Disc golf is just like golf, except without the balls and clubs. Replace those with a plastic disc and swap out the flag sticks and holes for metal baskets. There you have it: Disc golf, mostly.
It’s cheaper and requires less equipment, but like golf, the disc version is played in a wide open space—a chance to enjoy New Mexico’s high desert scenery. While professionals are starting to make a name for themselves, earning millions in sponsorships, the sport remains a relaxed game for most players, works for big groups of friends and there’s something satisfying about the way a plastic disc hovers and slices through the air before falling back to earth.
Among the local disc golf community are the die-hards who, on any given day, can be found toting their bag of discs from tee to tee. Still, disc golf is the type of sport anyone can play and one of the fastest-growing in the nation. Home to a few courses with a new one on the Southside nearing completion, Santa Fe could be the place where the interested player turns into a devoted enthusiast.
“Disc golf is booming,” says Ryan Flahive, who leads the Santa Fe Disc Golf organization. “We saw the numbers spike during COVID and, in 2021, there were 1.5 new courses installed [nationwide] every day. That’s huge growth.”
The most played course in Santa Fe is Arroyo Chamisos Park, behind the Genoveva Chavez Community Center (3221 Rodeo Road, (505) 955-4000). The 18-hole course has three different sets of tees, giving players of all skill levels a place from which to start: Red tees are for beginners, blue for the more experienced and yellow for advanced golfers. The basket placements require some clever shots to navigate around the juniper trees, and an active disc golf league can be found discing it up most Sundays; the group meets at hole six at 9:30 am.
The course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, (83 Avan Nu Po Road, (505) 424-2300) is considered the best in the area, though. It’s a private, membership-based course, but guests are welcome to play with a $5 day pass. Flahive, who also works as an archivist for the school, actually jumpstarted its creation.
“I love taking care of it and it’s everything that I want out of a disc golf course,” he says. “It’s nice and quiet. We don’t have pedestrians to deal with or random picnickers in our fairway.”
With the cedar, juniper and cacti throughout, the IAIA course features picturesque rolling hills and views of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. The front nine includes several holes that encompass fewer than 300 feet, while the back nine features a longer design for players to really let it rip.
Then there is the collection of 11 baskets that make up the oldest course at Ashbaugh Park (1703 Cerrillos Road, (505) 955-5920), although the locals have found a way to turn it into 18 holes; the course features some long fairways for disc golfers to manage.
“There’s a lot of old timers that have been throwing Ashbaugh Park since 1992,” Flahive says. “They’re still out there and they’re still playing.”
The community is excited, however, for the new course being built at Swan Park (5300 Jaguar Drive, (505) 955-6949): Jaguar Ridge, designed by professional course designer and Professional Disc Golf Association World Champion Avery Jenkins. The city also contracted DiscGolfPark, a course design company, to provide most of the equipment, which includes both professional and amateur tee pads covered with field turf. The company has roughly 700 courses throughout the world, most of them in Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. With the help from the City of Santa Fe, Flahive and volunteers hope to have the project completely finished by late summer. The plan is to have the course playable well before that, however.
“By ‘playable,’ I mean there’s going to be a full set of tee pads and a full set of baskets,” Flahive explains. “The equipment is going to be great, I’m just trying to get all 18 long tee pads in to satisfy the addictions of these people always wanting to play a new course.”
The Santa Fe Disc Golf Facebook group is a steady stream of information for beginners and seasoned disc golfers. Members often share tee times, tournament information, events and lost discs found at area courses.
“There’s usually folks playing every day of the week and they post on there,” Flahive says. “Reach out and get to meet the locals. They can help you and I think it’s important that people learn how to throw the right way and not build bad habits, just like with any game.”