Sports

Mando's Disc Golf Pro Shop helps put a new spin on golf

Mary and Tom Bontempo demonstrate the art of disc putting on their in house target at Mando
Mary and Tom Bontempo demonstrate the art of disc putting on their in house target at Mando's Disc Golf Pro Shop in Auburn.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Auburn Reporter

Walking into Mando's Disc Golf Pro Shop is a little like finding a trap door into a rainbow.

Tucked away on East Main Street in Auburn, the shop's walls are lined with an overwhelming, colorful array of plastic flying discs. Behind the register is a myriad of autographed discs, souvenirs from the many tournaments shop owners Tom and Mary Bontempo have attended over the years.

In the rest of the store, putters, drivers and mid-range discs - of varying colors, hefts and thicknesses - line the walls and the racks.

Like many regular pro golf stores, Mando's also features its version of a putting green, a target mounted on a pole with chains arranged vertically. Golfers eager to try out a new disc can aim it a waist-high basket and let fly.

Unlike a regular pro-golf store, however, you won't find any drivers or putters with three-figure prisce tags. Here the prices are reasonable, with most selling for less than $20.

In fact, a set-up for new players - a driver, putter and mid-range disc – will cost you under $30.

According to the Bontempos, the low cost is just part of the draw of the sport of disc golf.

"Here are the high points of disc golf," Tom said, ticking off each instance on his fingers. "No green fees. No course marshal. No tee times. No limit to the size of your group. No dress code. And you can bring your dog.

"At the golf course there are green fees," he continued. "There are tee times that you have to set up in advance. There is a marshal who will tell you to slow down or whatever to keep the group moving. In disc golf, you just take off and go golf."

Mando's has been open for six years now, starting off down by the railroad tracks on West Main Street in Auburn on Valentine's Day 2004, before moving to 502 E. Main St where it is now.

The Bontempos' involvement in the sport began a couple of years before they moved to Auburn and opened their store.

Tom said his son and his friend turned him onto the sport about eight years ago. A trip to the disc golf course at Lake Fenwick in Kent was all it took for Tom.

"So I went with them and that was it, I was instantly hooked," he said. "As soon as I found disc golf, I put away my golf clubs."

The sport itself is similar to traditional golf, minus the clubs. Disc golfers work their way around the course, trying to put their discs into the targets in as few tosses as possible. Unlike golf courses, however, disc golf courses embrace the natural terrain. Trees, brush and the undulation of the ground all play into a course.

The first course was opened in Pasadena, Calif. in 1976, capitalizing on the popularity of the Frisbee. The sport has grown steadily since.

"Probably one percent of the population knew about it five years ago," Tom said. "Maybe two percent know about it now."

"It's a sport where you're always trying to raise the bar and get better," he continued. "It's the type of sport where you never hit the top, you're always trying to improve. You never run out of a new course to play, a new achievement, or a new trophy you haven't gotten. And getting out there and playing a gentlemen's game is always a lot of fun. You're driving for show and putting for dough. It's fun to just get out there and bond."

Initially, Tom and Mary said they opened their store just to help support the course at Lake Fenwick.

"We didn't think we were going to make money right away," Tom said. "But we got into it to help support Lake Fenwick and try to raise money for the target fund, to put more targets up there. And we ended up liking it so much that we decided that because there wasn't a pro shop anywhere, we should open one up."

"By the end of the first year we had people coming in from all over the world," Mary said. "From Canada and Germany. From Alaska, after we just opened up. They would just come into town and visit."

"We do a very small amount of Internet business, most of it is walk-in-retail business or tournament sales," Tom said.

Tom explained that he and Mary also travel to tournaments and set up a booth to sell their wares. They also get exposure for their store by donating their discs as prizes for amateur tourneys.

Although most of the store’s business comes from seasoned players, Tom and Mary said they are also newbie-friendly.

Getting set up in the sport is a low-cost, low-hassle endeavor, Tom said.

"You need a driver, a mid-range disc and a putter. And you need to learn how to make the disc do what you want to do. Then when you get good, you get the disc that will get that shot you want to accomplish. That's why some of us carry 12 or more discs in our bag. There are so many different angles and ceiling heights and drop offs and hills on the courses. You need to get the disc that will get you that shot."

Although the variations in the discs, the speeds, fades, distances and other flight characteristics are immense, Tom and Mary are there to help.

"When they come in here, before they leave, especially if they're a newbie, I show them how to hold it, how to throw it and how to snap it," Mary said.

Currently, Tom said, there are several courses in the area, including Lake Fenwick, the White River course at Game Farm Park in Auburn, Riverside Park in Sumner and one at SeaTac Park in SeaTac, as well as a few in the works, like a possible course in Bonney Lake.

In addition to keeping busy promoting the sport and their store, the Bontempos said they also spend a lot of time helping to maintain the courses they play.

"The reason it's free is because over the years volunteers have worked to build these courses," he said. "They've worked with the cities and counties, or whoever owns the property, to build this course and maintain it. How can the city or county charge for something when they're not even putting in money or effort to take care of it? That's why it's free, because those of us that have the passion moving us keep maintaining and building new courses."

Tom said he usually doesn’t have to sell the sport to anyone because most people who stop in are already familiar with it. But he thinks the health aspects of the sport as an activity are a selling point.

"You just get out there and start playing, it's good for you and good exercise," he said. "Better than playing golf with a cart."

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