LAKESHORE — When the disc left my hand, everything felt so promising.
I had a direct line to the "hole" (actually a chain-lined steel basket) far down the hill near the bottom of China Peak's Chair 4. The scorecard said 603 feet, but, man, it seemed closer.
From the rubber-matted tee box, I took a crow hop and let that sucker fly. And for a moment, the orange saucer tracked right on target.
Then the laws of physics began acting upon my natural hook. Helpless, I watched the disc veer left. And left. And left some more. Until it dive-bombed into a clump of willows.
(I'd provide a quote here, but the precise wording would never pass Standards and Practices.)
Disc golf is one of those niche sports that has more devotees than you might think. The Professional Disc Golf Association (yes, one exists) lists 3,318 courses across the U.S. on its website, and the Valley is well-represented.
Woodward Park is home to a sprawling 18-hole course. Visalia, Hanford, Madera, Merced and Coalinga have courses. There are courses at Hume Lake and Hensley Lake. In Firebaugh, you can throw 10 holes along the San Joaquin River.
But a 27-hole course from China Peak's summit to base area? That's taking disc golf to a whole new level, and not just the thin air above 7,000 feet.
During the 10 minutes I spent clambering down rocks and scratching through brush looking for my lost disc, it was only natural to wonder whose idea this was.
Ross Hammond is his name.
Hammond lives in San Francisco, and for the past few years his family has vacationed in Shaver Lake.
"We love the area," Hammond says, "but the one thing that was missing was a disc golf course."
Turns out Hammond is an old hand at these matters. Several years ago, he designed the course at Golden Gate Park and helped steer it through. Now he had his eye on China Peak.
So he approached owner Tim Cohee, and it wasn't long before Hammond and a couple friends were out designing the course.
"I'm thrilled with how it came out," Hammond says. "It's more of a physical workout than most courses, but the variety of shots, the views and the scenery are incredible. It's just a perfect, perfect place for a disc golf course."
Hammond is particularly excited about No. 11, which he called "the signature hole." Measuring 1,050 feet, it's the longest on the course. But the basket is so far downhill, tracing the Westridge ski slope, it can be reached in one toss.
Well, at least by people who play disc golf more than once a year.
"I don't know if there's a longer hole in the country that's actually reachable," Hammond says. "Your disc is in the air for 12 or 13 seconds. … There will be some aces made."
Disc golf is just one item on China Peak's summer menu. The resort re-introduced mountain biking in 2011, but it's taken until now for word to spread among riders, old trails to be improved and new ones to be built.
Mountain biking and disc golf, along with scenic chair rides, are open Saturdays and Sundays only through Sept. 1. Next month, the Huntington Lake resort will host its first mud run (Aug. 3) and third annual sprint triathlon (Aug.10).
"(Ski resorts) can't expect to make it on three months out of the year," says Rich Bailey, China Peak's director of mountain operations. "We needed to create more reasons for people to come up here in the summer."
Let it be known, though, that the disc golf course is no walk in the park. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, and carry water, snacks and sunscreen. (There are bathrooms halfway down.) It takes 5-7 hours to play all 27 holes, depending on how well you know the course and where your throws end up.
Later that afternoon, I went up to Jack's Bar and found a group of Fresno disc golfers enjoying a post-round brewski. They were tired and dirty but otherwise content.
"It's the most challenging course I've played in my whole life," Garrett Stipe says. "It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work."
His buddy, Josh Harlan, shot an even 100, which equates to 6 over par. At Woodward Park, he recently shot 14 under.
"The holes are challenging and long," Harlan says. "And if you don't stay on the fairway or have a buddy out there spotting, you're going to spend a lot of time looking for lost discs."
Oh, now they tell me.
China Peak summer
Mountain biking, disc golf, scenic chair rides: Open Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Labor Day weekend. (Last disc golf tickets sold at 2 p.m.)
Rates: $30 adults/$24 juniors (13-17)/$12 kids for all-day mountain biking. Rentals and half-day passes available. Disc golf and scenic chair rides are $15 for adults and $10 for kids.
Future events: China Peak Mud Run, Brew & Wine Festival, Aug. 3; China Peak Sprint Triathlon, Aug. 10
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.