Word spread, and disc golfers showed up early on Monday afternoon for the weekly doubles play at Zephyr Cove Park.
JomezPro’s production crew was on the course, along with one of the sport’s most popular players: Simon Lizotte, who just a day earlier shot 20-under par to win the Elite Tour’s OTB championship in Stockton.
Craig Getty, who designed Zephyr Cove’s course in 1998, also appeared, flying in from his recent new home of Batesville, Indiana.
Much has changed in 24 years. Now, almost 20 tournaments a year are broadcast on the JomezPro’s YouTube channel, averaging about 200,000 viewers. Galleries of ticket-paying fans typically total around 3,000 for final-round Sundays. And the best players don’t need day jobs. The prize money is lucrative.
The video crew is in town this week on a side project, sandwiched between tournaments in Stockton and Portland, Oregon. About a half-dozen unique courses and their disc golf communities will be featured episodes during the sport’s winter offseason. The charismatic Lizotte will be the host of the show.
“When we started planning for this show, this was the first course we put on the list,” said executive producer Joey Temali.
“On way out to OTB (the Stockton tournament) last year, I stopped by and played it, and it was fantastic. I knew really good things about Lake Tahoe’s disc golf culture and Lake Tahoe is epic as hell. We started talking to Craig and we felt this would be a good episode.”
Through the luck of the draw from a deck of cards, Liz Terzian and her husband Keith Lucas were the doubles partners of Lizotte and Getty. A friend at the last minute offered to babysit the couple’s young boys.
“It was serendipitous,” Terzian said.
Lizotte’s first drive landed about 15 feet on the downhill side of the target. After nailing the birdie putt, Lizotte removed the disc from the basket, turned and held it over his head, nodded and abruptly blushed with a bit of embarrassment. “There’s no crowd,” he said aloud in a German accent. “I am so used to waving.”
The last time he’d retrieved a disc was about 24 hours earlier. Thousands of fans cheered and television announcer Ian Anderson remarked, “What a treat for the fans. The fan favorite of all fan favorites, easily. And it’s not hard to know why. He has such an engaging personality and he’s such a talented player. Kind of that happy-go-lucky style on the course. Look at that champion!”
At the tee of 4, a drive over a valley onto a hill protected by lodgepole pines, Lizotte smiled to Getty, “What’s the line here? I am asking the course designer.”
Getty started playing disc golf in 1992, the year 29-year-old Lizotte was born.
Getty has designed 12 courses, with Zephyr Cove being the first. He lived in South Lake Tahoe in the mid-1990s and was responsible for redesigning the front nine at Bijou Community Park. He was tournament director for the first PDGA-sanctioned tournaments at Bijou, the original course in the Lake Tahoe Basin. In 1998, Douglas County Parks ranger John Lufrano asked Getty to check out Zephyr Cove.
“He said Bob Remeika (Bijou’s designer) said this is not disc golf terrain,” Getty said. “Then I looked at the property and its million-dollar views and told John, ‘He’s right, but it will be in the future.’ ”
On No. 6, with much loft, Lizotte curved a 45-foot birdie attempt that landed gently into the chains.
“He’s the best shot shape maker in the game, but today he’s just one of the guys,” Getty said.
Lizotte bent over with hands on his knees, feeling the effects of the 6,200-foot altitude, compounded with an uphill schlep.
“We need more courses like this on the tour to get us players in shape,” he quipped.
Farther up the hill, there was another gasp. Lake Tahoe had come into view. The weather matched the scenery with its blue sky and absence of any wind.
The 10th for many is the course’s greatest hole. A more than 400 foot severe downhill drive lands on an open flat, surrounded by manzanita-covered hillsides. It’s hard to imagine now, but the area used to be the county’s dumping ground for organic waste.
From the tee, Lizotte appeared astonished by the layout. He turned to Getty and said, “You made this?”
“No, Mother nature makes the course,” Getty said. “I just follow her lead.”
Afterward, Getty elaborated, “We don’t need to manipulate a piece of land to get what kind of holes we want. Some guys go against the grain trying to make a certain type of hole. We are lucky in the Sierra to have many, many options.”
Lizotte has thrown a disc more than 1,000 feet and held the record for greatest distance. For long holes, he starts his steps from behind the tee, shifting his weight on either foot, adjusting slightly left to right, forward and backward. It almost seems like he might stumble when he steps onto the tee pad.
But No. 10 is simply a long putt for Lizotte. His drive had the distance but went a few feet left of the basket. He took an extra shot, which missed by inches. He was asked to try another. “No. I don’t want to overdo it. I just played a whole tournament.”
He had ace runs on 8 and 17, the former hitting the last tree and bouncing 60 feet away, and the latter soaring just above the iron and far down another hill. His partner Terzian saved the day with her drives on those two holes. The doubles team shot 11-under par, winning the round by two strokes.
“His drives were insane,” she said. “I was more nervous about the cameras than by playing with Simon.”
For their win, Lizotte and Terzian were awarded $80. The touring pro donated his half to the ace pot.
Getty was asked if he was surprised the sport has evolved so far.
“No. It should have happened sooner,” he said.
“The first time throwing a disc, I just thought it was Frisbee golf, so I just laughed at it. And then I went out and played and said, ‘Wait, these aren’t Frisbees. They’re discs.’ The first three months I played I realized how the flight of the disc works. I love sports and this is like throwing a touchdown or sinking a three-pointer. Only better. The flight of a disc is much more fun than throwing a ball. Dr. Stancil Johnson, PDGA No. 0009, wrote a book about it. He said, ‘When a ball dreams, it dreams it’s a Frisbee.”