I first tried my hand at disc golf a dozen years ago. Like any activity that allows me to spend time outside, I loved it immediately. And like any activity that requires even moderate hand-eye coordination, I sucked at it. This was particularly true when I attempted to emulate the side arm throwing style I witnessed from more accomplished players. It was not uncommon for an errant disc to leave my hand at a seemingly impossible angle and head directly for the nearest unsuspecting passerby. Like a dinner plate shaped jogger-seeking missile, my drive could bend like a David Beckham free kick and make contact with even the swiftest trail runner.
Other pursuits redirected my attention and I stopped playing, perhaps to the improved safety of other players. I had all but forgotten about disc golf until a recent chance meeting with Zeb Campbell, events and promotions coordinator for Innova Disc Golf.
Fact #1: Disc Golf is way bigger than I thought…and growing fast
The game of disc golf is really big. According to Campbell there were over 1,800 PDGA (like the PGA but for disc golf) tournaments last year and there are hundreds of professional players. The PDGS website estimates active players of all levels worldwide at over 1 million. The same website states that the number of courses has doubled from just under 2,000 to over 4,000 since 2005.
Fact #2: Charlotte is an epicenter of disc golf.
There are about 40 disc golf courses in the Charlotte area, 20 in regular use. The U.S. Disc Golf Championships are played at Winthrop University, just outside of Charlotte, each year. The Charlotte amateur championships draw 250 players. North Carolina ranks fourth in number of registered PDGA players and courses according to PDGA.com. And it’s still growing. A new course opened on May 31st at Frank Liske Park in Concord.
The Charlotte community of disc golf players is extremely robust and active. The Charlotte Disc Golf Club lists events, from tournaments and leagues to early morning pick-up games, almost every day. The club also takes a great deal of responsibility for building and maintaining courses in the Charlotte area.
It makes sense that the largest producer of golf discs in the world has one of two U.S headquarters just 45 minutes away in Rock Hill South Carolina. INNOVA is helping a new generation of disc golfers learn to enjoy activity outdoors. They’ve designed and donated a course to almost every school in their home town.
After learning about the past and present of the game, I was excited to give it another go. If you want to give disc golf a try here are some basics.
First, the equipment
Just like “ball golf” there are different pieces of equipment to manage different types of shots. Also like clubs in ball golf, each disc has a great number of variations. When you consider weight, plastic type, shot type (driver, mid-range, approach, putter) it can get complicated fast. The INNOVA website suggests starting simple with one disc. Once you’re familiar with throwing that one you can move on to other weights and styles.
One important consideration is weight. Smaller players (kids, etc.) will typically want to use lighter discs, 135 grams or so. Adults may want to choose a disc in the 150 to 165 gram range. Heavier discs handle better in the wind but lighter discs tend to be easier to control. I’ll be sticking to lighter discs for a while.
Second, the throw
“Unlike a Frisbee, a golf disc is not very forgiving” Campbell says. “You want to keep the nose low. Keep the disc nice and level. Keeping the disc low to the ground will help you control where it goes.” Check, keep jogger-missile low to the ground and level.
Third, the course
There are a wide variety of courses in Charlotte. The The Charlotte Disc Golf Club is a great resource. Zeb suggests two in the area. For beginners, Reedy Creek is Campbell’s choice. Having opened in 1991, Zeb says it’s the oldest course in Charlotte. “It was designed in a time when discs didn’t necessarily fly as far as they do now so holes aren’t as long,” he explains.
Campbell suggests Hornets’ Nest Park as the one “must play” course in Charlotte. It’s a championship level course with a good mix of play in the trees and open spaces.
Of course, every good day outside deserves a good spot to grab a bite and talk about the discs you’ve launched into trees (or at runners). After a round at Hornets’ Nest, Zeb suggests a local favorite, Bubba's BBQ. He has a warning though. “Bubba’s has the best fried chicken around and the combo plate is really good. Get there before 1 pm though. I’ve gotten there late and they had run out.”
For everything disc golf: www.pdga.org
For everything about golf discs: www.innovadiscs.com
For everything about Charlotte disc golf: www.charlottedgc.com