Last winter the long swath of green grass at San Lorenzo Park was filled with tents and protest signs, taken over by the Occupy Santa Cruz movement.
Thursday, it became a nine-hole disc golf course, as Mayor Don Lane threw out the first ceremonial disc and played four of the 200-foot holes.
Saturday the park will hold a day of celebration of the sport with free lessons, contests and demonstrations from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.
"We like to say this is the fastest growing sport that nobody's heard of," said Dave Thomas, President of the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club.
Thomas said he imagines the sport taking off downtown, with golfers taking lunch breaks off to play some rounds at the course behind the County Administration Building. Before it opened Thursday, several golfers had already found it.
"I could really get into this sport," said Lane, a basketball player and bike rider, who was trying it for the first time. "There are so many people who want to do things outdoors here. This will be a great place for them."
DeLaveaga's disc course, behind the round ball golf course, draws 200-300 players a day and is celebrated among those who play the sport for its spectacular views and forest land. However, Thomas said for years the club felt like second-class citizens to the more well-respected golf course, which the city supplements with hundreds of thousands of dollars. This new course will help put the disc golf on the Santa Cruz map, he says.
"This is a winner," said Parks and Rec Director Dannettee Shoemaker, whose department spent about $1,000 to put up signs and build the tees. The baskets, which serve as holes in the game, were donated by the DeLaveaga Club, whose members volunteered to trim undergrowth, paint baskets and prepare the course.
"Not to be exclusionary but you have to have discs to be here," said Andrew Eisenberg, a Parks and Rec supervisor. In front of him were several people sleeping and sitting in groups on the course.
The park is a controversial focal point on Santa Cruz politics. Homeless advocates think that police harrass people who use it as a living space. Families say they are harrassed by people selling drugs, stealing bicycles, cursing and camping in a park that should be more child-friendly.
Thursday morning was a perfect example of the park's sometimes troubling diversity and beauty (see slide show). There were herons walking around like they owned the place; spectacular trees in bloom, children feeding ducks and playing on the famous serpent.
But there was also a mentally-ill woman yelling the F-word and N-word at the top of her lungs, another man loudly repeatedly belching and people camped out around their belongings in carts and bike trailers with unleashed dogs which are not permited in the park.
The underlying message behind the words of city officials was clear. If more people use the park for sports, it might chase out people who are using it as a living room.
"This is one of our most under-utilized parks," said Shoemaker. "We think this will bring more people here."