A Real Czech Czallenge

by Luke Anderson

as published in the Fall 2003 issue of Disc Golf World News Magazine

How’s this for a disc golf adventure? A recent article in DGWN asked for unusual stories of the sport to be shared, no matter how large or small, recent or distant. I suppose we all have tales to tell, ranging from an unforgettable birdie to, say, a disastrous journey to a course about 5,000 miles from home. Consider mine toward the latter.

It all started with my undeniable urge to peruse the PDGA course directory, as I always do when I’m traveling to a new place. I’ve been in the game for about seven years now, and only very casually until the last year or two, but I am happy to say that in that time, I have played at dozens of courses across six states. This time, however, I wasn’t just on another weekend road trip—I was going to Prague.

A childhood friend of mine had recently decided, on a whim, to move to the eastern European capital from our home state of Colorado. He had settled in and found a job teaching English to rich Czechs. I sprung on the chance to visit. Impatiently, I decided that sooner was better, and, as it turned out, cheaper. This meant mid-February, the coldest and dreariest time of the year.

Excited, but admittedly doubtful, I went to the directory to find if any courses could be found in the Czech Republic. It listed two! One was in Prague, the other somewhere else. Unfortunately, Prague’s was described as an object course with 23 holes. It had no signs, and certainly no way of indicating whether this tree or that rock was the next target. So, my attention shifted to the other course.

The other course was in Pardubice (pronounced par-due-BEET-say), a medium-sized industrial city in the country’s eastern plains. It was described like this: “In public park on the left bank of the river Elbe. Lots of trees make it challenging.” Eighteen holes, on a scenic river in Eastern Europe…I was sold! What’s more, I even found a hand-drawn map of the course on a Czech website. I decided it would be my mission to find and play this course in Pardubice.

The mid-February day arrived. I packed five discs into my suitcase, and headed for Prague.

The city was absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been to both London and Paris, and I liked Prague the best. I spent two days canvassing all its sights and attractions on foot, while my friend, Erik, was busy at work. Then came the weekend for discgolfu, as they sometimes say in Czech. We were ready for the journey.

This is where my good fortune ended. I should have known that it all sounded too easy, too good of a story to bring home. “I discgolfed in Eastern Europe! ” was all I wanted to be able to say to my friends on my return.

The weekend began with our Saturday trip to a WWII concentration camp fifty miles north of Prague. But because of poor planning and poor Czech skills, we misread a bus schedule and found ourselves stranded for the night in a tiny village near the camp. We slept in the town’s only hotel, for about $10, and put up with a horrible smell and no sheets. We survived the cold night, and killed time in the morning. The next bus to Prague didn’t arrive until one in the afternoon, so our planned Sunday voyage to Pardubice was out the window.

Determined, I decided to forge ahead, alone, the next morning. It was Monday, and before Erik awoke for work, I was already at the station, waiting to catch a 7:05 train to Pardubice. He had loaned me a cell phone for the trip, but beyond that, I had only a Czech phrasebook and a printout of the course’s local directions to help me find my way. I was about to take a two-hour high-speed train, alone, into the middle of Czech nowhere.

I watched the sun rise over frosty rooftops and dead forests, as towns and then signs of life decreased steadily. At the end of the ride, I was going to be closer to Poland than to Prague. After about an hour, the train stopped and everyone got off. Luckily, I made a guess and followed them across the tracks to a second train, the one to Pardubice. Clearly, it would have helped to speak the language. An hour later, the train pulled into the station.

Pardubice, a nice enough town, is the kind of place that no one from outside the country ever visits. It would be like taking a day from a lovely vacation in Chicago to visit an industrial town a hundred miles away. But there I was. In the train station, I bought a sandwich, two one-way bus tickets, and a map of the city. I stepped out into the crisp morning air, and quickly found the number 16 bus. Five minutes later, I stepped off at the Stavarov stop, and hurried down into the park. The moment had come!

Wait. Is this the right side of the street? Of the river? Maybe the first tee is over here. No. Is this a basket? Nope, just a strange trash can. This went on for a full hour, and I paced off a few miles of land, searching and searching. In the end, I did not find a single sign of disc golf life anywhere.

No tees, no holes, no signs or fliers on the park’s bulletin board. I stopped a group of young guys who looked like they might have heard of the sport. We stared at my course map together as I repeatedly followed the Czech words for “Where is…” with a series of grunts, intended somehow to convey to them my very odd situation. After all, I was an American, alone, looking for a mysterious game of some kind on a cold, weekday morning in February. I didn’t blame them for their funny looks.

All the anticipation, all the planning and misplanning had led me to this moment. All I could do was laugh. There was no course here. Only a huge park, a thin layer of snow, and a dozen senior citizens walking dogs. I was just smiling and staring down an imaginary fairway, when my cell phone rang. It was Erik. I told him, and we laughed.

My discs, waiting patiently in my backpack all morning, needed to get a little taste of the Pardubice air. So, for posterity, to say I did, I took out my XS and threw one drive. Of course, my plant foot slipped in the snow, and the disc veered off into a thin row of trees near the riverbank. Ten minutes later, I found it under some fallen branches.

Having had so little success on that one, I decided to mark my visit in another way. The old men and their dogs must surely have found it an odd sight when I got down in the snow, balanced my camera on a stick, and took a few pictures of myself with my discs on the bank of the river Elbe.

I learned a few things that day. For one, when you ride a bus in Pardubice, make sure to punch a hole in your ticket. On my return five-minute bus ride to the train station, I was just about to disembark when I was cornered, shouted at, and fined by Czech police for riding without a valid ticket.

Yes, the passes that I had bought a few hours earlier for about twenty-five cents each, now cost me about twenty dollars. Lucky for me, I had the cash on hand. If you’re caught by the Czechs without a punched ticket, and you can’t produce the cash fine at that moment, you’re off to jail. Keep it in mind, next time you’re on a wild goose chase in a foreign land.

My watch read twelve o’clock, noon, and I settled nervously into my seat, hoping the train would take me back to Prague as fast as it could. I fit quite a lot into a Monday morning. A near arrest, an aimless hike, and, perhaps most agonizing of all, a frantic hunt through the forest for my favorite driver. But, as I’m sure you’ll concur, it was all in the name of disc golf, and thus, a day well spent.

Looking back, perhaps I should have flinched at the website’s course description, which listed the eighteen holes as “wooden. ” It turns out that a course does indeed exist at the park in Pardubice. The targets are thick logs, about four feet high, and, unless I was blind, apparently removable. A major tournament was played there just two months after my expedition. Next time, I think I’ll call ahead.

Next month I’m going to French Canada, and I’ve already located a course. Anything I should know?

Accompanying photos to be added soon.