There is no better feeling for some people than looking over a large park-like setting filled with trees, bushes, grass and dirt and seeing your marked target hundreds of feet away; chains dangling enticing your best shot.
Justina Lockhard of Crescent City heaves her drive on the second hole at Beachfront Park. WesCom News Service / Jef Hatch
You step onto the pad, line up and let the disc sail through the air, with high hopes of hearing the clanking of metal links as the disc completes its weightless flight right into the basket.
However, these occasions are rare in the sport of disc golf, as an ace or hole-in-one is what all disc golfers aim for when they step onto the tee area and let a disc fly.
The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) has traced the history of disc golf to the 1920s, when children played “Tin Lid Golf” on a homemade course in the schoolyard. But the most recent attempt at making disc golf a sport, with nationwide tournaments, was in 1973 when a group of disc golfers in Rochester, N.Y., created the City of Rochester Disc Golf Championship. They opened it up to the nation the next year to see how many people would come to compete for a brand new 1974 automobile in the American Flying Disc Open.
The history soared like a disc from there, going further and further with every throw and more courses and tournaments popping up across the U.S.
According to Crescent City’s Ron Cole, Gateway Education coordinator and seven-year disc golfer, the future of disc golf should continue to grow by 6 to 8 percent each year.
“It is so available. There are over 3,500 courses in the United States alone,” Cole said. “Anybody who has ever thrown a Frisbee in their lives — and seven out of 10 people have thrown a Frisbee — can play this sport. It is a lifetime sport, meaning you can play it from 3 years old or play it when you are 90, and it is just as fun.”
Disc golf is played like traditional ball golf, but with discs similar to Frisbees. The object of the game is to get a disc into the target, usually a metal basket, in as few throws as possible. The discs are thrown from a tee area, the goal being to make the target by par, the number of allowed throws for that hole.
“Every hole has a par, typically it’s a par 3, but there are par 4’s and 5’s, and you have to make it in the basket within the number of pars,” Cole said. “And a great benefit of disc golf is, you can do it by yourself and compete against yourself, trying to beat the course by achieving a zero and getting all pars.”
Similar to ball golf with its bag of clubs, there are a variety of discs to use to while throwing on a course. According to Cole, the best discs for a beginner are a putter, a driver and a mid-range disc.
“It is nice to have those three discs in a starter packet,” Cole said. “But if you can’t, just one of those discs in the mid-range would do.”
They will travel the shortest distance because of their stability and accuracy, which is good when you are near the hole. DGM suggests finding one putter that works for the person and stick with the same disc to learn the process of throwing.
A mid-range disc has more weight and stability than a driver and generally travels less than 200 feet. Mid-range discs are better for shorter holes, or when taking an approach shot.
The driver is the farthest flying of the three discs. According to DGM, “While each disc will go as far as the particular player’s skillset will allow, the driver can range from just over 200 feet to somewhat longer than 300. The driver is more susceptible to movement and can turn sharply and be affected by subtle nuances in the wind, the throw, or the conditions. Its accuracy improves only with the ability of the player.”
Enrique Duran, Crescent City resident and Sarah Durham, pharmacy technician, have been disc golfing for more than a year, and they know that people have to start somewhere.
“When we started, we didn’t know that there were different types of discs. I think we played the whole game with a driver,” Durham said. “Very similar to golf in that way because they use different clubs to putt and stuff.”
The couple plays the sport regularly now, appreciating the fact that there is no cost to throw a round of discs.
“I could be sitting at home, eating food, watching TV and getting fatter and fatter. Instead, I go out there and walk about 3 miles,” Duran said.
Durham agrees that the exercise is nice, but she simply enjoys the sport. “I have so much fun doing it and, the more I play, I can see myself improve so it makes me want to do it more,” Durham said.
“We started with one disc and then we got a couple given to us, and then we went, ‘Wow, this is really cool,’ and then we ended up getting a bag and now I have a bigger bag with really cool straps. I want a pink bag really bad, so that is kind of fun, too,” Durham laughs.
As an avid disc golfer and teacher, Cole has been working to bring more attention to the sport in Curry and Del Norte counties. Utilizing the Gateway Education program which he coordinates, Cole teaches disc golf lessons as well as organizes a group of local disc golfers to play every week.
Currently, there are two courses in Crescent City: Beachfront Park disc golf course with 24 advanced level holes and Joe Hamilton Elementary with a nine-hole beginner level course.
Brookings has McVay Rock State Park, with tone-poles but no baskets. The intermediate level nine-hole course uses four-foot wooden poles — that are painted with the target area rather than having hanging chains and a basket to catch the disc — to mark the holes.
Cole is currently looking for a location to install an intermediate level course in the Brookings area that includes baskets.
“It costs less to install an 18-hole disc golf course than it does to install a tennis court. You have got 72 people who can play on one disc golf course for an hour or longer, but you can only have four people play on a tennis court. The money, the numbers, speak for themselves,” Cole said. “The best part is, you don’t really have to change the environment to put in a course. It stays the same; you are just working around what exists already.”
Gateway Education, which also has a set of programs designed to raise self-awareness in individuals through the arts, recreation and summer camps, will continue to support disc golf because it helps people spend time socializing, encourages exercise and contributes to the community.
“When you see people riding their bikes from Colorado with this course specifically in mind that they are going to play; when you have an older couple who live in Klamath Falls, but buy a house (in Crescent City) because they love a disc golf course here; that’s when you know you are making an impact economically,” Cole said. “Is it a big impact? No, but it is one small part of an overall recreation mosaic that contributes to the well-being of the community and to the quality of living here.”
Regardless of his work at Gateway, Cole is one of the people who will always appreciate the feeling a thrower gets when stepping on a tee pad.
“All it takes is one good throw and all my reservations and all my doubts, become ‘Oh my God, this is why I love this sport,’” Cole said. “It is fun. Get outdoors and get some exercise.”