What if there were a sport that combines all the fresh air, competition and skill of golf with low cost and friendly atmosphere of a picnic in the park? And what if this sport also had enough organized infrastructure to support touring pros and big time tournaments but was family friendly and all but free to play?
This sport does exist; it’s called disc golf. And for South Sound resident Kevin David, the sport has gone from hobby to passion to addiction.
“It’s all about the fun,” David said. “I’ve got my private pilot’s license, I scuba, I’ve got motorcycles and jet-skis. But the one hobby I refuse to go a week without is disc golf.”
Disc golf, played with plastic, Frisbee-style flying discs has inherited a lot from its older, stodgier cousin. To keep things straight, enthusiasts who prowl the fairways with flying discs instead of dimpled spheres refer to the ancient Scottish game as “ball golf”.
“Yeah, we call it ‘ball golf’, that’s how we refer to it,” David said. “A lot of people started with ball golf or continue to play ball golf.”
And for all intents and purposes, the disc variety of golf is pretty much the same as the ball variety, at least as far as play on the course. A round consists of 18 holes, each having a par standard that players try to meet — or exceed. There are tee boxes (paved, concrete “tee pads” in the case of the disc game), fairways, hazards and of course the goal at the end of it all: holes. Except in this case, the holes are elevated baskets with a circle of dangling chains that provide an audible reward similar to the welcome sound of a golf ball rattling into the cup at the end of a 25-foot putt.
“After you get your first ace, you can die a happy man,” David said. “There is an auditory satisfaction as it hits the chains — it’s almost Pavlovian in that sense.”
As both forms of golf have in common the sense satisfaction that comes from a well-holed par, they also share other emotions: rage, for example.
“I’m not going to claim that our sport is the same as what you see the PGA guys do, but people who play disc golf seriously get just as frustrated,” David said.
Another attraction of disc golf is the relatively small amount of equipment needed to play. At a bare minimum, the only equipment required is a single flying disc. Of course like most sports, there is more gear available and serious players carry around many more discs.
“People are encouraged to grab any Frisbee they might have, one that the dog used or whatever and go see if it might be fun,” David said. “Then they can graduate to whatever point they want.”
A common beginner’s setup might include three discs, that have familiar analogues in a ball golf player’s bag. There’s a driver, for long tee shots, a mid-range disc which might correspond to the familiar irons, and then a putter for when the target is within easy reach. Basic gear is readily available at sporting goods stores, but those wanting a more nuanced selection can find more specialized equipment at the Package Express near Harrison Blvd. on Olympia’s west side. It’s David’s family business and he has brought a piece of his hobby into the store that’s obviously more focused on shipping services.
“I started out and continue to want to support and promote the sport,” he said. “Inadvertently, it’s turned into a little profit center. I don’t advertise. People who play hook up with others and they talk about where you can get discs around here. We have more variety than the big sporting goods places.”
Those wishing to try out disc golf have a few options in the Thurston County area. For years, the mainstay has been the course at Yauger Park on Olympia’s west side. But ongoing construction at the park has created some changes on the course necessitating some redesign work. The next closest options for Olympia-area folks are the Shelton Springs course near Shelton High School and a sprawling layout at Fort Steilacoom park in Lakewood. There is also a course on the east side of Pierce County along the Puyallup River in Sumner’s Riverside Park.
The South Puget Sound Disc Golf Association is a non-profit group founded in 2004 whose mission has been to “work with parks and local entities to install, maintain and promote disc golf throughout the Northwest,” according to its director Chris Gilberts. The group, more informally known as “Team Oly” was the main motivating force behind the Yauger Park course’s installation in 2007 and continues to work with Olympia city government to keep the course open.
“It’s an ongoing project,” Gilberts said. “There have been a lot of changes at Yauger over the last couple of years and we’re trying to play catch-up with that course.”
Next up for the SPSDGA is getting a course installed in Lacey and the group has taken a significant first step in the process. Disc golf has been written into the city’s master plan for Woodland Creek Park near Pacific Avenue, and this is not an insignificant hurdle.
“Once things are on the plan, they get moved forward depending on funding and whatnot.”
Working with dedicated, knowledgeable enthusiasts like those who make up the SPSDGA makes things easy for parks officials and the low-cost, family-friendly nature of the sport itself makes it even more attractive.
“They’re excited to see that there’s an organization that will not only design courses, but oversee them through installation and ongoing maintenance,” Gilberts said. “When an organization like ours come in and implements programs and funds programs, then it doesn’t cost the parks department anything out of pocket.”
Gilberts said that he will have a display set up on June 11 at Woodland Creek Community Park as part of the Lacey department’s Mom and Me Outdoor Adventure Fun event. Gilberts will be on hand to explain and teach the basics of the sport.
“Our association just wants to promote the sport as a family activity that anybody can do, from all ages, rich or poor,” he said. “We have a miniature basket in the living room and a full-size one in the backyard. Basically, we throw plastic all the time.”