A year after Burbank's struggling DeBell Golf Club had to tap a $2-million bailout loan from the city, the course is turning to a different version of its bread-and-butter sport to help bring it out of the red — disc golf.
DeBell's new par-3 disc golf course opens up to the growing sport Sunday, putting it in the unique position of being one of two local courses to offer disc play alongside its more traditional counterpart.
The Verdugo Hills Golf Course in Tujunga incorporated disc golf in November, a move that has “definitely increased revenue,” officials there said.
Antoine Dedeaux, who runs the pro shop at Verdugo Hills, estimated there are 40 to 60 disc players a day.
At $5 a head, that would mean at least $5,000 a month, excluding concession sales, and the revenue generated from players who participate in the popular weekly tournaments.
Scott Scozzola, director of golf at DeBell, projected disc golf could bring in $30,000 a year, and possibly up to $50,000.
“It's attainable if it's promoted,” Scozzola said. “It's going to be a good thing.”
Disc golf is played by throwing specially designed discs that are smaller than Frisbees at metal baskets, usually spread out over an 18-hole course.
The goal is to “traverse a course from beginning to end in the least number of throws of the disc,” according to the Professional Disc Golf Assn.
Most disc golf courses, such as the one at Verdugo Hills, are 18 holes in length, but other combinations include nine and 22 holes.
DeBell's disc course is a 9-hole course, spread around the edges of club's the par 3 golf course.
Innova, one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers for disc golf, estimates that 200 to 300 new disc golf courses spring up each year.
In 1995, there were just 500 such courses nationwide, but as of 2010, that number had jumped to 3,000, according to Innova.
Still, combining disc and traditional golf is a fairly new idea, said Gary Sandoval, a 20-year disc player who started the weekly tournaments at Verdugo Hills.
“A lot of golf courses look at me like I'm a nut: ‘You're going to do what? You're going to bring Frisbees to my course? No way,'” Sandoval said. “If they could only see what we do here. We really are doing good here.”
The only other course in the region that offers simultaneous disc and traditional golf is the Center City Golf Course at Goat Hill in Oceanside.
Scozzola and Jan Bartolo, Burbank's deputy parks director, said the $5,455 spent on the disc golf course is expected to pay off.
“This is a minor, minor investment for what the potential revenue outcome could be and for the advantage of having an additional use at the facility,” Scozzola said.
Disc players can play all day at the $4 rate during the week, and for $6 on the weekends.
Philo Brathwaite, a 32-year-old professional disc golfer who travels the world promoting the sport, often plays at Verdugo Hills.
At a weekly tournament there, Brathwaite talked about the pleasures of playing on a well-manicured course.
As for the business, Brathwaite said it was obvious.
“It's kind of easy money,” he said. “It's a small investment to get a pretty good return on a pretty consistent basis.”
But Noble Williams, who plays at DeBell's par-3 golf course several times a week, said he wasn't sure the two could co-exist.
“I've been coming here over 20 years and would hate for there to be any disruption of what I find is a nice atmosphere,” Williams said. “I don't think we can play together. Golf is a very gentlemanly sport. You don't talk, you don't move around, they don't walk in your line — there are a lot of rules in golf, and very many of them unwritten.”
Brathwaite, who played traditional golf before switching to disc, said he was looking further down the road.
“A lot of disc golfers feel this will be the golf of the future because it's so accessible,” he said. “It's cheaper, just as much fun — it's even more athletic than playing traditional golf. We play by the same rules and the same etiquette.
“We are teaching golf, it just looks a little bit different.”