The origins of disc golf date back to the 1960’s when flying recreational discs were first invented, but it’s popularity really took off in 1976 when Ed Headrick established the Disc Golf Association Company. Soon after, a group of enthusiasts formed the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA). Steadily increasing popularity over the years, disc golf is played around the world and there are now more than 3000 courses to choose from. 87% of those courses are free! The PDGA has made disc golf every bit as professional as traditional golf (Palmeri, 2008). Much like traditional club and ball golf, the goal of disc golf is to complete a course of 9 or 18 “holes” in as little amount of “strokes” as possible. Trees, obstacles, and hills make the courses difficult and unique. Instead of a hole, the target is a large chain basket that catches the disc. Also as in traditional golf, serious players will have a set of discs, each being used for different distances and conditions. There are distance drivers, mid-range discs, and putters of different qualities and weights. Unlike traditional golf, disc golf is much more affordable as the discs are generally priced between $10 and $20, plus the courses are usually free or charge a very minimal fee to play.
My disc golf experience began with a trip to Sports Chalet where my fellow first time opponents and I had gathered for the event. Eric, Matt, Lindsey, and I each purchased a necessary disc. Being the poor twentysomethings that we are, we only purchased distance drivers. “Orcs” and “Valkyries” by Innova for $8.99 were the discs of choice. We will have to test out the mid-range and putter discs another time. Next we headed out to the lovely Veterans Memorial Park in Sylmar, California. Originally home to a veteran’s hospital that was destroyed in the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake, Veterans Memorial Park was dedicated in 1979 after ownership of the land was transferred to Los Angeles County. The park’s disc golf course was established in 1980 (L.A. County Parks and Recreation, n.d.). This course is definitely not a product of the recent disc golf craze. A description of this course according to the website Disc Golf Course Review says, “Very challenging, with lots of trees and hills in the lower portion of park. Some rough walking terrain.” (DGCourseReview, 2011) It is probably not a course for beginners, but I wanted the authentic disc golf experience!
On this cloudless, sunny day we pulled up to the mostly empty parking lot of the Veterans Memorial Park Disc Golf Course around noon. Upon arrival I was surprised to see a “pro shop” of sorts. This particular course has a $2 fee for all day play, which I was more than happy to pay. Entering the little pro shop was a perfect beginning to the experience because I was immediately immersed in a world where disc golf discs line all the walls from floor to ceiling. New discs, used discs, discs of every color, it was certainly a site I had never seen before! We each paid our $2 and received our official scorecard and mini pencil, just like in real golf. There was no need for an official tee time though.
We made our way to the first tee where another group of two burly, tattooed men were just starting their game. This was an intimidating introduction to the sport! First of all, both of these guys were no strangers to the game. They were fully equipped each with official disc carrying bags filled with multiple discs. It is important to note here that these holes are not any shorter than traditional golf holes; we are talking about 200-400 yards each. When you stand at the tee, that basket is a tiny metal spec in the distance, but when these burly semi-professionals “teed off” with running starts and powerful throws they sent those discs with incredible speed and precision most of the way down the “fairway”. There was no way that my throws were going to look anything like theirs. I am sure we looked extremely amateurish there, each with our one disc, watching on in awe. But we were amateurs. There always has to be a first time!
In an impromptu precision disc toss to determine the starting order, it was decided that I would tee off last. I watched my competition make their first disc golf throws. They were nothing like the tattooed semi-pros, unimpressive, fading left and right, and going a fourth of the distance. Despite my colleagues’ less-than-stellar first attempts, I stepped to the tee with confidence. I am pretty good at throwing a traditional Frisbee, so how much different could this be? Well, turns out a lot. With a hop-skip and a mighty fling my disc takes a hard right fade, crashing into the dirt and lands a quarter of the way down the fairway. No more impressive than anyone else’s, this would be far from my worst throw of the day. Back and forth and through the trees we traversed the first hole, finally putting our discs into the basket with 4 chainy jangles. On a course designed exclusively with par 3’s, our scores for this hole would be Lindsey with 8, Eric with 6, and Matt and I with 5’s. The amount of times that anyone managed to toss a 4 and get out of the 5-8 range could be counted on one hand. No one ever made par. Thus began our rousing game of disc golf!
Play continued across the hilly course unimpressively, although it was Matt who appeared to get the early jump on the learning curve. His throws seemed to hover straighter and land neatly. One aspect of this game that we found mildly frustrating was that the baskets at many of the holes were hard to find. This lead to much consultation of the course map, running ahead to look for the basket, or simply teeing off and hoping we were sending the discs in the right direction. We searched the
longest for the basket on the 10th hole. It ended up literally being in the middle of a large bush. That was a cool surprise. Unlike a traditional golf course of perfectly manicured greens and precisely trimmed grass, the only set up required for a disc golf course is the placement of baskets and some kind of tee indicator. The native flora is left largely untouched which makes for a beautiful natural setting. This is a very appealing aspect of this sport to me. Although the 10th hole was hard to find, this made me consider the possibilities for creativity in course design. I am looking forward to visiting different courses in the future for their natural scenery and design.
Growing more comfortable with the game, the back nine took on a somewhat different feel. Frustrated with her disc throwing abilities, Lindsey bowed out after the first nine. It was now a three-man tournament. Eric and I began inching higher on the learning curve, evening out the playing field. Also contributing was the fact that Matt was feeling the fatigue on his body earlier that Eric and I. The back nine were also more strenuous and difficult with a lot of up hill holes and close proximity to a fence and road that made precision more essential. Definitely improving with each disc I threw, I received my first and only 2 “birdies” on holes 15 and 18. As a testament to our communal rookie-ness, we each received a score of 50 on the back nine! Winning our match all came down to who caught on the quickest in the beginning, that of course was Matt. After approximately two and a half hours of play, we were only separated by a couple of strokes. Matt won with a 96. I came in second with a 98. Eric barely fell behind with a 99. After such a rousing tournament, Jack-in-the-Box tacos were in order to celebrate Matt’s triumph in our first ever game of disc golf.
Overall I would have to say that my first disc golf experience was fantastic! I kind of already knew that it would be because of how much I loved the idea, but I am glad to know that it lived up to my expectations. It is an excellent recreational activity and a disc golf course would be nothing but an
asset to any community. Because the set-up of a disc golf course is so simple and easy to maintain, I believe it is an idea that has survived government budget cuts as well as largely escaped commodification (Hurd & McLean, 2012). With zero to $2 course fees and minimal required equipment, it is an activity that is available to almost everyone. Also, it can be enjoyed by all ages and skill levels, from amateurs to pros who take it to the serious leisure level. I am sure that all of these reasons are contributors to the recent rediscovery and resurgence of disc golf in many communities. This is a movement that I fully support and am very happy to be a part of. Joseph Lee and the other recreation founders would be proud!
Despite the fact that the Veterans Park course could do a better job distinguishing the basket locations with a simple rehab job, I enjoyed every second of my disc golf experience and definitely plan to do it again soon. I think what made the biggest impact on me was watching the buff semi-pros and realizing how serious and professional disc golf can be. I am also intrigued by the potential for creativity in course design as well as the scenic natural setting the game is played in. I am very much looking forward to testing out different courses as well as trying the mid-range and putter discs. Fueled purely by intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of the game, I definitely have physical, social, and psychological motivators pushing me to journey farther into the world of disc golf (Hurd & McLean, 2012). Unfortunately, the nearest disc golf courses to my Santa Monica home are a 40-minute drive away; otherwise I could see this being a frequent weekend activity. We should encourage the Los Angeles parks and recreation department to set up some disc golf courses, although the lack of natural land could be a problem. In any event I will definitely be checking out one of the many disc golf courses that have appeared near my parents’ house next time I visit. I am very thankful for this assignment for finally giving me the motivation to be proactive about seeking out the magic of disc golf.
Hurd, A. R., & McLean, D. D. (2012). Kraus’ recreation and leisure in modern society (9th ed.).
Sadbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.
Palmeri, J. (2008). The Origins of Disc Golf. Retrieved October 3, 2011 from http://www.pdga.com/history.
L.A. County Parks and Recreation: Veterans Memorial Community Regional Park (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2011 from http://parks.lacounty.gov/Parkinfo.asp?URL=cms1_033269.asp&Title=Veterans%20Me