Story and photos by Paul Liggitt
Since the first curvilinear shape was observed in nature, probably a boulder rolling downhill, wheels, balls and discs have been invented for a staggering variety of uses. As an avid golfer, or should I say “ball golf” player, I have learned that a lot of my enjoyment of the game is largely dependent on how close that little round ball gets to my target. So it is with the “disc” golf. The disc has its own unique qualities and floats, curves, climbs, and dives according to its design and the way it is thrown. The object is the same as well. How close can you get to the target in the fewest throws? The desire to propel objects toward targets, for survival or recreation IMHO is the foundation for one of the fastest growing sports, Disc Golf. Philosophy and flowery language aside, Disc Golf is a great fun sport that has a growing presence in the areas around Hyco Lake.
On a recent Saturday I visited the “Arsenal” Disc Golf course in Danville, VA., witnessed a disc golf tournament, and learned more about the sport. The Arsenal is the name of the Disc Golf course built into the layout of Southern Hills “Ball” Golf course. There were 72 players from all over the region, the co-designer of the course, Bill Shortt, and at least one professional disc golfer, Alex Bush were there. I never knew it was that popular; maybe you didn’t either! The Arsenal is normally a “pay to play” disc golf course because you are provided a cart, and you will need it, but most disc golf courses are free and located in public parks or areas specifically set aside for the sport. My first experience with the sport was playing a round at the “Rockness Monster” course, adjacent to the Piedmont Community College Campus in Roxboro, NC. In future articles I will detail some of the specifics of the area courses.
The enjoyment of disc golf is found in its simplicity. According to Bill Shortt, “anyone can play, any age”. Young and old, all genders, shapes and sizes can have fun and compete. As I wrote before, the object is similar to ball golf. Throw the disc from the tee pad to the basket in the fewest number of throws and the one with the lowest score for 18 holes wins. Although there are basic rules about out of bounds and not allowing your lead foot to advance ahead of where your disc landed when throwing, that is about it. The official and complete rules of disc golf are published by the PDGA, Professional Disc Golf Association and can be found at https://www.pdga.com/rules . To borrow a line from the site, “it takes an hour to learn and a lifetime to master.” The PDGA, has about 118,000 members and is clear evidence of the popularity and growth of the sport. You don’t have to be a pro to be a member and there are plenty of clubs in the area you can investigate to get you started. If you want to put your hands on some discs, Southern Hills Golf Course has a good selection for sale in their pro-shop. There are several disc golf courses in the Hyco Lake Region, ranging in length and degrees of difficulty.
The starting place on each hole is the “Tee Pad” and there are different tees for different skill levels, usually based on distance to the hole and degree of difficulty. Players self-declare what skill level they are vs. age and gender qualifiers in ball golf. On the shorter courses you can often see the “basket.” You can see any obstacles you have to avoid and determine how or if to curve your throw. Par can be 3, 4 or 5 throws for a particular hole that might average 54 for a round of 18 and it takes about 60 – 90 minutes to play a round. There are different types of discs for different types of shots. A starter pack of 3 discs for around $25-$35 includes a driver, a midrange disc, and a putter. If you can only get 1 disc, a good midrange disc is what to choose. More experienced players may have 20 or more discs in their backpack, or pull cart, each with different flight characteristics. There is a lot of technology packed into that 175-gram disc, but more on that later. Put on some comfortable athletic style footwear (probably not flip flops, although not prohibited), flexible clothing, and you are ready to go.
Many think of disc golf as Frisbee golf and they would not be totally incorrect. “Steady” Ed Headrick, an executive at Wham-O Toy Company patented the modern day design of the Frisbee in 1967 and is also credited with the invention of Disc Golf. Wham-O had been producing Frisbees since 1957 but Headrick saw potential in using Frisbees to throw at objects and invented the sport, the first disc golf basket, and designed the first disc golf course, according to the DGA or Disc Golf Association. Designing a basket that would catch and hold the disc was critical to the sport so that there would be no dispute between competitors about whether the disc hit or missed the target object.
Today’s disc golf disc design is only similar to the Frisbee in the sense that it is a spinning aerodynamic disc. As I mentioned before there is a lot of high technology that goes into the making of today’s modern disc golf discs. The Driver is designed to be the thinnest and most stable and fly the farthest. The intermediate discs are slightly thicker and have many variations built in that affect the “speed”, “glide”, “turn” and “fade”. Not unlike ball golf clubs. There could be draw bias or fade bias built into the clubs and stability factors built into the ball. Yes, disc golfers also speak or should I say shout an appeal to the flying disc to try and get them to go where they intend, exactly like ball golfers. The illustrated chart shows a few of the types of discs available and how they fly.
Of course, the disc’s flight presumes that your throw is consistent. In fact that is what separates the better players. Alex Bush, a pro who is sponsored by Dynamic Disc ( www.dynamicdiscs.com ), answered “consistency” when asked about the hardest part of the game to get good at. While observing the players, I noticed that the typical shot was rarely a straight one and is intended to bend one direction or the other. I commented that ball golfer Bubba Watson would love disc golf, since he is known for bending shots all over the course and Alex then mentioned that Bubba at least at one time was associated with the PDGA and “Team Dynamic”, a sponsored disc manufacturer. The other distinctly different disc is the Putter. It is typically thicker and may not fly as far since it should not need to. Mr. Shortt says “The putter will show you how to throw in the correct form and the pros say to learn to throw the putter straight and long.” Let me just say, however, that any disc can be used for any throw, as long as it will get you to your target in fewer throws than your opponent.
Bill Shortt, a disc golf player and course designer, got interested in disc golf when he was just out for a walk in Edmunds Park in South Boston, VA. 10 years ago. Back in 2008 there were only 56 courses in VA. Now there are 130 or more. Although the US has around 5000 courses and the most participants, Bill commented that it is an international sport. The number of disc golfers worldwide is probably in the range of 10,000,000. Bill demonstrated to me the different types of throws that include “backhand”, “forehand” and “overhead”. Just the same as in ball golf, the throw and technique for putting is largely an individual choice. Whatever gets you in the basket! According to Bill the most important thing for a beginning disc golf player is to “get off the tee well, stay in the fairway, and make sure your throw or stroke is nice and smooth.” I can attest that my first experience in disc golf was more like Star Trek. I boldly went where no man has ever gone before!! Getting to the point of more consistency and consequently more fun, for a weekly player, could take from 3 to 6 months. However, learning the game only takes a few minutes and having fun with your pals can happen from minute one. He also suggested going to YouTube to view some beginner tutorials from sponsored players to get the basics.
Being able to play on a free disc golf course is also a plus for those just starting. It also only takes about 1.5 hrs to play a round instead of the 4 to 5 hours for ball golf. Shortt sees the trend moving towards longer courses because on average, players are getting more skilled. He has redesigned the course at Edmunds Park in South Boston, VA. and co-designed the Arsenal course in Danville with professional disc golfer Alex Bush. There is also a short course at Ballou Park that is only 4400 feet and might be classified as a pitch and putt. Other courses will be outlined in future Hyco Lake Magazine articles and many of the courses usually have a couple of baskets set up for practice so you can warm up before your round or just take a few minutes outdoors on a nice day. Either way there are plenty of courses to enjoy in the Hyco Lake Region.
The Oxford dictionary defines “Sport” as any activity that involves physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another for entertainment. Don’t let anyone kid you; disc golf is definitely a physical and mental sport. You have to stay in balance and position your lower body in a support and strength position while remaining flexible enough to coil and uncoil the upper body. You create torque in your core and release that energy to launch your disc as you throw. Unlike ball golf, the more challenging disc golf holes often have objects you need to flight your disc around. Couple that with the wind that affects a 5 oz. disc much more than a ball, and it can be a tremendous challenge. Stretching and warming up are essential. When preparing to play, I encourage everyone to stretch your shoulders, core, wrists, arms, and hamstrings or at least be prepared to take your pain reliever of choice the next day. I did not see anyone at the tournament leave on a stretcher but I saw a lot of stretching before the start of the round and even before each throw.
When I was hanging around the clubhouse at the disc golf tournament, I was struck by the positive similarities between disc golf and ball golf. I saw old acquaintances gathering and comradery amongst team members. I saw smiles and chest-beating about long tee shots and good-natured teasing about the short putt missed. I heard serious discussions about the wind, knowing that every player had to dig deep to concentrate on the throw and direction. The wind plays no favorites and everyone had to contend with the same conditions. I experienced people relating to each other and old friends meeting new friends. Bill Shortt says that the most fun part of disc golf is “the people you meet when playing… and throwing an ace”, he added. Not everyone will throw an ace but Alex Bush says “everybody can enjoy disc golf… you need to give it a shot”. I would agree. The flight of a well-thrown disc heading towards the intended target keeps disc golfers coming back to gather for the game.
Yes, there is a score; but if that is the only reason why you play, you will miss a lot. The game is a sport, fun, and challenging but it is also a mechanism for friends and families to gather, laugh and enjoy life. Recreationally speaking, disc golf ranks high in the category of fun, inexpensive, and high value outdoor activities in the Hyco Lake Region.
We welcome Paul back after a short hiatus. Over the next several issues you will be able to get his take on each of the disc golf courses in the Hyco lake Region. As well, he will be taking more of these spectacular photos! Paul Liggitt Photography, (336) 322-1167, www.plphoto.com
Disc Golf Courses in the Hyco Lake Region
Piedmont Community College
1715 College Dr, Roxboro, NC 27573
1013 Neal's Store Rd, Roxboro, NC 27574
3164 Dan River Church Rd, South Boston, VA 24592
760 W Main St, Danville, VA 24541
188 Stokesland Ave, Danville, VA 24541
Alex Bush (firstname.lastname@example.org)