Fairways and Frisbees

PING,” a sound like pennies dropping in a bucket rings through the thick summer air at Wrightsville Beach.

The last of the beach-goers have climbed into their minivans and left, leaving a trail of dust as they roll out of the dirt parking lot. Dusk begins to settle, and four solitary figures navigate through a wooded section in the park; their task is made more difficult by the receding daylight as the sun dips below the treetops.

A tall gangly member of the group, holding a disc-like object in his hand, brings his arm back and then whips it forward like a slingshot. For a fleeting second, the disc flies straight and true, but just as he thinks he might have had a decent throw, it hooks to the left and careens into a brush pile on the side of the fairway. That novice Frisbee-thrower was me, in my first frustrating, yet oddly addicting, attempt at disc golf.

For those of you who were like me before I started working at Wrightsville, and have only a vague idea of what disc golf is and why it’s considered a sport, allow me to enlighten you.

According to the Professional Disc Golf Association website, disc golf is played much like traditional golf, except you use flying discs as opposed to a ball and clubs. Like its cousin ball golf, the objective of Frisbee golf is to complete each hole in the fewest number of strokes possible. Disc golf courses typically use elevated metal baskets as targets (or, in the case of Wrightsville, wooden poles with metal buckets on top). Courses consist of nine to 27 holes; each hole is assigned a par of about three to five throws, and courses range in length from 4,500 feet to more than 9,000 feet. Players complete the course in order, keeping track of the number of throws taken on each hole. The player with the least number of throws is the winner.

Disc golf is a thriving sport in certain parts of the country, but until fairly recently, it has been somewhat stagnant in the state of Vermont, especially with the state’s youth population. “Young people is one demographic that has not yet become significantly involved with the Green Mountain Disc Golf Club,” says GMDGC president Dave Frothingham. “There are a few courses at Vermont high schools, but not many kids have come out to tournaments.”

Despite the low number of teens who patronize disc golf courses, Brooks Curran, a junior at Harwood Union High School, cites a friend his age as his main motivation for picking up the sport.

“My friend Ollie (Oliver Redding) played with his older brothers, and he played a big role in getting me into it,” the 16-year-old from Waitsfield says. “It got kind of competitive with Oliver and his brothers and I wasn’t very good, then but we’re a lot better now. The year before last we played a lot—at least a couple times a week.”

One thing that makes disc golf more appealing than ball golf is that it’s accessible to everyone, regardless of age, location, or economic status. Most courses are free to play on, and those that require fees have fairly nominal ones. Numerous courses are scattered throughout the state, and the only equipment you need is a multi-purpose disc, which can be purchased for a reasonable price at most sporting goods stores. It was this convenience factor that Curran also cited for why he started to play disc golf. “I mostly got into disc golf because Sugarbush got a course which is five minutes from my house, so I can go up and play whenever I want,” he says. “I also got into it just because it was inexpensive.”

The fact that disc golf is open to everyone from rookies like me to advanced players such as Brooks (who won his first tournament, sponsored by the GMDGC, at Johnson State College last fall) is great—it gives the sport a universal aspect that encourages all to join in. But don’t let Frisbee golf’s welcoming persona fool you into thinking it’s not intense: the sport has a refined, competition-based side of which many disc golf enthusiasts, Brooks included, partake. The GMDGC sanctions numerous tournaments throughout the year for various divisions and sponsors a points series that awards players points for playing well in tournaments. At the end of the year, the club members with the most points are awarded prizes. Similar leagues exist throughout the country.

“I started playing competitively a few years ago,” Brooks says. “They send you out in groups, and you play with people who are about your same ability level. They have an amateur category and a pro category.”

Brooks says disc golf is, “a fun experience, because you get to meet a lot of new people. Some of the people you meet are relaxed and others are wicked intense about rules. Most of them are relaxed. I play in state junior competitions. How competitive I am really depends on how I’m playing. At the end of last year, I got really competitive because I won a couple tournaments.”

For you aspiring disc golf players out there, Frothingham cites the following locations as the best courses for new players: Center Chains DGC in Waterbury Center, White River DGC in Randolph, Oxbow DGC in Brandon (at Oxbow Union High School), Base Camp Outfitters in Killington, and Wrightsville Dam DGC in Middlesex. And make sure to take the advice of Brooks, a battle-hardened disc golf maestro: “Have fun with it. Go get your friends into it. Just go and have a good time. You can be intense about it, but it’s kind of your own choice.”

Chris Keller is a senior at Montpelier High School. As a summer employee at Wrightsville Beach, he makes somewhat laughable attempts at playing disc golf. He also enjoys competing in varsity track and field and cross-country for Montpelier and helping to run the MHS Outing Club.