Steve Welck is a disc golf fanatic. But there were no public courses on Maui when he moved here in 1989, so he crafted his own, using coconut trees and trash cans as targets and even launching off the roofs of hotels.
"I'd toss it at anything I could find," laughs the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) state coordinator and touring professional.
These days Welck and fellow enthusiasts have a legitimate course to call home, thanks to the brand new 18-hole Kapalua Adventures Disc Golf Course on the island's west side. Located on the former Village Course at Kapalua, the venue opened last month when it hosted the Hawaii State Disc Golf Championships.
Professional Disc Golf Association Hawaii coordinator and touring professional Steve Welck throws his way out of challenging terrain at the newly opened Kapalua Adventures Disc Golf Course.
Austin Welck, 12, hauls his putters, drivers and mid-range discs.
Welck takes aim at the disc pole hole to finish off a round.;
Now that the pros have come and gone, it's time for players of all levels to get out and test their skills on this course that is free and open to the public. The sprawling green is any Frisbee lover's dream, with wide open fairways, natural obstacles and idyllic views in every direction.
"Hawaii was the last state in the country to get a public course, so this is huge for us," says Welck, who has been pushing for a public course on Maui for eleven years.
"All these years I was out there talking to people about getting a course and it didn't really catch on. But then Kapalua decided to give it a whirl and invested the time and money and really stepped up."
Kapalua Adventures Disc Golf Course
Place: Kapalua Adventure Center, located within Kapalua Resort at the corner of Office Road and Village Road
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Details: Call 665-4386 or visit www.kapalua.com.
Anyone interested in playing disc golf may show up at the Kapalua Adventure Center at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. Wear comfortable clothing and tennis shoes. Discs will be available on loan.
Adam Quinn, director of resort activities at Kapalua, says he was already searching for ways to expand family activities at the resort when Welck first approached him.
"We were in the process of coming up with ideas for the resort to expand its offerings to families beyond traditional golf," explains Quinn. "Disc golf was one of the 36 different activities that I wrote down to consider. So when Steve came to me and said he wanted to do this, it was the perfect opportunity."
The concept of disc golf is similar to traditional ball golf - get to the target in as few tries as possible. Players take turns, with the person whose disc is farthest from the target throwing first.
But there are also some noticeable differences. Gone are the clubs, balls and holes. They've been replaced by arms, flying discs and elevated metal baskets.
Unlike ball golf, where there are green fees, cart fees and high equipment costs, disc golf is relatively easy on the pocketbook. It's free to play at the Kapalua course and beginners can get away with using one or two discs, which will run anywhere from $10 to 20.
Like many sports, disc golf is more complex than it looks. It's an easy game to play, but it is difficult to master.
Veteran disc golfers are easy to spot - they're the ones lugging a backpack filled with a kaleidoscope of rainbow-colored discs, each with its own purpose depending on the distance or angle of the shot.
"Every single disc in the bag does something different," Welck says, explaining the mechanics of the various putters, drivers and mid-range discs.
Then there are the throws, which come with names like tomahawk, hyzer, roller and scoobie.
"It's definitely a throwing sport - it's like a dance on the tee box," Welck says.
Spanning every demographic, disc golf has attracted everyone from college-aged hippies to retired businessmen. It also happens to be an activity that families can play together.
Two-time state champion in the grand masters division, Mark Conley, is living proof of that. He often gets a round in with his son Jesse, 32, and grandson Riley, 7.
"I play every week with my grandson," says Conley. "If I woke him up on a Saturday to go the beach he'd say he's too tired. But if I tell him we're going to play disc golf he jumps right out of bed."
Disc golf took off in the 1970s after the late "Steady" Ed Headrick developed the first standardized disc catcher, or "disc pole hole." Headrick was so dedicated to the sport that he requested his remains be cremated and the ashes be incorporated into discs so that he could fly. When that day came in 2002, his wish was granted and his ashes were made into a limited number of discs.
Headrick may have taken his dedication to a whole new level, or perhaps realm, but this kind of devotion is common among many disc golfers, Welck says.
"It might not be a sport that everyone knows about, but the people who get into it are very faithful to the sport and really get into it," he says.
Disc golf may be a bit off-the-beaten-track for Mauians, but the sport has been catching on elsewhere in the US. According to the PDGA, at least 2,150 courses exist nationwide, with about 500,000 people playing the sport regularly.
Besides introducing the sport to local participants, Welck hopes the new course will attract visitors.
"I get anywhere from three to seven e-mails a week from visitors wanting to know where to they can play disc golf on Maui," says Welck. "Now we have a place for them."
"It's growing like crazy," adds Conley. "I've introduced it to people at work and they all fall in love with it. It's just good healthy outdoor entertainment - and it's fun."
"Our Kapalua course has the potential to be world class," raves Conley. "It's as good or better than most of the courses I've played at. It has spectacular scenery and challenging holes."
Lehia Apana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.