When Larry LaBond wants something, he makes it happen.
In 1991, LaBond arrived in Kalamazoo as a Western Michigan University student hankering to play disc golf, but he found folks here were playing disc golf only on ad hoc “courses” such as Mountain Home Cemetery.
So LaBond built his own course, at Cold Brook County Park in Climax Township, and started a disc golf organization called the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek Basket K’Aces, which now offers league play at three courses.
More evidence of his hard work on behalf of local disc golf can be seen this month when 700-plus amateur disc golfers from across the globe descend on Kalamazoo for the Professional Disc Golf Association’s Amateur Disc Golf World Championships July 18-25. LaBond is the director of this massive tournament, which will involve nine courses, from Vicksburg to Wayland. It’s the second time he’s directing the tournament here.
How did you get where you are today?
I started playing disc golf in 1991. I had a summer job at a park south of Ypsilanti that had a disc golf course. I moved over here to go to Western and found the nearest course was in Grand Rapids, but that was a little far to drive. There were also no courses or leagues here, and if I wanted that kind of thing, I had to start it.
So I worked with Kalamazoo County to build a course at Cold Brook Park. They gave me the go-ahead, but I had to fund-raise to pay for it and actually build the course, which meant clearing out fairways and stuff like that. It took me a few years, but over time it eventually got done. The park ranger out there helped quite a bit, and when we were short on the money needed, the county paid for the rest of it. It opened in 1995.
How would you describe the area’s disc golf environment now?
It has grown a lot. This is the 21st year for our league at Cold Brook Park, and our league membership is 206 for this summer. There are probably a half a dozen other leagues in the area too, including an all-women’s league.
There are also more courses. When I first got here, there was a course on K-College’s campus, which was like “this garbage can to that light pole.” The other one was Mountain Home Cemetery. Once the Cold Brook course was in and people could play on baskets, they much preferred the baskets to the headstones.
What other courses are there?
More get added all the time. Cold Brook was first; the course in Oshtemo (Township) Park was second. There’s a course at Robert Morris Park in Comstock (Township), and Fort Custer (National Recreation Area) has a course. For the World Championships we are also using courses in Three Rivers, Vicksburg and some near Wayland and putting in a temporary course at Timber Ridge Ski Area.
You ran the Disc Golf Worlds in 2008 in Kalamazoo. What made you want to do that again?
I thought we had good opportunities here — Bell’s Brewery was a major sponsor in 2008 and was interested in sponsoring again. It seemed like something we could pull off again and highlight the area. Since 2008, we have more courses as a result of having that tournament, and our courses became so much nicer. The summer after the 2008 Worlds, there were many new players in our area. So we figured, why not?
Do you have help?
Rusty Gorter and Kevin Dowd are the main helpers. But we have some really dedicated people who have been volunteering time to work on the courses. It’s amazing what some people have done. I am always impressed by volunteer support we get.
What keeps you up at night?
Following up on a lot of things — getting people to make sure they get done what they said they would and constantly trying to get deals finalized.
What do people say when you tell them what you do?
For people who know nothing about the sport, it’s a mix. They think it’s goofy and ridiculous and look down on it. Disc golf does have a negative connotation — that it’s a hippie sport and that all players do is drink and smoke pot. But the sport has really been elevated — it’s been growing by 10 percent a year for the past 10 years.
I’ve always said that disc golf can be played with a group of people, one other person or by yourself. Unlike, say baseball, you don’t need 17 other people to play.
What do you do when you aren’t doing things related to disc golf?
I have some rental properties I maintain, and I install doors and do construction. I also have two daughters and a very understanding wife.
Do you get out to play disc golf yourself?
I don’t get to play as much anymore — I spend a lot of time running Worlds, three leagues a week and other tournaments during the year. I don’t get to break away like I used to.