“Pre-round I always try to get some putts in, starting close (within 10’) to build some confidence and then back out a few steps at a time to circle’s edge. If there is a place to go throw a few far or get the arm loose then I will go do that for a few throws…I would love to check out Krokhol. It would be awesome to play some night golf under the Northern Lights! Norway is also just beautiful on its own. State side, I still haven’t made it to Maple Hill and I’ve only heard good things...”
Welcome to another edition of our Disc Golf Player Profile publication – where we feature disc golfers that you may or may not have heard of before. Everybody has their own disc golf story to tell. This is the place where those stories are being told and shared with the world!
Meet Robert “Big Z” Zavala (PDGA #86916)
Tell us about yourself! How old are you? Where do you live? What do you do (work/school/etc.)?
I am turning 50 years old shortly. I own a Food Truck called “SmashwicheZ”.
Tell us about the most important people in your life! Who do you live with (family, friends, etc.)?
I live with my wife of 10 years and together we have three adult children. Bobby, Drew, and Lainey
Do you have a nickname or just something else that you go by?
Disc Golf Journey
How long have you been playing disc golf?
I have been playing disc golf for over 30 years. Competitively for about 12 years.
How did you get started with disc golf?
I got started with disc golf when a friend asked if I wanted to go try it out. This was, of course, 30+ years ago when the local course, “Seven Oaks,” was new and there weren’t many players or disc choices. I started with an Aviar, a Cheetah, and I believe it was called a Cobra. I was instantly hooked. I played for a few years at the end of high school and then quit to go and serve in the United States Navy. Disc Golf was not as widespread then as it is now and there were no courses that I knew of where I was stationed. After I returned home from service, I was suffering from PTSD and anxiety issues. I needed a way to get out of my own head and back into the world. I went back out to the course by myself a few times and found that I could relax and focus on the round. It didn’t take long to see some of the people that were around when I first started playing. I found out that a couple of them were veterans and understood where I was coming from. There was also a homeless man that basically lived at the course and was a veteran as well. It was with their help and disc golf that I found my way back into a bit of normality. I was able to get back into the “scene” and be around more people. Disc golf and the disc golf community have been a life saver for me.
Share some of your memorable disc golf moments…
I have about 17 aces, but the most memorable times I have on the course are playing with my kids and seeing them enjoy the sport. Over the years I have had the pleasure of running clinics for beginners and working with people with different disabilities, including the school for the blind. It’s always amazing to see some of the people I have worked with and taught playing, or to have someone that went to my clinic come up to me, at a different time, and tell me that I helped them in some way. The people and friendships over the years are what I cherish the most about this sport. Sure, a B-Tier win on the course I first started on was something that I will NEVER forget,but even that pales in comparison to the people.
Some Random Personal Stuff
What do you do when you’re not playing disc golf?
Wish I was playing disc golf. Lol. I do enjoy a good board game, video game, or escape room.
What is your absolute favorite food (something you couldn’t live without)?
This is a big debate for me. Tacos or Pizza? You can put anything on either of those!
What’s your favorite fast-food restaurant?
SmashwicheZ! Oh, you meant chain….. Uhhh, Arby’s?!? (They have the meats!)
What are some of your favorite movies of all time?
Airplane, Napoleon Dynamite, Star Wars, Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Lion King, Fierce….
What are some of your favorite TV shows/series?
Survivor, Big Brother, The Big Bang Theory, Mork and Mindy, M.A.S.H. I’ve had a lot of favorites through the years
Do you have any pro or college sports teams you are fanatic about?
Not really. I root for the local teams over others, Titans, University of Tennessee
In the Bag
What is the first disc golf disc that you ever owned?
The first one that I ever bought myself was an Aviar
What are some of your favorite discs that are in your bag right now?
You would probably see me throw my Sheriff the most. The Harrier, Air Ballista Pro, my custom stamped Judges, the Buzzz, The Wasp and an X-out Fuse are my standard “go to’s”. I have been enjoying a mixed bag lately and I’m really impressed with what Lonestar Disc have been coming out with.
What else is always in your bag other than discs?
Definitely a few towels, my range finder, bag tags, chalk bag, water, and bug spray.
Disc Golf Courses
Do you have a course that you consider your ‘home course’? Tell us about it.
Seven Oaks will always be home. You never forget your first! Mostly I play at Cane Ridge though. Two very different levels of course with their own challenges. Baby Cane (Beginner Course) is short and technical and helps you with your upshot game while Big Cane (Advanced Course) is long with a good mix of open and wooded shots that make you pull out every type of shot in your bag. Both courses can be very challenging if you don’t “get off the tee pad” properly and both have holes that make you “shape the shot”. When playing a different course, I often compare the next shot to one of the holes on those courses.
What are a few of your favorite disc golf courses to play?
My most favorite was actually a temp course at Pearl Harbor. Nothing really special about the course itself, just the location, and what it meant to me.
What is a dream disc golf course for you that you hope to play someday?
I would love to check out Krokhol. It would be awesome to play some night golf under the Northern Lights! Norway is also just beautiful on its own. State side, I still haven’t made it to Maple Hill and I’ve only heard good things.
Let’s Play Disc Golf
Do you have any pre-round or post-round rituals that you do when you play disc golf?
Pre-round I always try to get some putts in, starting close (within 10’) to build some confidence and then back out a few steps at a time to circle’s edge. If there is a place to go throw a few far or get the arm loose then I will go do that for a few throws.
Do you drink, smoke, snack, or partake in anything else while playing disc golf? What’s your go-to?
Depends on the situation. I don’t drink a lot but I won’t turn down a shot of Jack or good whiskey with friends. Anything else is illegal in my area. I plead the fifth….
Are you just a casual disc golfer? Do you participate in any local leagues? Do you compete in disc golf tournaments?
I’ve spent the last few years as a board member of one of the largest disc golf clubs in the country, Music City Disc Golf. I’m also the Chapter leader for Vets Disc Golf Club- Middle tennessee Chapter, and the National Events Coordinator for Vets Disc Golf Club. Since leaving the MCDG Board this year I have been able to play more events and run less. Being able to be on both sides of the tournaments at every level from fundraiser to Elite Series has given me great respect for those that run events! I enjoy being a player much more, but running an event or being a part of a large Elite series event has its benefits as well.
Do you have any tips for aspiring disc golfers?
FORGET THE LAST SHOT! There’s only one shot that matters and that’s the one you are taking or about to take! Nothing can be done about the last one, good bad or in between. Don’t be ashamed or scared to take the “hardest shot in Disc Golf,” the pitch out. Sometimes “going for it” from a difficult lie can just cause you more problems and extra strokes when a simple pitch out would have only cost you one stroke. One of my mentors’ motto was “Slow is smooth, Smooth is far.” I will stand by that as well! (R.I.P. Freddy)
Disc Golf Fun Stuff
Do you have any favorite professional disc golfers that you follow?
Say what you want, one of my Favorites is Nikko Locastro. He told me that “Sometimes, you just gotta throw it like you’ll never throw another disc in your life.” I also love Paige Pierce, she’s about half my size and can throw it forever. That means that she’s doing something right. I’ve learned a lot from her clinics and always enjoyed being around her when she’s in town, super nice and personable! There are so many great disc golfers nowadays though. Old school heroes where Ken Klimo, Barry Schultz, and David Feldberg. Up and comers, you should definitely keep an eye out for local favorite Harper Thompson! He’s been a beast since he was little!
Do you have any disc golf goals that you are trying to achieve?
Not Really, I consider myself a Professional Amatuer and my main goal is to continue to play until I absolutely can’t play anymore!
Who do you typically play disc golf with?
Typically I play with friends but I will play with anyone that wants to!
What would a perfect disc golf round look like for you?
Any Bogey free round is perfect for me! I would love to have that perfect -18 though!
Let’s Get Social
Vets Disc Golf Club (VDGC) on Facebook is for veterans only and there are several local chapters across the country, like Vets Disc Golf Club – Middle Tennessee Chapter, that accept non veterans as a part of their chapter. VDGC’s Mission is to raise awareness of veterans mental health issues and the benefits of disc golf in their therapy. As someone that can attest personally, this cause is near and dear to my heart. If you know any veteran or active duty personnel that could use some disc golf therapy, have them reach out to the national club on facebook, their local chapter or me (Robert Zavala on Facebook, Bigz5488 on instagram). We will do our best to get them some disc to throw and on a path to recovery.
If you are local to Nashville (or not), I’d appreciate a like and share or two for SmashwicheZ (facebook/instagram). SmashwicheZ.com for our menu! Come see us for an amazing Deli Sandwich! Smash or Pass!?!