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St. Petersburg takes a flier on disc golf

To play golf, Mark Meister doesn't need a cart, a club or a ball. And the iron of choice for any distance is his arm.

Meister is one of several hundred Tampa Bay residents who play disc golf, a game that involves throwing a Frisbee-like disc into an elevated metal basket from various distances and through obstacles such as trees.

In the four years he has played the game, Meister has traveled with other disc golfers to Clearwater or Sarasota to compete on 18-hole and 9-hole "courses" just for their game.

On Saturday, these players will break in a new venue _ the Tocobaga Disc Golf Course in Maximo Park, off Pinellas Point Drive just west of I-275.

City park officials and District 5 council member James Bennett will dedicate St. Petersburg's first disc golf course at 10:30 a.m., after which the Tocobaga Disc Golf Tribe, a local organization, will host a tournament. Ken Climo, a Clearwater resident and 10-time world champion disc golfer, will demonstrate how to play the game.

The genesis for the Tocobaga course came when Meister was walking his dogs and noticed a portion of the park was underused and overgrown. Meister, course designer Brad Augsburger and several others led the initiative to get the course approved by the city and the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association.

Augsburger spent hundreds of hours on the course design, Meister donated $5,000 to buy and install the baskets at each hole, and dozens of others helped clean up the park to convince the city they were serious about bringing disc golf to St. Petersburg.

"We're always looking for new and innovative programs and facilities," said parks department manager Cliff Footlick. "Disc golf is an up and coming new sport _ one of the fastest-growing _ and we didn't have a course in St. Pete. It is just a great opportunity."

The rapidly expanding Professional Disc Golf Association, founded in 1976, is a testament to the sport's popularity. The group claims more than 19,000 members in more than 20 countries on five continents.

John McCray, a 29-year-old Brandon resident who is ranked among the top 20 players in the world, said he enjoys the sport because it is challenging and relatively inexpensive.

The discs, which weigh from 115 to 175 grams, cost about $7-$15 and there is no charge for using the course.

"As far as the players go, disc golf has been growing leaps and bounds," McCray said. "It's a lot of fun and good exercise, and anyone can do it."