I've been playing disc golf since the mid '70s when me and my friends, the other neighborhood kids, would go through the cul-de-sac streets of suburbia throwing our discs at mailboxes and street signs. We didn't call it disc golf, we called it frisbee golf. We thought we invented it.
Turns out we didn't invent it but we did come up with the idea on our own at the same time thousands of other kids across the country were doing the same thing.
Now, in my late forties I've become somewhat of a disc golf junkie and the sport has taken off all across the country in a huge way.
Kids from my generation grew up having frisbees around the house the same way the next generation had hacky sacks and the one after that (today's kids) have skateboards. You couldn't go to a picnic or a party or a beach or even a rock concert without seeing frisbees flying around everywhere. Such a simple enjoyment just playing catch with friends.
As we got better at throwing we naturally started testing our accuracy by deliberately standing behind trees or around the corner of the house to test our skills. I guess it was a normal progression then that we got the idea to throw at something instead of to someone. Once we had played out the back yard, targeting the same couple trees over and over, we decided to take the game on the road, so to speak, and we set up our first course.
It was through a nearby subdivision with lots of cul-de-sacs and dead ends and not much traffic. I even remember the first "hole" was the Johnson's mailbox. We took turns throwing until we hit the mailbox and kept score.
Today's disc golf courses are mainly set up in parks, you throw into a basket instead of at a post and the discs are different, but it's essentially the same game.
The discs used today are much more compact and smaller in diameter; they are meant for throwing. You would not want to play catch with them. They would tear your hands up. They come in different weights and designs. There are distance drivers and mid-ranges and putters; some designed to break left or right, some designed to fly straight, some meant to soar with the wind and some are supposed to drop.
In my golf bag I currently have about 30 discs all of which get used depending on the shot and the wind conditions. I have about 10 that I use a lot.
The discs are primarily manufactured by two companies Innova (the big one) and Michigan's own Discraft (the better one). Whammo, the company that patented the Frisbee, is not involved in the sport and that in itself is a story of corporate shortsightedness worth mentioning.
By the mid '80s I was in college and the sport was taking off slowly but steadily; courses were popping up across the country, usually near college towns. The first official course I ever played was in Grand Ledge Michigan outside of East Lansing; a short drive for MSU students. By that time a nascent disc golf association had sprung up and it's founders approached the Whammo company about getting involved in the sport. The hope was that Whammo would see the potential and not only start manufacturing frisbees specifically designed for golf but also to develop sponsorship deals, maybe build some more courses and host tournaments.
The geniuses at Whammo decided that there was no future in disc golf and pretty much threw the association people out of their office.
That is why to this day long time players such as myself will never call the sport frisbee golf, we will in fact correct newer players who call it that and tell them the Whammo story.
Good disc golf courses typically have 24 holes, usually 18 regular holes with 6 extra holes somewhere in the middle of the course that you can choose to skip if you wish. It is common for the extra holes to have some kind of added challenge or difficulty. They may be longer for example, or heavily wooded, or swampy.
Once you've outfitted yourself with a good bag and some quality discs, it's a cheap sport to participate in. Most of the well maintained parks charge a nominal fee ($2-$4) and many city parks are free to play. Even if you're not very good it's still a nice way to get outside with friends and enjoy the day walking in the woods.
Disc golfers are different from ball golfers too. I have played and sometimes still do play ball golf. I worked as a teenager on the greens crew at a fancy country club. I know golfers. Ball golfers can be very class conscious and, well, dickish.
Disc golfers are, by and large, very cool and laid back. It's not uncommon to meet another group out on the course somewhere and get a joint passed to you.
You will spend a fair amount of time searching for discs that have gone off course into the trees and underbrush. Even the best players will. It usually becomes a group effort and players from other groups often join in the search.
I write my name and cell phone number on the bottom of my discs and numerous times have had lost discs returned to me by total strangers. I have returned lost discs as well. It's referred to as disc karma.
I have a group of about 10 friends who are hardcore players, we'll play year round (the trick when playing in the snow is to only throw your brightest colored discs), and about another dozen people who can be persuaded to get out and play when the weather is nice.
This spring I plan to join a Sunday league at a nearby metropark. League play can be competitive and dickish too but most leagues are not like that. Typical league players are laid back, middle-aged, middle class pot smokers who usually carry two bags; one for the discs and one for the beer. These are people who don't stress too much about their scores. The point is to be outdoors doing something invigorating.
I have found this niche activity fits perfectly to my lifestyle. I'm betting some of you would dig it too.
The days are shorter and the weather is colder. I just want to get out there and throw.