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Loving Disc Golf Even If You Don’t Play

By: John S. Davis, NCCP

It’s likely that you have heard of disc golf or, as many call it, Frisbee golf. (I’ll get to why the latter is illegal shortly.) The sport is a simple derivation from traditional golf, where the player uses a club to hit a ball until it rolls into a hole. Instead, disc golf players throw flying discs into special targets. In both games, the object is to complete the hole in the fewest number of strokes (or throws). Having played competitively since 1979, I can attest that disc golf is immensely engaging and, I will argue, has many clear advantages over what we call ball golf.

History of the Discs Used in Disc Golf

First, you should not call it Frisbee golf. “Frisbee” is a registered trademark of the Wham-O Corporation, and Wham-O no longer makes discs for the sport. No one today plays disc golf with Frisbees, although discs made at one time by Wham-O for disc golf are highly prized as collectibles. For a time, Wham-O’s Midnight Flyers, all curved-edge discs similar to the original Frisbee, were the standard for competitive play.

That changed in 1983 when Dave Dunipace created the Eagle, a smaller diameter, beveled edge disc with more weight at the outer rim. Dave realized that such a design would fly farther and was easier to control, characteristics that are essential to advanced play. All modern golf discs have evolved from this design.

Establishing the Sport of Disc Golf

While the Dunipace innovation was a significant achievement for the sport, we must give credit to Ed Headrick for his seminal work to establish the sport, especially for his invention of the disc golf target, a basket-and-chains contraption that has become the standard for use in every serious disc golf course in the world, of which there are over 13,000.

“Steady Ed” also founded the Professional Disc Golf Association (the disc equivalent of the PGA), which is why his PDGA number is 001. (There are currently well over 200,000 PDGA members. To brag a little, my number is 1924.)

Disc Golf is Good for All

 There are many positive aspects to disc golf for everyone, not just competitive players. It is easy to get started; beginner disc sets sell for about $25, and 90% of the courses are publicly owned and free to play. Most people have played catch and understand how to throw a disc. Throwing a golf disc requires some adjustment to one’s technique, but the internet is rife with instructional videos from top players, and you may be surprised how well you adapt just by trying it.

My favorite aspect of disc golf – and the one that most distinguishes it from ball golf – is that the courses emphasize retaining trees whenever possible.  Because a disc can be thrown to follow a curved flight path, the best course designers often use existing natural forests to create narrow fairways with trees as obstacles. The result can be a full 18-hole course that, from above, looks like an untouched landscape. Even if you aren’t playing disc golf, walking the course is a stroll in a beautiful woodland.

Disc golf is a great activity for any age and skill level, easy to learn, inexpensive to get started in, and almost always free to play. An internet search for “disc golf near me” will show courses in your area, and you may be surprised at how many there are.

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