Historically, disc golf was first played in the Santa Cruz area utilizing object courses. Certain trees, posts, or other objects were defined as the target for completing a hole. Much of the early disc golf activity in Santa Cruz took place on the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Disc golf had also been played informally using objects in DeLaveaga Park, some in the same area that is now part of the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course.
DeLaveaga Park itself is part of a complex land trust donated to the government for recreational and educational purposes, near the end of the 19th century. The legal status of the trust long remained uncertain owing to laws restricting the allocation of private estates to the public. The branch of government that utilized the DeLaveaga park land most was the California National Guard, for purposes of training and readiness. During World War II the ridge that now hosts hole 27 (Top of the World) was used by the military as a lookout post (note: the trees were not so tall back then, so the view of the sea was much more expansive). In the early days of DeLaveaga disc golf, it was not uncommon to see tanks or other tracked vehicles making their way through parts of the park property.
Many residents of Santa Cruz had a different relationship with DeLaveaga Park. Prior to the foundation of the DDGC, the property had been used as an unofficial garbage dump for particularly large items (appliances, cars and car parts, etc.) that could not otherwise be easily disposed. Many portions of the park had also become completely choked with undergrowth, including poison oak. The park grounds were full of squatter camps and refuges for all kinds of outcasts. After World War II, Top of the World became the top destination in Santa Cruz for local teenagers to hang out, make out, and party hard. There is a road that goes up to Top of the World that used to be open (now it is controlled by a gate), and what is now the fairway of hole 26a was the parking lot…it used to become completely filled with cars on weekend nights. It was a common tradition for local teens to throw their empty bottles below, onto what is now the fairway of hole 2. So much broken glass accumulated that it is now part of the very soil on the hillside, and impossible to clean up. Some also threw bottles down the hill to what is now the fairway of hole 25.
In 1984, Tom Schot received permission to build the first official 18 hole disc golf course in Upper DeLaveaga Park as part of the 1984 World Disc Championships. The task was not easy. Many tons of garbage, debris, dense underbrush and poison oak, old cars, etc., had to be cleared out by the original club members. Under their combined effort, they were able to pitch in and help develop DeLaveaga DGC into one of the world’s finest disc golf courses. The original course used 4×4 wooden posts as targets; these were replaced a few years later by pole hole targets. The map of the original 18 holes, as published in the 1984 World Disc Championships official program, is shown below (click on the image for a larger resolution version).
The introduction of disc golf into Upper DeLaveaga Wilderness Park completely transformed the property. The presence of regular park users drove away unwanted elements and discouraged bad behavior. Hundreds of truck loads of refuse was removed to proper dumps. Soon the teen parties on Top of the World, which had been growing more dangerous and out-of-control with increasing weapons and gang activity, was pushed entirely out of the park. The taming of Upper DeLaveaga Wilderness Park by the DDGC also substantially increased the value of real estate surrounding the park, creating value for neighboring property owners as well as offering effective buffers against crime and wildfires.
Today it is estimated that DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course serves approximately 200 users every day, on average. There is no fee for playing the course, although the city of Santa Cruz now requires those using the parking lot to pay a $2 parking fee (annual parking permits are available from the city for $40).
Crucible of Champions
The history of DDGC is more than just a remarkable story about the ways in which disc golf can transform public lands and create value for local residents, it has also produced some of the world’s greatest disc golf talent. The DDGC has long upheld a philosophy that dictates “uncompromising challenge” as the highest standard for disc golf. The 2 meter rule is always in effect at DeLa (as is common throughout California). A par round at DeLaveaga in tournament arrangements is approximately 1000-rated (by PDGA standards), and will only be achieved by accomplished and highly skilled players. The hole designs offer some of the toughest risk vs. reward scenarios ever imagined. And the course can be cruel at times (e.g., the “DeLa roll”), to keep players humble. As a consequence of this philosophy, newer players develop critical skills (both mental and physical) more rapidly at DeLaveaga DGC than at most other courses. So it is no surprised that the top disc golfers at DeLaveaga, who call DeLa their home course, are also World Champions and consistently compete at the top of the disc golf world.