The 27-hole disc golf course at is still under construction, but organizers are confident it will be in premiere shape next month for the Professional Disc Golf Association World Championships.
The spotlight will be on Watsonville as an all-time high of will battle for $108,000 in the final round on Aug. 13—and as the sport tries to break into the world of televised sports.
“DirecTV is going to be covering this course all week,” said Tom Schot, executive director of the championship event. What's more, "Chains Productions [a local film crew] will have eight cameras out here and is doing post production.”
Just three years ago, Schot approached the county Department of Parks, Open Spaces and Cultural Centers with plans to install the course in the 40-acre meadow at the back of the park.
Schot hopes that and crowds expected to top 3,000 will turn Watsonville residents on to the sport, and lure them back to the park many gave up visiting years ago. Athletic fields were built in the front of the park in the early 1980s, but years of neglect allowed the meadow to degrade into a hub of drug and gang activity.
“Before the course was here, this would be the corner where all the bad things happened ...” said resident Nick Quintanillo, 51, who has lived next to the meadow for 30 years. “Since the disc golf has opened up, there is almost no crime at all. Now people can come and park their cars and come back and their stereo is still there.”
Parks Superintendent Bill Ratto said the county pitched in $50,000 to clear the land and remove the forest of poison oak that had taken over.
“That first hole was a nightmare,” said Ratto, adding that the neglected South County is "like the Wild West.”
The later stages of the work, including laying cement tee pads and removing trash, have been taken on by a handful of dedicated volunteers from the disc golf community.
Greg Doubledee, disc golfer and life-long Watsonville resident, says he is stoked to play in the Worlds—his first-ever prop tournament—on a course in his hometown. He says playing in the open division of the tournament as one just a few Watsonville locals is a dream in itself.
“My goal right now is to not finish last,” said Doubledee. “A secondary dreamer goal would be to make the cut and get into that fifth round.”
The turnaround of the park is unquestionable for local disc golfer, Erik Nelsen, who also will represent Watsonville in the Worlds.
“There was [poison] oak everywhere, Nelsen said. “This place was like no man's land. No one went back there.”
Sheriff's Sgt. Mike MacDonald, who works out of the South County Service Center across Green Valley Road from the lake, said he knows the park has had its problems.
"The neighborhood has complained that there has been trespassing on property to get into or leave the park," MacDonald said, adding that in the year or so he's been assigned to the , sometimes you will find "couples back there ... looking at the stars."
When Quantanillo saw people clearing the land over his fence, he thought they might be building an RV park. He says he couldn't be happier that it is a disc golf course, instead, and hopes that more Watsonville residents start disc golfing, because their positive presence works better to fight crime than any police force.
“All the years I've lived here, I have met more people in this short time now than I ever have,” he said. “I am so excited looking forward to this, trying to get a lot of these young kids here involved and see what your future is.”