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The Fore-1-1: For Albuquerque disc golfers, it’s a whole other game

Cristian Jojola stretches during a throw at the Roosevelt Park disc golf course. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Cristian Jojola, 22, grew up playing baseball. A first baseman, he suited up at Eldorado High School for four years. Following that, he went to college for a spell in Oklahoma. When he returned to Albuquerque, he thought he might like to be an umpire. He even considered going to an umpire school. He worked games around town umpiring, but that didn’t particularly appeal to him.

A year or so ago, a friend from Albuquerque mentioned to Jojola that the best disc golfers in the area can be found at Roosevelt Park.

“I knew of Roosevelt Park,” Jojola said, “but I had never gone there.”

What’s more, he knew little of disc golf.

Right away, Jojola liked the park.

Why did he like it? “It’s free,” he said, laughing.

Disc golf is wildly popular in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries. You play 18 “holes,” which are actually above-ground “baskets” draped with real chains.

If you think disc golf is small potatoes, think again. As a matter of fact, think of Cooperstown, New York. The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) is located in Appling, Georgia. A large museum there is named for Ed Headrick, who was the Babe Ruth of disc golf.

The discs used are similar to Frisbees. But disc golf’s round plates are made of a hard plastic substance. If one of those discs hits you from a distance away, it will definitely hurt.

Eric Rakers winds up for a disc golf throw at Roosevelt Park. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Disc golf players don’t lug clubs the way golfers do. Disc golfers wear backpacks to keep handy various discs – drivers and putters – named for the golf clubs used on a legitimate golf course.

Marcus Eye, 36, is president of the Albuquerque Disc Golf Association. He estimates there are 300-500 disc golfers in Albuquerque. Roosevelt Park is the oldest disc golf course in New Mexico, according to Eye.

“It used to be a party place,” Eye said. “The park has become a lot safer.”

Roosevelt isn’t the only place to play, Eye says. A course on the west side of the river, at Coors and Sequoia, recently opened. Disc golfers at either park range from competitive to super-casual. Some disc golfers on the serious side play in all types of weather.

“I’ve played in a blizzard in Albuquerque,” Eye said. “Many of us are hardcore.”

Of the many disc golfers in Albuquerque, women represent just 15%, said Eye.

“That’s something we’d like to push forward and grow,” he said. “We’re always looking for women and children who want to play.”

Zach Moore retrieves a disc from a disc golf basket at Roosevelt Park. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Eric Rakers, 53, played all sort of sports growing up.

“I was never very good at any of them for very long,” said Rakers.

One day, about 15 years ago, he went to a Play It Again Sports store.

“I bought two discs and jumped right in. I soon was playing six or seven days a week,” Rakers said. “Hey, it was outdoors, it was exercise, it was social. It also was totally inclusive. It didn’t matter if you were 5-foot-8, skinny or fat. It’s great fun. You can gamble, talk crazy with your buddies and have a ball.”

“There are a lot of young men at Roosevelt Park. We have homeless tournaments, food shelters, clean-ups at the park and in nearby neighborhoods,” Rakers says. “I live a block and a half away. I could spend all day there. Disc golf is maybe only one half of the park. Weddings are held a lot there. Sometimes 200 people might show up.”

“Family reunions? All the time. Everyone takes photographs. The city on occasion rents out movies to be shown at the park.”

While disc golf has become great fun for many, the real treasure of the sport in Albuquerque is Roosevelt Park. Completed in 1935 at the urging of Albuquerque’s then-mayor Clyde Tingley, the park’s 14 acres are highlighted by luscious green grass, steep rolling hills and many towering shade trees.

The trees are Siberian elms, according to Joran Viers, who is the city’s forester. “It’s a great tree for our climate,” Viers says.

There are several picnic tables at Roosevelt Park as well as benches, swings and trash cans. The park is on the list of the New Mexico Register of Cultural properties and on the National Register of Historic Places.

The park, located near Coal NE and I-25, opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. Close-by parking is available. Dogs must be kept on a leash. Open containers are not allowed.

If you don’t play disc golf, you can follow a 0.7-mile concrete loop around the park and enjoy the sights.

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