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How I Fell in Love with Disc Golf

Foreward: The idea for this piece formed from a couple of random thoughts:

1. How many disc golfers are peripherally connected to KC’s Pete Cashen? and

2. How many other Pete Cashen types are out there with similar intentions and means to influence the growth of disc sports in their own communities and beyond?

I know they are out there because I have met a few of them along the way. I’d love to collect a public written record of the triumphs and trials woven into the early stages of our development as a sport, and read the stories of the people willing to tell the tales. Each community has its own history and a storied relationship with its heroes. Growth is never smooth sailing, but disc golfers hang in and persevere, no matter the weather or the season. I wrote this piece a few years ago, but I’ve never made it public until now… It seemed like the perfect Mentors Week Blog as I wrestle with adjusting to the physical challenges of a recently detached retina in my left eye.

My ongoing hope for this concept is to create a website so that we can all share our own Disc Golf Origin Stories in one place, regaling how we first fell in love with disc golf, and giving credit to the people who pulled us in and kept us involved…. but this is as far as I’ve gotten with it. If you read through my story, please imagine how cool it would be if each person’s PDGA number was a clickable link to the other stories that mention them… A reminder that we are all Part of the Heart of Disc Golf.

My Disc Golf Origin Story: Early Mentors

My name is Tavish Carduff, PDGA # 23043. I am 54 years old and I have been connected to flying discs for as long as I can remember. My dad, Duffy Carduff 2530, and a lot of his friends played frisbee golf, “Folf”, casually around our neighborhood, establishing the Educational 9 around our school, the Religious 9 around the church across the street, and the Recreational 9 around the neighborhood park–and those were just the ‘courses’ close to home.

My mother, Cynthia “Cid” Carduff began playing ultimate before I was 10. She played on at least one National Team and she continues to play to this day - can I mention that she’s 75 and a cancer survivor?! I have always enjoyed throwing frisbees and playing catch, but resisted playing either sport myself for a very long time. The disc sport community, however, was like a magnet for me. I may not have seen myself as a player, but I did feel invested in the people I got to meet through my parents’ involvement with flying discs.

It was the late 1970’s, and while the world was making choices about whether to invest in Ego-based vs. Soul-based pursuits, the disc-minded had already aligned with the underlying intention to nurture and grow their community. I can only imagine how cool it was when you met flying disc people from a different city and realized that they are born of the same heart and mind that resonates through our own disc family. No matter who actually thought of disc golf first, several people were ‘inventing’ it at the same time, and that is what I find most fascinating about disc sports: the type of people who were drawn to its roots. We are connected by an often invisible bond that either grabs you by the heart and draws you in, or you struggle to ‘get it’--there doesn’t seem to be much in between. I feel deep gratitude that I get to feel the power of these connections! They have truly shaped my life in wondrous ways, on and off the course.

My childhood is full of stories from the people I admired, most of whom I now call friends. Dan Cashen’s 2874 smile made him feel like a bright friendly giant, and I still see him that way. Bob Feild 2525 was one of my dad’s best friends, winner of the very 1st Kansas City Wide Open, and owner of my all-time favorite disc golf course-The Buck and Doe. Bob’s childhood best friend, Jim Burcham 2528, stepped into my life with good advice and spiritually-focused guidance when I really needed it, which was often. Ace Mason 1735, Tom Ingle 107, and Steve Ladley 2531 (RIP) were frequent guests of the ‘local courses’. Crazy John Brooks 2022 and Hal Kurz 1195 were part of disc demonstrations which rendered them local celebrities, just as I was entering my teenage years, and simply knowing them made other people think I was more interesting because they made a thing out of me in public, I make the joke that they made me popular in high school. I’m happy to report that popularity means something much different to me now than it did then, and I can extend some of that credit to the Magic of Frisbee.

Disc Sports do that for me to this day. Being a part of a disc sport community elevates my sense of self as I connect to other people who love the same sport I do. Even as competitors, we often get to know each other from a rooted, connected base. We care about the sport itself, and we find natural balance with our ego’s desire to win. We observe ourselves in nature, and we are intentional about our enjoyment. That simple but distinct difference is what first grabbed my attention, and what continues to support my growth as a human being in the world. All of my Mentors have value, but those rooted to disc golf, for the most part, teach me to be intentional about Grace itself. At a minimum, we each strive for natural grace in our game.

My brother, Beckett Carduff 12330, is a really good disc golfer and he had been trying to get me to play for a long time, but I was resistant. The shape of golf discs were foreign to me and I didn’t know how to hold them. I was the kind of person who didn’t like doing things I wasn’t already good at, and I believe that kept me from playing for longer than I’d care to admit. My mother was deeply involved in the Ultimate community, and while I blamed my disinterest in playing on a bad knee (a real thing), I’m now more inclined to believe it was my way of creating emotional distance in order to become my own individual person. My dad used disc golf as a social activity and a recreational escape so I think it was easier to enjoy his round if he didn’t have 3 kids in tow! I loved freestyle and fancied myself a gymnast, but I wasn’t willing to practice anything (again, if I wasn’t already good at it….) so my freestyle efforts didn’t go much further than my imagination.

After the birth of my 3rd daughter, at the urging of Beckett and my then sister-in-law, Kristie Svejda 13871, I agreed to go play Thursday Night Girls League at Rosedale Park in Kansas City, Kansas. There weren’t many of us, and we even allowed two guys named Mike (Terry and Sanchez) to play with us. We called them Michaela and Michelle during the round. It was mostly social, so to compensate for my high scores, I made up my own rules: (1) if it hit the basket and made a noise, it counted, and (2) if it left the fairway, I got to retrieve it and place it wherever I wanted. Our co-founder, Tiffany Curtis (RIP), continued with her own rules (she got a three on every hole - always) for every round she ever played, and every shot was played with a Cobra (Cobi-Wan-Kenobi). Rhonda Crosby 47106, founder of The Disc Divas, was among my first ‘coaches’, and LaRon Harris 5703 (LaRhonda) often tagged along to teach us a thing or twelve. On the surface, what mattered to me was enjoying nature in all kinds of weather and finding meaningful connections with others. Underneath my stated intentions, I was developing a fairly decent skill set. From deep within my root system, I knew this time was important for my life every time I stepped on the course.

Competition has never been my focus, but after many years in disc sports, it is clearly my specific challenge. It takes me out of my comfort zone and places me square in the middle of uncomfortable feelings; fostering my growth, both as a player and a human being. The highs and lows I have experienced in my career are different from what my record might suggest. Our score reflects how many times we threw a disc, but says virtually nothing about what actually happened on the course. Our scores rarely capture the magic that we encounter during our rounds. I’ve never felt that my ability to play disc golf was accurately reflected by my rating, my score, or even by my own game on many days, and that has been helpful to my individual mentality. The competitive side of what we do has become important to me because of the women I get to play with, and because of the amazing Kansas City community that loves me whether I win or lose.

There were a couple of women from Kansas City who were really good players, Linda Arbetiman 15317 and Annie Humphrey 20728, and I really enjoyed their banter on the course, as well as their willingness to stop and teach me things I didn’t understand (like actual rules). Rhonda Crosby 47106, was one of my first teachers, and probably the only one I ever fully listened to. We began to travel just outside of Kansas City to play with other women. Kristin Cherry 19654 from Columbia, Kathy Betcher 15869 from Rock Island and Tracey Lopez 21224 from Davenport rounded out a group of women who would make specific plans to travel in order to create a women’s field at tournaments. Alison Cremer 4146, a teenager at the time, made me aware of what I’d missed by not pursuing disc sports as a child and I really took an interest in her overall well-being, as if she were my family.

My introduction to tournaments had me playing in A-Tiers and entering Am Worlds before I’d had much experience playing, period. My Worlds friend Judy Rivera 19926 from LA, would meet my brother years later on a course in LA and send a treasured gift back to me, driving home the deeply rooted nature of these connections. I showed up at my first solo event - the Great Lakes Open (where I would meet Laura Coffey 21102, Valerie Jenkins 17495, Erin Garlock (Oakley) 17643 and Karolyn Garlock 16994). Upon arrival, I was promptly directed to the wrong course by Brian Mace 7477, whom I would later discover shared many of my friends, and would naturally become one of mine. I was greeted at Hole 11 on the Monster Course at Hudson Mills by an amused Brian Schweberger 12989, who’s reactive line, “Sweetheart, I think you’re on the wrong course” ranks right up there with the second (and my favorite) comment he’s ever made to me - “Really, Tavish? A 27 over on your home course?”

Yes. I did that. It’s on my permanent record. It also illustrates what I love about disc golfers - they can be fully direct, hit a touchy point, and not leave me feeling shamed or ridiculed. We have all had a bad round, and we know what that feels like. We have all made a shot that keeps us coming back to hear that perfectly-toned ching again and again - and we definitely remember what THAT feels like. We connect from deep in our bones with people who weave in and out of our lives with such natural timing that we almost take them for granted. My group of 6 women quickly expanded as the Women’s Nationals event in Peoria became a yearly destination. Our women’s fields have now expanded beyond the boundaries my imagination had set, and the amount of women looking to play with other women has grown exponentially…

These are the (not previously mentioned) root women who tie me to the joys of competition, and have shared some part of themselves with me early in my disc golf career. They are the women I think of when I am asked what makes Disc Golf so special in my life: Becky Zallek (RIP) 9388, Lynn Warren 2876, Suzette Nance 28030, Becky Stebbins (RIP) 26383 and Angie Biondo 28890. Danielle Vargas 18131, Patty Justice 15218, Mel Ring 19542, Jennifer Ketz 12137, Des Reading 15863, Jay Reading 15864, Barrett White 16737, Liz Ransdall (Shooner) 21732, Lisa Warner 9519, Sharon Jenkins 5408, and Leroy Jenkins 5085. Katy Schreder 25238, whom I continue to adore even though she beat me out for PDGA Rookie of the Year. Sheila Kirkham 7646, Shannon Durren 17799, Britta Lindgren 19691, Amy Campbell 10869, Lindsay Merce 20573, Angela Tschiggfrie 16594 and Amy Haas 18864 round out that early group from all over the country who would become intrinsically valuable to the rest of my life. The list of women who have had an influence since the early days is HUGE so I’m not going to attempt to list them all, but disc golf grabs the hearts of some truly remarkable women. The women of Team Penetration (affectionately, Team P) will be my Throw or Die Forever!!!

There were many years when if I saw a female on the course, I would run over and give her pointers, often providing a lighter disc that would make it easier for her to experience an immediate increase in distance. My intentions centered around growing female interest in the sport. Today, I am amazed at how many women I see playing, and I am inspired by so many female players who have come to the sport after me. Watching our community grow in ways I could never have imagined when I first claimed my own stake in the group feels fantastic and surreal as we reach a tipping point in popularity. It authenticates our sport by creating an audience for what we have worked and played so hard to build. The heartbeat that resonates from Kansas City for disc golf remains strong, steady, and supportive underneath the massive growth that rests on its original dreams and aspirations. Disc Golf continues to fly because its heartbeat is deeply connected to an imaginative world full of love and good intentions.

I can’t wrap this up without including the following people who remain tied to my early involvement in disc golf, and I consider to be friends for life: Fred Smith 20578, Jack Lowe 15316, Dick Parker 20250, John Chapman 5559, Sean Elliott 32002, Andy Lewis 30120, Dean Ullman 34827, CD Steiner 2883, Otto Spiers 3498, Pete Cashen 13909, Jay Rivard 11951, Bruce Hudson 2485, Todd Henry 10229 (RIP), Mark Stiles 29514, Rick Rothstein 2458, Kevin Montgomery 12037, Nick Winkelbauer 33406, Luke Winkelbauer 31181, Brock Barrett 33405, Carson Wilson 18290, Dan Truax 21140, Jeff Campbell 22922, and Joe Hesting 24884. A big shout out to each of those guys, who, each in their own way, made me love this sport all the more.

I’ve listed a lot of names here, and there are, without a doubt, some important people I have missed. I’m happy to amend this list as needed because there are so many people that flooded into my life after those first few years. For each PDGA number I have looked up for this writing, I have recalled multiple stories I could tell about each person, and wondered about their own personal journeys to disc golf. These people are part of the fabric that weaves disc golf in and out of my life as we all experience the love, laughter, loss and loudmouths that are an integral part of our sport and our world. What makes it so great is that we get to do it together. Along with the 230,758 people who have joined the PDGA since I did.

1 Comment

Brian Mace
Brian Mace
Aug 31, 2023

It's an honor to be a part of this story. You did say Monster when I asked Monster or Original Course😃!



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