May 2016 - DISC GOLF
When is a Frisbee Not a Frisbee?
A Guide to Disc Golf
By Laura Clark
Anyone who takes a swim in Saratoga Spa State Park’s Peerless Pool this summer or strolls around its outskirts might assume that the folks throwing frisbees into baskets have invented yet another variation on the game. But what is really happening is a sport called Disc Golf, which has more in common with golf than a rough and tumble frat party. While the discs appear similar, a disc golf disc is smaller in diameter with a more concentrated mass, enabling it to sink more readily into the basket.
The origins of the sport remain even beyond the abilities of Wikipedia to ferret out. According to the Professional Disc Golf Association (pdga.com), not to be confused regular golf’s PGA Tour, the first recorded memory was from a group of 1926-era Vancouver schoolchildren who played Tin Lid Golf. I prefer my version of the story. Every fall my dad, overwhelmed by the task of policing apple drops would assemble neighborhood kids and work pails in the field. The idea was that you had to pick up an apple from where it fell and hit a bulls-eye into a stationary pail. If you missed, the throw had to be taken from where the apple fell. Of course we wised up, but it still was a lot of fun.
Things finally took off in the 1970s in Rochester, NY, which hosted the first ever Disc Golf Championship. Apparently, this was a rogue event in the minds of other New Yorkers. I played my first game in the Midwest, where every town seems to have its own course. It took the wagon trains a while for their reverse passage, but now disc golf is enjoying an upsurge in its home of record.
And no wonder. It is one of those versatile activities that lends itself to family or friend teams or solitary enjoyment on a just-for-fun or a competitive basis. Most venues are free and you can play inexpensively with a short, middle and long distance disc, running between shots. Or you can buy a professional looking bag and come equipped with an entire arsenal of flight-specific discs. Visit innova.com or any other manufacturer’s website for a wide range of discs based on your throw and speed estimates.
In short, this game can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. Best of all, not only do you get outdoors, but you get to play in a natural setting. Whichever way you go, write your name and contact info on your discs – and you can expect a call from a fellow golfer if your disc turns up in an off-the-beaten patch of brush or pile of leaves.
So you’re intrigued. What’s involved? Courses are predominantly18 holes, but there are 9-hole and 27-hole courses such as Joralemon Park in Coeymans, a town in Albany County. Some have a different basket for each play while others, like the Saratoga Spa State Park, take you back to the first hole after the 9th where you approach each throw from an alternate tee. The longer options generally have a bailout point halfway through so you can shorten your play. Most expect that you bring your equipment with you, although Saratoga Spa State Park has plans to sell starter sets at the Peerless Pool during the warm months and the at Administration Building during the shoulder seasons. This would be especially handy if friends from out of town decide to join in. Since folks of all levels and agendas will be using the same field, it is common courtesy to let faster groups play through. You may also notice disc golfers carrying a bag of garbage, cleaning up after other park users.
While there are detailed rules for serious competitors, recreational play is like monopoly – you agree among your group exactly how you wish to handle a particular excursion. Like golf, you play your disc from where it lands and the person who takes the least amount of throws to hit the baskets is the winner. Your group may decide to give children, newbies or challenged individuals a few extra handicap throws. Or in the spirit of adventure, award anyone who finds an errant disc an extra throw. Individual or team play is up to you. Ultimately, as stated on the Disc Golf Association website (discgolf.com), “The one who has the most fun wins!”
If you can throw a frisbee, it should follow that you can sink a disc. Yes and no. In a frisbee toss, your partner moves to accommodate your throw. Inanimate baskets stare at you and laugh. Timothy DeFranco, a Capital Region Disc Golf Club (aka DisCap) member (discap.net) from Saratoga Springs, recommends the old adage, “Drive for show, put for dough.” He explains, “Be a great putter before you develop a great (short) approach game, and be a great short-gamer before you try to be a great driver off the tee.”
Expect a learning curve. Experiment with disc molds that cater to your particular style. For example, if you throw right-hand-back-hand as most folks do, does your long-range disc always curve to the left? If so, then you should probably throw a disc with a lower rated speed. YouTube is a reliable source for throwing tips. If you feel the urge for more personalized tutelage, there are any number of free Wednesday Beginner Clinics at 6pm, all hosted by DisCap – the Capital-Saratoga Region non-profit disc golf club: May 18, Central Park, Schenectady; June 22, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs; July 16, Central Park, Schenectady; and August 17, Blatnick Park, Niskayuna.
The DisCap club also advocates for disc golf gym classes, maintains and improves all Capital District and surrounding area courses, and was instrumental in bringing the sport to the Spa Park.
For the math-challenged, there are a number of apps to record your group’s play or to keep a running tally if you decide to play for further incentives, like a round of beer. Tim DeFranco prefers the discgolfcoursereview.com app for scorekeeping, but there are multiple choices out there, each with their own pros and cons.
Say you’ve circumnavigated the beginner-friendly Spa Park course, or Thacher State Park layout near Voorheesville, and now are looking for a weekend change of scenery. Discap.net is the best source for Capital Region options, while discgolfcoursereview.com covers the entire United States plus foreign countries. The local club supports at least a half dozen PDGA sanctioned tournaments in the Capital District. There are doubles leagues virtually each day of the week and monthly singles events.
You will discover that each of these venues have their own particular flavor, from the beginner Spa and Thacher state parks, to the urban Schenectady Central Park, to Hunter Mountain’s ski slopes to the marathon Joralemon Park. My personal preference, just because I happen to favor quirky, is the Providence Hyzer Creek private course in Middle Grove – where the woods are rough and the hills keep coming! It’s free, but there’s a donation box toward upkeep. World Champion Eric McCabe has designated this course one of his top five favorites!
Venture out of the immediate area and you will have all manner of weekend excursions, complete with accompanying shopping, swimming, restaurant sampling, whatever you enjoy. And all this ‘no reservation, no wait time’ fun can be had for the price of a $10 disc, and a spirit of adventure!
Laura Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Saratoga Springs is an avid trail runner and ultramarathoner, snowshoer and cross-country skier. She is a children’s librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.