Disc golf: the blue collar game

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June 29, 2017 by jessepell

(Courtesy of Chris Bucher)

Written by Jesse Pelletier

If you are over the age of four, you’re likely familiar with the frisbee in some shape or form.

What comes to mind when you think of the frisbee? Perhaps those flimsy plastic discs you aimlessly flung around as a kid or the more robust discs used for competitive ultimate frisbee. They may also remind you of the discus, one of the oldest sports there is.

It took a great amount of time before the realm of disc sports evolved from the discus. Today, we’re fortunate to have ultimate frisbee at the professional level and there’s a very real chance we’ll see ultimate frisbee in the Olympics in the next 20 years; things are really looking up.

But there’s one other disc sport that could change sports as we know it.

A long time ago, some young chaps whacked some balls with sticks and made a game. Then they aimed for mama’s daisy-plantin’ holes and made a sport. Then they didn’t let mama play, and they called their sport “G.O.L.F.”

Nowadays women enjoy the game of golf, but the game still has a certain bourgeois scent. You can smell it, too, if you point your chin high enough and puff your chest. If that doesn’t work, placing your hands on your waist may help.

Full disclaimer: I play golf and I enjoy it. But sometimes there’s a bit of a high-class feel to the game. The portrayal of golf as a rich man’s hobby originally kept me from thinking I could play. Then I got started with my uncle’s hand-me-down clubs and played a few times each summer. Come to think of it, the rest of the summer I was probably playing frisbee.

Then some genius came along and combined the two. The world was introduced to disc golf.

(Courtesy of Daniel Wallace/Tampa Bay Times)

For those less familiar, disc golf (also called frisbee golf or “frolf”) involves throwing a disc to a target in as few throws as possible. A hole doesn’t make as much sense for a target, so chain baskets are used instead. New types of discs have been developed instead of the ultimate frisbee disc, and some have golf names: drivers and putters, specifically. Midrange discs separate the two.

So why is ball golf such a fancy-ass expensive sport? First of all, it takes a lot of maintenance to keep a golf course nice. You constantly have to cut the grass (a LOT of grass); you have multiple lengths of grass, so you go over the course multiple times; and you need to service, clean, and buy gas for carts. That doesn’t even include the cost of irrigation that some courses require. But disc golf? Not so much.

A disc golf course is usually designed by placing chain baskets around an area that is otherwise left unaltered. Take a landfill, add some well-placed baskets, and you’ve got a course. Plop some baskets at a park and hey presto, heads up for flying plastic. Live in the canyons? Sprinkle some baskets in there, nobody’s going to stop you. Though it would be polite to add some stairs. Just in case.

(Courtesy of Jesse Pelletier/The Nosebleeds)

That’s a Snapchat picture I took while frolfing in Albuquerque. But hey, they added stairs.

Since discs are thrown from the hand, the terrain isn’t usually as directly impactful as it is in ball golf. Instead, trees and other shrubbery play a more pronounced role. To give you an idea, disc golfers play in the stuff that ball golfers call “out of bounds.” You simply can’t have too many trees on a disc golf hole. It isn’t possible.

When terrain does come into play, we’re talking about knee-high grass, ducking under tree branches and prickly bushes, and apparently canyons, as I unfortunately discovered. Yeah. Play through that, pansy ball-golfers.

(Courtesy of Oliver Sanders/Civitas Media)

And since courses don’t require maintenance, it’s normally free to play. FREE! Seriously! And unlike golf, which has expensive equipment, discs only cost about $12-$15 apiece. It’s super easy to start with even just one disc and stepping up to two or three discs as you improve. Pros carry as many as 25-30 discs, but you can certainly make do with 3-6.

Every golf ball hit the same way will behave basically the same. Not true of discs! Discs are designed with four ratings: speed, glide, turn, and fade. Speed represents how fast the disc has to travel to behave as designed. Glide captures how long the disc stays airborne. Turn and fade measure how much the disc curves at the beginning and at the end of flight, respectively (or, more precisely, how it breaks at high and low speeds).

So as you improve, you can add discs to your arsenal that have different flight paths to conquer more hole layouts. But the flight path also depends on how you throw the disc. The most common throw is the backhand throw, but you can also throw forehand (also called a flick and more common in ultimate frisbee), hammer, hyzer, anhyzer, or roller. These are at least the most common, but there are likely even more.

My favorite discs in my bag, some more beat up than others. (Courtesy of Jesse Pelletier/The Nosebleeds)

Think that’s complicated? Two discs with the same name might not fly the same for two reasons. The most significant is that discs are made with different types of plastic. Different types of plastic will affect the stability and durability of a disc, so its speed-glide-turn-fade ratings don’t paint the whole picture. The second factor is wear and tear. The more a disc gets beat up, the less stable it will be. That doesn’t sound great, but sometimes it’s actually desirable for a disc to wear down as it becomes better for different types of throws. And of course, different types of plastics wear down sooner than others.

Remember when I said you can make do with 3-6 discs? Four-time world champ Paul McBeth carries seven of the same driver – the Innova Destroyer – in all different plastics and levels of wear.

So what type of person dares to tackle such a complicated sport? Pretty much anyone. Since it’s cheap to play and not too physically strenuous, disc golfers come in all shapes and sizes. And it’s totally cool to go play in a ragged t-shirt and jeans, or leave after five holes, or start on the third hole. And playing a full 18 holes takes less time than playing nine in ball golf. It’s the ultimate blue-collar sport.

And let’s face it: ‘chicks dig the long ball’ is tried and true, but ‘chicks dig the flick’ just rolls off the tongue. Can we get that on a bumper sticker?

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