MccG History

The Very Beginning of the Metro Detroit Disc Golf Scene

 

So just exactly how did the Metro Detroit disc golf scene begin? After researching this topic and a few interviews later the following is what we have been able to piece together. The local Metro Detroit disc golf scene began to form in 1981 when many locals started meeting regularly to play at Raintree Park and Stony Creek Metropark. In mid-summer of 1981 Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak was installed.  Jim Kenner (#292) and Gail McColl (#240) were two years into the start of Discraft Inc. They hosted an annual picnic where veteran freestyle and ultimate players got together at Kensington Metropark.  Few people got invited to this event and Joe Eagan (#2427) and Bob Huston (#2354) were among them. Soon they started collaborating on golf disc purchases from Wham-O who was the prime weighted golf disc producer at the time.

 

The Royal Oak Disc Golf Association Summer League (RODGASL) also began in 1981 and was simply known as the Wednesday night league. Eventually this group’s name evolved into the current Metro Detroit Disc Golf League (MDDGL). The RODGASL played its summer league at Starr, Wagner, and Raintree Parks. The sports’ growth and popularity began to attract players from all over the area with various skill levels. As new players joined the league the national level was also gaining popularity as an underground sport whose governing body began promoting its growth through larger national tournaments. This governing body at the time found its headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee and was known as the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA). In the beginning of the Wednesday night league there really were no “official” divisions of players between the Pros and Amateurs. However, its beginning members played at a professional skill level due to their experience while the newer members did not have as much experience and therefore played at an amateur level. Remember, there were no recognized divisions at this time. Adam Weiss (#2737), Eric Bramlage (#3014), and Ray Hart (#2894) started getting involved and a charity fund raiser tournament was planned and scheduled at Starr Park in Royal Oak.  The money raised was donated towards cancer research and was called "The Weenie Memorial" in honor of Bob and Sueanne Huston's (#2550) recently deceased pet hamster Oscar "Weenie" Huston, who briefly delayed its demise by surviving thyroid surgery after getting a cancerous growth. Eventually Eric’s wife Kathy (#4660) became the PDGA’s Financial Director in 1990 and 1991 then served as its Commissioner in 1992 and 1993.

 

 The following year, 1982, the tournament became the Great Lakes Open, drawing PDGA pro players from Indiana, Ohio, Ontario and Illinois. The Great Lakes Open was sponsored by Discraft and eventually became the Discraft Great Lakes Open. Originally, the Wednesday night league was really called the "700 Club" because Eric Bramlage and Ray Hart shared a house at 700 Millard in Royal Oak which was located in between Starr and Raintree Parks. The 700 Club was also the name of an early religious show on TV which may have initiated the original idea due to its similarity with their house address. Contrary to some sources, there was always an amateur division in every year of the league’s existence. Amateur status was determined not by the entrant but by the player's average. For example, if the player couldn't average under par at the original Starr Park layout they were automatically accorded amateur status. If the player claimed to be an amateur and shot well under par, guess what?, they were automatically shooting against the big boys as this was the way to deter sandbagging which happened even back then.

 

The Beginning of the Motor City Chain Gang

 

The Wednesday night league numbers kept growing between 1984 and 1986 and eventually they had to split up or move to Raintree and play the back nine. Sometimes people brought their own baskets out to Raintree to avoid throwing at trees in the back section of the park. Then, in 1986 the Can Am Series formed which really put some speed into the local disc golf scene growth due to the cohesive schedule that soon formed. In 1989 two newer members heard of an event in Laurel Springs, North Carolina and decided to go and see what the buzz was all about. So, in June Damon Evans (#5192) and Mark Bethel (#4813) packed up their vehicle and went on a road trip to participate in the 1989 Amateur National Disc Golf Championships. During their stay in Laurel Springs, many national disc golfers at the event began to tell Damon and Mark about other clubs across the country. The entire experience left such an impression that they knew upon their arrival back home something had to be done about it.

 

As the 1989 season ended for the Metro Detroit Disc Golf Summer League the participation began to resemble what we now refer to as a Pro/Am caliber membership. The league's senior members actually had a hand in previous events such as the 1986 Stony Creek Shootout held at the original disc golf course in Stony Creek Metropark and the 1986 two-day event Great Lakes Open held at Raintree Park. These events were part of the Can-Am (Canadian-American) series which began in 1986. The MDDGL was still growing and some members like Bob Huston encouraged the newer members to spin off a new league specifically geared towards amateur players. This advice combined with the recent trip to Laurel Springs was all Damon and Mark needed so on December 11, 1989 these two and a few other disc golfers got together for a meeting held in Gale Vaughn’s (#5515) mothers' basement on Midland Street in Royal Oak. In attendance were Damon, Mark, Gale, Gary Gray (#4860), Gary’s wife Karen, Mike “BOBIS” Paonessa (#5750), and a few others. By the end of the meeting the group had elected officials with a target of beginning an amateur club in the spring of 1990. Damon Evans became the first club president (1990-91) while Gale Vaughn was voted the club’s first Vice President. Karen Gray was elected the club secretary and Bill Lyons (#5516) was elected the club treasurer. The league would be played primarily at Wagner, Raintree, and Firefighters Park and would be formally known as the Motor City Chain Gang (M.C.C.G.).

 

The first year of the MCCG (1990) the league had approximately 30 members and the original artwork for its club design was done by Scott Kipp (#5203). The club decided to use a new stamp every year and Scott's artistic skills can be viewed throughout its first decade of existence as it was primarily his artwork that graced the tops of the club discs. Damon Evans also ran the NOMAD Disc Golf Products in the local area which brought the local players their disc golf accessories (discs, bags, and other products) as well as organize events while continuing to develop the relationships with all of the local park directors in the area. Bob Huston studied some of the basic philosophies that parks and recreation people are taught and he used that knowledge when speaking with the park directors. The goal of forming the relationships at the beginning was to ingratiate the disc golf cause to the park personnel.

 

John Baron (#3499) from Adrian, Michigan played an extremely vital role in the local amateur growth because he promoted the amateur divisions even before the Michigan Disc Golf Organization (MDGO) was founded in late 1991. John’s efforts were statewide and held the 1st ever Michigan “all-amateur” disc golf tournament that featured advanced and novice divisions. It was played at Rolling Hills Disc Golf course and they converted the 9-hole course to an 18-hole course by adding alternate tee boxes for each basket. This was common back then as most disc golf courses featured only 9 holes.

 

The MDGO formed a statewide allegiance as its founding members lived far apart and represented four regions spanning the state. Damon Evans and Scott Kipp were the local representatives from the Metro Detroit area. Keith Aten (#6147), Jim Weeks (#6392), and Darrell "DJ" Jones (#5266) represented the Lansing area. Steve Peck (#5817) and Gunars Nollendorfs (#3254) were the Ann Arbor representatives. Finally, Mark Laninga (#6133) and Al Haaksma (#5870) were the Grand Rapids representatives. Kalamazoo and Ludington joined a few years later and together promoted many joint events known as the MDGO Series at courses throughout the state including the now defunct Kandahar Disc Golf course which resided on a ski mountain just west of Fenton, Michigan. Knowing Damon and Scott were original members of the MDGO helps solidify this area’s early years as leaders in the state. These four regions were later joined with clubs from Kalamazoo and Ludington. As time passes more and more clubs continue to join the MDGO as more courses are installed in different cities. The yearly schedule also continues to grow and there are now over 150 events in 2010 across the state.

 

Damon went to the 1990 World Championship held in Wichita, Kansas. During his stay he had a conversation with Rick Rothstein (#2458) who suggested the idea for the Metro Detroit area to host the AM World’s and the idea was born. As years passed and the MCCG focused its growth on the amateur’s through league play they were also responsible for bringing the Amateur World Event in 1991 to River Bends Park. The MCCG talked Bob Huston into being the AM Worlds tournament director to suffice the requirement that the Tournament Director had to be a Pro player.  The MCCG and MDDGL provided most of the volunteers who helped run the event that included play at Firefighters Park.

 

The 1992 Pro Worlds was at Firefighters, River Bends and Addison Oaks.  Without MCCG members’ volunteering their efforts the event would never have come off.  Damon, Gale, Scott Kipp, Tim Hoppe (#5686) and others were indispensable in support of Bob Huston and Duane “Fat Boy” Utech (#3162).  A good word should also go out to Duane's brothers Greg Utech (#3163) and Dan Dahlman (#3164) who also helped in both the 1991 and 1992 World events.

 

Other local clubs began to form as new courses began to pop up. Brian Fahnestock (#14391) and Todd Hendrick (#14384) formed Club Chaos and ran events at Addison Oaks and Firefighters Parks and created the once popular Mayham Weekend. Mike Forton (#10124) created Nam-Q Enterprises and the Flying Open Rivals Michigan event. Paul Kenny (#13616), also a former MCCG member, created the Flying Saucer organization in the late 1990s and began to re-build the Royal Oak disc golf scene as the MCCG had already moved out to River Bends for their league play. BOBIS played an instrumental part in the local disc golf growth as he championed many events including double-shifting as the MCCG Watchdog responsible for many duties not fulfilled by other members like financial responsibility, ordering discs, organizing and keeping track of club duties, and being a state representative with the MDGO. BOBIS created and maintained the Showdown Disc Golf Match Play league, the Soldiers of Disc Golf played through the winter months, and the River Bends Cup which the winners get their names on the famous Bobis Cup trophy. Eventually, the Soldiers of Disc Golf turned into the BOBIS Saturday Doubles (BSD) league which traveled from course to course every Saturday. In 2002 the BSD began ending its winter season with the annual Bobis Ace Race held at the Civic Center disc golf course in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

 

Damon Evans’ club presidential reign ended after a five year stint and he was followed by Gale Vaughn who took over as club president for the next two years. Scott Kipp took over for one year and was followed by Steve Brazel (#9495) in 1998 and 1999. The Disc Golf Store (TDGS) opened up in Clawson, Michigan in 2000 and was co-owned by Damon Evans, Gale Vaughn, and Mike “The Bag” Hagstrom (#18926). TDGS was responsible for running all of the local disc golf tournaments but soon after its opening Gale was stricken with terminal Brain Cancer and passed away in early 2002. The MCCG was running league play and soon moved to Firefighters Park where it is still being played today. Steve Brazel’s club presidency was eventually followed by Dan James (#13578) who is still its current president.

 

Dan James got involved with the Monday night league in 2001 as the stats keeper. Dan had met with Damon and Mike "The Bag" Hagstrom and volunteered for the job the previous winter. He had to miss the first 4-5 weeks of league that year and returned to find the league being run by Mike “The Bag” and Richard Olson. That was the first time Dan had met Richard. Richard is an original club member and the only person to be a MCCG member every year of its existence. The 2001 league averaged 27 players and TDGS brought discs to give as prizes for the amateur players.

 

Again in 2002, Dan kept the stats for the league and began to play a larger role in running the league like maintaining the membership info etc. but the league was still under the control of TDGS.  Dan also served as the tournament director for the Motor City Open, the only sanctioned event for TDGS that year and kept records for the Win-a-Basket (WAB) series events and a few others. In the winter of 2002-2003 at a meeting in the basement of one of Damon's apartments Dan proposed some changes to the way the league was run and wanted to separate it from the store to some extent. With the backing of Mike “The Bag” and Richard, Dan was able to convince Damon to let him take over the league and run the club somewhat separate from the store with the understanding that the league would purchase most of their disc golf equipment from the store. That's really the point at which Dan became "president" of the Motor City Chain Gang.

 

The 2003 season once again provided very pivotal changes to the Metro Detroit disc golf scene. Paul had been working at the store while Randy Forstner (#17445) and Tina Lyons became partners with Damon after Gale passed away. Dan once again ran the league and introduced the first independent MCCG tournament after a several year lapse, the Chain Gang Cha-Ching!. He continued to help TDGS as Tournament Director (TD) for their sanctioned events and WAB series. The Disc Golf Store enjoyed big success during the spring and summer months however it struggled during the long winter months that Michigan is known for. Late in the 2003 season and long after the GVM had been played, Damon stepped out of TDGS and Flying Saucer took over at that point. TDGS eventually closed in late 2003 and Flying Saucer Disc Golf (FSDG) became a functional company completing the 2003 tournament schedule.

 

In 2004 Dan once again added a new MCCG event to the schedule and the Firefighters Finale became the club's second tournament. Dan was also asked to be the TD for the first few FSDG sanctioned events until Paul took over that responsibility in 2005. Bobis turned over the BSD to Dan James for the 2004 – 2005 season while John Minicuci (#22116) inherited the Ace Race and the Bobis Cup in 2005. Bobis told John that he no longer wanted to run the events because “The passion just isn’t there anymore” and “on a happier note though I would like to donate a basket to hole one at River Bends.” These two statements epitomize Bobis's humor, passion, and dedication to the local disc golf scene he helped build. Bobis was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer soon after in the fall of 2005 and passed away in September of 2006 at 41 years young.  All three events are still on the MCCG schedule and in early 2010 the BSD has set records in attendance for one week (60 players), highest single day payout, and to date, the largest ever BSD Ace Pool at $379 until it was finally hit on January 23, 2010 at Stony Creek by long time MCCG member Bob “The Rat” Turner II (#6167).

 

As the sun set on The Disc Golf Store in the late summer of 2003, FSDG transitioned into organizing the future tournament schedule, represented the area by participating in MDGO activities, provided disc golf products to the local area players, and cultured the relationships with the park personnel among other future endeavors. FSDG at this stage consisted of Paul Kenny, Andy Drinkard (#18511), and Hugh Cleal (#18738) while John Minicuci transferred his TDGS website data over to the FSDG website. John also helped finance FSDG’s first few tournaments as it began to solidify itself as a functional entity. Hugh soon moved on to pursue his musical passion and John joined the FSDG team. Andy left the team in 2005 so Paul and John held the tournament scene together while the MCCG league continued on with its amateur league play and two tournaments per year but continued to grow in size every year. Some new traditions were introduced under FSDG and the MCCG, still under Dan’s leadership, was there every step of the way. Damon had changed the name of the traditional Motor City Open in 2002 to the Gale Vaughn Memorial (GVM) in 2003. The 2003 and 2004 events organized by FSDG donated to the American Cancer Society in Gale’s name and the MCCG provided a donation as well. In 2004 another charity event was introduced as the FREEZEBEE Ice Bowl Open, the second fundraising tournament on Metro Detroit’s annual tournament schedule. The FREEZEBEE Ice Bowl Open benefitted the Detroit Capuchin Soup Kitchen and was part of the larger, global Ice Bowl organized by Rick Rothstein and The Disc Golf World News. The Darren McCarty Cancer Foundation became the charity event that the GVM raised funds for in 2005 and 2006. John was able to convince the local sports celebrity, Darren McCarty into assisting and with some great artwork from Marnie White (#17269) and Discraft special discs were created. Through the assistance of Trevor Thompson from FOX Sports Detroit, John was able to launch the special Super Color Discraft discs that featured Darren’s images on them. These limited run discs were autographed and eventually raffled off at the FSDG Metro Detroit Disc Golf Championship Series events. The 2006 season also saw the introduction of the UnderAge Drivers youth disc golf league. This league was introduced by Scott “Bernie” Burnham (#23932) and John Minicuci and was geared towards 5th grade school children. John had previously run many camps in the city of Troy through the city and school systems. Bernie thought the league would be a great way to involve the sport and the children he helps influence each day in the classroom so together the league was formed.

 

In 2007 John was able to get another local sports athlete to assist but the decision to have all of the events benefit the Detroit Capuchin Soup Kitchen had been made. Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers agreed to assist in 2007 and his autographed limited run discs help make the years donations the biggest total at the time. The fundraising activity had really taken off due to the media exposure and willingness of the local athletes to assist. Paul got engaged to Christine his longtime girlfriend, eventually got married and then moved to Chicago. Each year the local donations grew and each year that FSDG ran the disc golf events the MCCG provided cash donations for both the fundraising activities as well as funds to assist with the cash payouts for the Pro players at the major events. At the close of the 2007 season and Paul departing to Chicago another door in the local scene had closed. However, with every door that closes, another door opens up. The Brag tag Challenge was also introduced in 2007 as a fun fundraising activity to help raise funds that go into the Course Improvement Fund (CIF). Bernie and John Minicuci spearheaded this activity its initial year but not without some growing pains. The rules and requirements of the Brag Tag Challenge were highly debated but the end result was the CIF grew and was able to financially support its needs by replacing baskets and installing signs where they are needed. Because the league was primarily played at Firefighters Park and the course outside of league activity is always busy in the spring, summer, and fall months the baskets really took a beating. The CIF was in position to help and methodically targeting one basket at a time and working with the park personnel, John Minicuci and Rob Stivers developed a plan. Rob reworked one basket at a time and spanning about six months the park had 18 functional baskets once again and a practice basket was installed.

 

Dan James, Damon Evans, and John Minicuci discussed the local area’s future and decided that the MCCG club was strong enough to maintain its focus on amateur league play and take on the full tournament schedule so in 2008 a new era began. This time the MCCG was responsible for organizing both the league play and tournament schedule. The 2008 season began and like many previous seasons before, many new players began to volunteer their time and expertise to make the local scene complete. Nick Rem (#26158) and Brad Pyne (#35409) began working on a new website with newer functionality. Eventually, Bob Branch (#36307) took over for Brad and assisted on the website as new functionality continued to be implemented. Ron Put (#17398) assumed the statistician responsibilities of the league and with over 150 players signed up, this was no small task. By mid season Ron also volunteered to take on making the flyers for the upcoming tournaments. John, having many duties picked up by others, was able to focus on sponsorships, treasury responsibilities, park and disc manufacturer relationships, and all of the local disc golf equipment needs.

 

The 2009 season was a banner year for the club in both tournament and league play. The club membership hit an all time high (133) while it also set records for most players in one week (149) and highest average turnout for a 24 week-season (119). Additionally, many of the clubs’ smaller unsanctioned events set records in attendance. The 2009 season was also a good year for the club through sponsors who assisted by providing its members with great prizes. Technology has also played a big part of its growth and the MCCG website is alive and keeping a very good historical look back while focused on where it will be as its 30 year anniversary approaches. The local disc golf scene in the Metro Detroit area now boasts 12 courses with a couple more on the near horizon. Stay tuned for the 2010 season and beyond as the MCCG continues to stay focused on its original goal at promoting amateur disc golf league play while growing its tournament presence through innovative ideas, quality events, solid membership, and newly found sponsors…


 

References

Can-Am Disc Golf Organization. (2009). Can-AM. Retrieved January 24, 2010 from http://www.canamdiscgolf.org/images/CanAmSeries_Overall.pdf

Discraft Great Lakes Open History. (2003). DGLO History. Retrieved January 26, 2010 from http://www.a3disc.org/2003/ntdglo03/dglo03history.htm

Damon Evans (personal communication, January 20, 2010)

Dan James (personal communication, January 20, 2010)

Huron-Clinton Metroparks Authority. (2002). Stony Creek. Retrieved January 24, 2010 from http://www.metroparks.com/parks/pk_stony_creek.php#

Mike (BOBIS) Paonessa (personal e-mail, June 28, 2004)

Motor City Chain Gang. (2009). Metro Detroit Local Course History. Retrieved January 24, 2010 from http://motorcitychaingang.com/tournaments.html

Professional Disc Golf Association. (2008). Disc golf and pdga demographics. Retrieved April 19, 2009, from http://www.pdga.com/files/documents/DiscGolfDemographics.pdf and http://www.pdga.com/files/documents/Board-of-Directors-Historical.pdf

Rick Rothstein (personal communication, January 31, 2010)

Robert Huston (personal communication, January 20, 2010)

Brian Marzolf (personal communication, September 27, 2012)

 


Below is a listing of our Metro Park Disc Golf courses and their history:

Starr-Jaycee Park (Royal Oak)

established: 1981

Designed by Ed Headrick (#1) and John David (#790)

Redesigned 2003 by Paul Kenny (#13616), Andy Drinkard (#18511), Hugh Cleal (#18738), and Nathan Facine (#16544)

Many others helped including Matt Esbri, Larry Robinette, and John Minicuci

Cement tee pads installed by the Thursday Doubles League, April 2012

 

Raintree Park (Troy):

established: 1981

Designed by Ed Headrick (#1) and John David (#790)

Redesigned by John Minicuci, Holes 6 – 9, April 2008 due to bike path installation

 

Civic Center Park (Auburn Hills):

established: 1985

Project Manager (Auburn Hills) Steve Lehoczky

Designed by Ed Headrick (#1) and John David (#790)

 

Wagner Park (Royal Oak):

established: 1987

Designed by Jim Kenner (#292)

Redesigned 2003 by Paul Kenny (#13616), Andy Drinkard (#18511), Hugh Cleal (#18738), and Nathan Facine (#16544)

Many others helped including Matt Esbri, Larry Robinette, and John Minicuci

Pictures of redesign and cement tee pad installation are here: Wagner Revival

 

Firefighters Park (Troy):

established: 1988

Designed by Bob Huston (#2354)

Holes 3, 11, 12, and 14, redesigned by Damon Evans in 2001

Holes 4 and 18 redesigned in 2009 by John Minicuci

Holes 6, 10, 11, and 16 redesigned in 2012 by John Minicuci

 

Stony Creek Metropark (Shelby Township):

established: 198?

Designed by Ed Headrick (#1) and John David (#790) (original 9 holes)

Redesigned: 1998 by Jim Kenner (#292) (18 holes)

Redesigned: 2000 by Gale Vaughn (#5515) & Damon Evans (#5192) added holes 10 – 15

Redesigned in 2012 by Bill Reemer (Stony Creek) and John Minicuci (#22116) evolution into a 27 hole course

 

River Bends Park  (Shelby Township):

established: 1988

Designed by Duane Utech (#3162)

Many variations of course since then by Bobis (#5750), Gale Vaughn (#5515), Damon Evans (#5192), and John Minicuci

(#22116)

Redesign in 2012 by Damon Evans (#5192) and John Minicuci (#22116) evolution into a 27 hole course

 

Addison Oaks (Leonard):

established: 1991

Designed by Duane Utech (#3162) (18 holes)

Redesigned in 2002 by Jim Kenner (#292), Damon Evans (#5192) and John Minicuci (#22116) (24 holes)

 

Seymour Lake Park (Oxford):

established: 2001

Designed by Jim Kenner (#292)

 

Jayne / Lasky Recreation Center (Detroit):

established: 2003

Designed by John Minicuci (#22116)

sorry fella's - they asked me to do it 

 

Grizzly Oaks - Oakland University (Auburn Hills):

established: 2009

Designed by Duane Utech (#3162)

 

Brys Park (St. Clair Shores):

established: 2009

Designed by Rich Guilbault, Nancy Fler, Damon Evans, and John Minicuci

 

Beverly Village Park (Village of Beverly Hills):

established 2012

Designed by John Minicuci