I have a great drive. It starts out left, then hooks back right, avoiding the tree in the middle of the fairway, before finally falling off again to the left, about 30 feet short. I find a tricky lay-up, needing to get around a blueberry bush, and stay low enough as to not get hung up in the pine. But this shot plays out perfectly, and I land within a foot. I finish the easy putt to finish the hole at par.
“CLANG,” comes the sound as the disc settled into the basket. What? I’m not playing golf. I’m playing disc golf. The hole I finished was a Par 3, 317 footer.
My first early exposure to this sport came several years back on the famous “Summer of George” episode of Seinfeld (“He frolfs… he SCORES!!!”). After playing normal golf quite regularly for a few years, I had to cut back a little this year. With graduating, getting my first real job, moving out, and getting married, I have to be a little more frugal with my money. Two or three greens fees per week, even at a cheap course, add up over the course of the summer. Then, my friend told me about this game he played with his girlfriend’s brother-in-law. It was like golf, but with Frisbees. I was intrigued.
I went out and gave it a try, and after the initial frustration of hunting through bushes searching for lost discs subsided, I really started to enjoy it. It offers a lot of the same benefits as real golf, along with several additional ones, to the extent that it has found my clubs collecting dust in the garage all summer.
According to the Professional Disc Golf Association website, the sport was formalized in the 1970s. It has seemed to really pick up, at least where I live, in the past few years. The PDGA now has over 16,000 members, and sponsors events all over the world. And just like in normal golf, any disc golfer can attest that the difference in skill between the pros and the joes is tremendous. Just as I can sit and wonder how Tiger can do what he does, when I have seen professional disc golfers (you can watch videos online) hit the pin on a drive, it is amazing how they can do what they do.
So, what about the added benefits that disc golf holds? Well for one thing, there are seldom ever fees to play. At least in Rochester, NY, where I live, no courses require a fee. Most courses are at county parks, so you can just go whenever you would like. No need to reserve tee times. The only exception to that is during a tournament, but I have never run into any problems where another course in the area was open to the public. The other thing that negates a small part of not having to pay greens fees, is that when you lose a disc, it is between $9 and $20 to replace it. I play with all $9 discs, and they suit me perfectly well. Although you likely will lose discs from time to time, the frequency drops as you improve your quality of play.
Speaking of discs, there are three basic types of discs: drivers, mid-ranges, and putters. Dick’s Sporting Goods has a decent starter set, costing $25, that contains one of each. This is a good place to start. Innova is the most popular brand of disc manufacturer, and their website has overviews of all their discs – complete with illustrations of flight patterns, and hints on how to throw each disc.
Along with the absence of greens fees, disc golf offers the same challenging decision-making as normal golf. Choosing clubs becomes choosing discs. Chip or punch becomes forehand or backhand. It also offers the same social aspect, but it is much more relaxed. At least at the courses I have been to, it is perfectly acceptable to lose your shirt to work on your tan, or to bring your spouse or kids along to play or watch. There is still the etiquette that exists in normal golf, such as letting faster players through, or waiting until you hear the chains in the basket (in normal golf this is waiting until they pass the orange marker) before you throw your drive if there are others ahead of you on the hole. Everyone I have come in contact with, though, has been very friendly and accommodating.
I have had a few negative experiences on the links, with people who seemed to think that everyone on the course should play up to their level, and became upset that someone with my… ”lack of ability” …had the nerve to hit onto their fairway. Disc golfers are a much mellower breed – whether it is stopping to help you look for a lost disc, or letting you throw off their fairway, I would feel confident in saying that 99 out of 100 encounters you have on the disc golf course will be positive.
If you are looking for something a little different that is challenging, fun, and gets you outside, consider disc golf. It is very cheap to get started, and can be enjoyed by anyone of any age or sex. I have seen families with children as little as 4 or 5 out on the course. I have even seen parents pushing strollers along as they play. One suggestion I would make, whether you have thrown a Frisbee before or not, is to play with a spotter while you’re learning the game. Have someone throw their disc, then walk or jog up the fairway about 50 or 75 feet, and track where everyone else’s discs land. This saved us a lot of time while we were learning how to properly throw the discs. I specify to do this even if you have thrown a Frisbee before on purpose. The fact that you can throw a Frisbee is of little benefit to you with a disc golf disc. I thought I would be fine, as I have played Ultimate for several years, but my first ever throw hooked terribly to the right, went about 15 feet forward and I spent 20 minutes looking for it in a swamp. These types of discs are specifically designed, and each one flies differently. It is worth your while to take it easy in the early going, as you learn the intricacies of how the discs fly. It is of little value for an athlete of another sport to go to the range, and just grab the biggest driver he has and start swinging for the 300 yard marker. The same rule applies here.
Hopefully, this has given you a little insight, and some interest in the sport/game of disc golf. I used to (and probably still will during the colder months) spend a lot of time in coffee shops, as it was a convenient, neutral place to meet and talk with someone. Now, I invite people to come disc golfing – they can just walk if they like, but most end up playing after a few holes, and many become regulars. At the end of the day, even if you don’t play, you still spend a couple hours walking around a park, enjoying the outdoors and the sun.
If you would like any more information, visit www.pdga.com or www.innovadiscs.com. Here, you can find the rules of the game, course locations, descriptions of discs, and information on how to get involved in this game, and how to help support the creation of courses in your area.
Good luck, and remember not to throw until you hear chains.
Dan Mason is a new graduate with a Bachelor’s in Accounting. He day-dreams about being in the wilderness, and can’t wait to be married in August. You can read his other work at http://www.helium.com/users/432252/show_articles.
Image by: Pierre Amerlynck
Dan Mason is an accountant by trade only – he would much rather write. He constantly daydreams about being in the woods or on the water, in the middle of nowhere. He resides in the Rochester, NY, area and is thankful the Adirondacks are only a few hours’ drive away. He is happiest when there is a pen (read: keyboard) or a canoe paddle in his hand.