Feature Article - July/August 2006
Find a printable version here

Beyond the Campfire

Summer camp sports head mainstream

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Like many others, Cold Brook's course lies in a wooded part of the park that would not have been converted to any active use otherwise.

"If you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past it without seeing it," Rachowicz says. A small "pro shop," which will offer disc rentals and sales, will boost visibility when it's added soon.

Among other benefits of disc golf, Rachowicz says, are the minimal maintenance required and the help the district receives from disc-golf groups. This year, he notes, Kalamazoo's disc golfers raised the money themselves to install new tee markers.

Disc golf's popularity also took the Fort Collins, Colo., parks system by surprise when it installed a course in its Edora Park, to the extent that park officials now wish they'd put the course in a less-crowded area. Fort Collins promptly learned that disc golf and tennis courts don't necessarily mix, with stray discs zooming onto the courts, reports Bob Loeven. (Netting, signage and minor reconfiguration have helped.)

Courses also have sprung up on the mountainsides of area ski resorts, Loeven says, as operators try and draw visitors during summer months. Keasey concurs this is one of the sport's biggest growth areas, along with regular golf courses trying to boost usage.

Unlike traditional golf, disc golf gets played all year long in northern climates. Despite its California origins, the sport has built a dedicated following in the upper Midwest, where disc golfers relish snowy conditions.

The sport draws a wide range of participants as well. Falling under the "if you build it, they will come," maxim, disc-golf courses attract families, newly independent teens, college students and aging athletes otherwise known as adults, along with devoted bands of disc-golf aficionados.

"About 98 percent of the sport is people just out there having a good time," says Keasey, adding that the sport's core demographics are changing.

Once the province of players who "weren't typical jocks," disc golf is becoming more athletic. Nevertheless, like archery, the sport does well at attracting kids who don't always blossom in traditional team-oriented sports.

"We've all seen a natural athlete get on a course and try and muscle through it and then get totally taken to school by someone who might be more of an outsider," he recalls. For these reasons, disc golf has long been a staple at camps that promote success and inclusion and is increasing in schools as well.

What is Disc Golf?

In the beginning, there was the Frisbee. And the Frisbee begat Frisbee golf, as Frisbee aficionados looked for new and improved ways to play with their discs and began throwing them at "holes" like garbage cans, light posts, trees and whatever else struck their fancy. And Frisbee golf begat disc golf, as said Frisbee aficionados discovered that those traditional Frisbees took a real beating when you threw them at the ground repeatedly, and then figured out it worked better to throw at a permanent "hole."

The Father of Disc Golf, "Steady" Ed Headrick, who also helped bring the Frisbee to life, created the first disc-golf course in 1975 in Oak Grove Park in Pasadena, Calif.; it's still in use today. That park featured the first-ever permanent disc "hole," a chain basket mounted to a pole, now standard equipment for disc-golf courses everywhere.

So, are caddies next?

While it may not require a full, 50-pound bag of clubs, disc golf has its drivers, its putters and its mid-range clubs—oops, discs—as well. Really. Thanks to the wonders of modern sports engineering, drivers are designed to perform with an arc or a right- or left-return action, almost like slicing or hooking a ball on purpose, and can fly accurately up to 800 feet. With most courses in varied terrain, an angled action helps get your disc closer to the basket. Mid-range discs, like their club counterparts, are designed to strike a balance between distance and up-close accuracy, while putters, which weigh the least, yield little arc and work best at short distances.