, fell in love with the sport in high school in 1984.
“I saw a commercial for a Frisbee and hacky sack festival in La Mirada,” he remembers. “I went down, saw a Frisbee golf course set up for the first time ever, and I was hooked ever since then.”
Byrne now competes in his age group’s open (professional) division. Disc golf, he says, possesses “all the same elements as traditional ball golf. But instead of hitting a ball through a course with a club, you’re throwing a disc, or traditionally known as a Frisbee, through a course, curving different ways, different elevations. Sometimes the holes bank to the left or the right or straight, through trees, et cetera.”
Elevation provides an added challenge for competitors. At Wrightwood, a disc golf course located at an altitude of 7000 feet, discs fly differently than they do in Thousand Oaks, which is closer to sea level.
“You have to be cognizant also of the elevation of where you’re playing,” Byrne says. “That elevation difference really changes the way the discs fly.”
He says the best disc golfers throw on the order of 500 feet, the equivalent of one and a half football fields.
“The top female players are throwing about 400 [feet],” he adds, “which is still farther than I throw.”
There are many different styles and speeds of discs, Byrne told the Guardian, similar to the different clubs in a golfer’s bag. Disc golfers use fairway putters, approach discs, putters, and maximum distance drivers to maximize their game. Byrne carries around 14 discs in his bag, a number he considers low. He says some players use 35 discs.
“You may carry three different putters at different degrees of being used or broken in. As they get broken in, if you’re a right-handed player, the discs start turning more to the right, so you may want a newer disc that goes to the left a little bit more,” Byrne says. “Slightly used maybe goes straight, and then the really beat-up used disc turns to the right more. And, of course, that all varies and changes based on the wind and the elevation of the holes as well.”
The Conejo Valley’s disc golf courses give players of all ages and skill levels opportunities to hone their games. Rabbit Flats is a shorter course with great options for beginners and kids, which still offers fun challenges for experienced players. It’s also an easier walk; Byrne says the nine holes can be played twice in 90 minutes and provide a great option for families.
The more recently added Sapwi Trails course is an approximately three-mile hike with 19 holes. The hike amounts to 30 flights of stairs in elevation change.
Byrne remembers bringing the idea of a local disc golf course to the CRPD back when the club was getting started.
“They took to that idea right away, and probably two years later, we had our first course,” Byrne says. “They’ve poured their hearts into our local parks and have seen the potential for, and supported the development of, disc golf for well over a decade.”
The club partners with the CRPD in the maintenance of the courses, and the CRPD also provides land and materials for the course. In return, the club members help by “putting the baskets together, digging the holes, mixing the concrete, doing the course installation, and a lot of work watering trees, trimming, weeding,” Byrne says.
He highlights others who have helped on the courses.
“Eagle projects have been a huge part of getting the newer course, Sapwi Trails, put in,” he says. “Eighteen different Eagle Scout projects have gone on at Sapwi Trails, from basket installations, tee installations, doing different stairs and trail work.”
Byrne says top competitors come to help the club too.
“They did a lot of work on getting the concrete tees put in at Sapwi, and they did several of the tees at Rabbit Flats back when we got that going,” he explains.
The club hosts tournaments for the public at both courses.
“We’ve done monthly tournaments that are open to anyone at different skill levels or divisions from the beginner to more of the open players, top-level players.” He continues, “We also put on a larger professional-sanctioned tournament. It’s still got many divisions; it’s pro-am, and our club hosts that. … We do that once a year at each course.”
Byrne adds that “There’s just such a demand for tournament play.”
According to Byrne, in 2020 alone, the number of disc golfers nationally doubled. The club is considering creating more tournaments to meet the growing demand.