When I pulled on to the property for the first time, I was overwhelmed with excitement. It was a sensation I equate to waking up Christmas morning as a child. So many different presents under the tree, my anticipation escalating with each new gift placed before me. Having never played the original Gran Canyon Disc Golf Course in Brooksville Florida, I relished the opportunity and was thankful for all the work that went into making this tournament possible. Immediately after exiting the car, my nostrils filled with earthy aromas and the cool crisp morning air reacted with my skin triggering a chill to run down my spine. As I walked up to tournament central it almost felt like a reunion, seeing many friendly faces, exchanging warm handshakes and pleasant salutations. This was somewhat a brief distraction to the remarkable adventure which was about to begin. After checking in and spending 30 agonizing minutes warming up, I meandered to the first tee where the group before us just teed off. I could feel the butterflies deep in the pit of my stomach, tension slowly building with every tick of the clock. Not since my first professional round of disc golf, had I felt such an overwhelming feeling of exhilaration and nervousness at a tournament.
I stepped up to the first hole and stared up the fairway, wondering; “Where the heck I am? Elevation, this can’t be Florida?” Confusion was now added to the gamut of emotions coursing through my mind. I faintly heard what I thought was my name; it was as though I was in a hypnopompic state. Shaking off the fuzzy feeling, I realized it wasn’t a dream. I was actually about to embark on one of the most memorable rounds of Disc Golf to this point in my life.
My first tee shot unfortunately was less than satisfactory… failure to angle the disc more in line with the elevation caused the disc to dive into ground and roll almost out of bounds. Strangely enough, instead of being upset about the errant shot, a sense of calm and peace came over me. After the last golfer in our group threw his drive, I negotiated my way up the steep, rocky slope and deliberated options for the next shot. As a Professional, I was embarrassed my drive was the worst of the group and farthest away from the pin. I reached my disc first, marked it immediately and examined the pin location. I noticed the placement was precariously close to a steep drop off and immediately my deliberations were interrupted by an inner voice yelling for me to “LAY UP”. Listening to my instinct, I executed the shot somewhat successfully, leaving a 25 foot putt. After everyone in the group made it on the green, dejectedly, again I was furthest out and it was my turn to putt. I took a deep breath, quelled my anxiety and released the disc. My putter fell effortlessly into the chains and down into the basket. The first hole of the tournament was over. As I traversed through the rugged terrain of the remaining 17 exhilarating holes, there were many breathtaking views; picturesque fairways framed with majestic oaks and foreboding pin placements at the top of grassy hills or rocky mounds. With the passing of each hole, instead of viewing them ominously, I saw magnificence and reminded myself this may be the ONLY opportunity I have to experience this course. One single, simplistic word described how I felt at that moment, bittersweet.
Later that evening I sat on the back porch, sipping on a drink and staring into the star filled night. As with the completion of all my rounds, I began to mentally replay each of the 18 holes, shot by shot, attempting to analyze my mistakes. Something felt different this time, my memory wasn’t so clear. I struggled to visualize each hole, I couldn’t see the shots. Instead, there were stunning images of sun lit sheer rock walls and shimmering baskets on elevated plateaus overlooking miles of treetops fading into endless blue sky. Unlike any other comprehensive analysis of my game, this futile examination seemed almost tranquil. The only thoughts passing through my mind now were of the opportunity I had to do this again the next day.
Morning came quickly as I was awakened by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. I wiped the sleep from my eyes, and prepared myself for another amazing day at the Canyon. I finished my coffee and headed to the course. As the second round started, a sense of competitiveness slithered its way through the surreal thoughts of yesterday’s experience. For the first time in my life, I didn’t surrender to the intense determination to win. I suppressed those feelings and focused on the grandiose views each hole offered. With every tee pad, a new image of the amazing course was stored in memory. Each time I reached into the basket to retrieve my disc; I didn’t worry about my score. Instead I reminded myself how fortunate I was to be there, to be part of this amazing event.
As I approached the 18th and final hole of the tournament, I gazed out across the canyon. Instead of contemplating shot selection, I fell back into that hypnopompic state, day dreaming about the future of the Canyon. I pondered ways to obtain the property and permanently install a championship disc golf course. I was consumed with images of cars lined up for miles down Mondon Hill Road, headlights distorted by the dense fog of the early morning and Disc Golfers coming from all over the world to experience all the beauty and challenges the Canyon has to offer. Despite all the distractions, I somehow managed to complete the round and tournament. Scores were tallied, places were finalized, prizes were awarded and handshakes were exchanged. It was time to head home and I was taking with me memories to last a lifetime.
During my ride home, darkness had fallen and the roads were scattered with cars moving at various speeds. It was difficult concentrating on my driving, as my mind frequently wandered back to the awe-inspiring images and challenges I experienced the past two days. From the moment I left the property and well into the next several days, I became fixated on how I could manage the opportunity to play this astounding course again. If I had a bucket list, this experience would be near the top, and no matter how many times I played, this item would never be crossed off.
To those of you who have experienced the Gran Canyon Course, I’m proud to be part of this elite group of Disc Golfers. This is a privilege no words could ever express. For those of you who have never played this course, my only hope for you is we find a way to install a course permanently on this property and you make it a point to travel to Brooksville, Florida and experience the phenomenon.
- Jack “Rhyno” Hicks PDGA #28773