Remember all that fun you had throwing the Frisbee® around campus or at a picnic? Well, the Frisbee is still a staple of casual recreation, but throwing a disc has become a whole lot more sophisticated thanks to the explosive growth of disc golf.
The Disc Golf Association estimates that between 8 and 12 million people have participated in the sport, with 500,000 regular players. And these aren’t all just weekend enthusiasts. A man by the name of Nikko LoCastro made just under $43,000 in 2009 on the Professional Disc Golf Association Tour. That tour features almost 1,000 events with total prize money of more than $2,000,000. Now do we have your attention?
Besides being a lot of fun, disc golf is a whole lot less expensive than “real” golf. There are no clubs to buy, no need to rent a cart (not even a pull cart) and there usually aren’t greens fees. (Though some municipalities, recognizing the growing popularity of the game, have created “pay-to-play” courses with highly sophisticated layouts). The game is very easy to learn, takes less time than regular golf and still lets you exercise in the great outdoors.
Disc Golf – A Little History
The increasing popularity of disc golf isn’t surprising. Throwing a disc and watching it sail into the horizon seems to satisfy some sort of basic human desire of flight. Cavemen probably would have done it had someone invented plastic.
Human nature being what it is, most any popular activity will soon prompt competition. There is no definitive history of disc golf, but there are stories of “Tin Lid Golf” in Canada in the 1920’s that pre-date the Frisbee. In the mid 1960s a recreational counselor in California (isn’t that where everything starts?) set out a crude golf course for Frisbees with hula hoops as “holes.” Not long after Ed Headrick, who worked for Wham-O, the manufacturer of the Frisbee, invented the disc pole hole, still used today in competitive play. Headrick is known as the father of disc golf, and helped establish the Disc Golf Association and the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Just Like Golf – Mostly
Disc golf is just like regular golf — players see who can take the fewest throws to get their disc in the hole, which is a set of chains hanging from a holder that surrounds the center pole. At the bottom is a circular basket that serves to catch the disc. Disc courses don’t have hazards, at least not like sand traps, but there are out-of-bounds areas, as well as mandatories, or “mandies.” For example, a hole might have a “tree right mandatory” requiring the disc to pass on the right of the tree, or a one-throw penalty is assessed.
Disc courses take a lot less property than a normal golf course. A championship course requires about an acre per hole, with typical fairways 20-40 feet wide. Different tee placements can accommodate various skill levels. A recreational course can afford 2-3 holes per acre, depending on terrain.
Faster, Straighter, Longer
Nowhere is the sophistication of modern disc golf more apparent than in the disc itself. Where the original recreational disc had to be slow enough to be caught, modern competitive discs are designed for speed and distance. Innova Disc Golf got its start in the 1980s when it patented a beveled edge design. “The old fashioned disc was designed to float through the air and be caught,” says Innova East Coast Sales Manager Ryan Baker. “Our designs are more aerodynamic so the disc penetrates the air and goes farther and faster.” A top professional disc golfer can throw a disc well over 400 feet (at a speed of 60 mph).
Just as a golfer needs different clubs for different shots, a disc golfer uses different discs depending on distance from the hole. Driving discs have the sharpest edge and will go farthest, but they are most difficult to control. Mid-range discs have a slightly sharp edge for better control, while putter discs are straight and slow. The number of discs available is mind-boggling to the neophyte, and Baker recommends a starter set of a putter, mid-range and fairway driver, with a typical retail price under $30.
Baker says one of the biggest reasons for the growing popularity of disc golf is that the learning curve is very short. Because you are holding the disc itself (unlike golf where there is a club in between you and the ball), you have a greater ability to correct your mistakes. Plus, putting is much easier than regular golf. So, who doesn’t like a sport where after a couple of hours you can say ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this!’
Question: Have you ever tried Disc Golf? Would you recommend it to others?
-The Friz Whiz
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