At sundown, about 10 years ago, I was out in a wooded area being "walked" by my dog and in the twilight saw a group of men in a clearing gathered around a strange looking basket-like thing attached to a metal pole.
The shaft was about 4 feet high and stuck in the ground like a light standard.
"What the heck is this?" I thought, holding tight to the leash on my softly growling black Lab.
There were four 20-something, alternative-type guys, yucking it up, apparently having the time of their lives as they hovered around the chain-link basket.
It looked to me like they might possibly be involved in some kind of strange ritual I wanted no part of, so without attracting attention, I took my dog and left.
Later it was explained to me by my mostly significant other that they were probably disc golfers and that I had spotted them near the seventh hole of the local disc golf course in Auburn. I had heard of disc golf, but to that point had never actually seen anyone play it.
So when local disc golf enthusiast Nate Hill calls disc golf the "most popular game you've never heard of," I think I understand completely.
For the uninitiated, Wikipedia calls disc golf "a flying disc game in which individual players throw a flying disc at a target."
Think golf, but throwing a Frisbee-styled disc instead of a hitting a golf ball with a club.
It has been reported that as of 2010, there were more than 3,000 established disc courses and of those, nearly 90 percent are free.
Hill says that Northern California has become a sort of Mecca for disc golfers, with at least 20 courses accessible within a three-hour drive.
Arguably, the best known and most used local course is at Condon Park, which Hill's father was instrumental in helping create.
"The reason we moved here was that my dad got a job with Parks and Recreation for Grass Valley," Hill said. "Condon Park had lots of unused space, so Michael Travers, who has been a big disc golfer since the '70s, wanted to put in a course there.
"He went to my dad for help with all the red tape, legal issues, city council and all that stuff."
The park was installed approximately 20 years ago. The then 14-year-old Hill was among the first to utilize the course.
"Grass Valley really liked it, Condon Park really took off," Hill said. "Condon was considered something like the number two course in California when it was first put in."
Condon Park remains a great place to play disc golf in a picturesque setting, but according to Hill, part of the beauty of disc golf is that a course can be installed in nearly any locale.
"You don't need a nice park, you can have a course in a vacant lot," Hill said. "There's a course out in Paradise, where they put baskets up crisscrossing their regular ball golf course. Anywhere and everywhere, there can be a disc golf course."
A big part of the beauty of disc golf is that you don't need to rob a bank to start enjoying it, and though the game can be extremely challenging, depending on the length of the course and the number of trees and other obstacles in the way, it's still a "beginner-friendly sport" that is easy to take pleasure in from the start.
"I became really interested in the sport, because it's not that hard to throw a disc," Hill said. "You can go out and get distance and hit putts. You can have a bad game, but one (good) shot keeps you coming back. I'm also a big nature guy and it's a good way to get out in nature and have fun."
Standard equipment for disc golf includes a bag for carrying the variety of discs a player will use, depending on the kind of shot to be executed.
According to Hill, some discs are for veering left, some right, some are for long, medium or short distances. Courses can vary in the number of holes, the length and the score needed to make par.
"Disc golf is as diverse as ball golf," Hill said.
Hill says he played disc golf for fun until about five years ago, when he started competing in tournaments. Currently, he is trying to achieve advanced status and takes delight in knowing that the local area is home to several pro players.
"For the most part, disc golfers are really good people," Hill said. "There are a lot of pros up here who have no problem playing with someone at my level or even kids. They want to help young people out and get them better. It's not a sport where you see lots of ego."
Hill encourages beginners to contact the local disc golf association, the Sky Catz Disc Golf Club, on the web at www.skycatz.com.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer who lives in Cedar Ridge. He can be reached at email@example.com.