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Disc golf: A sport for the masses
My competitor scored a hole-in-one before his name had been scribbled on the scorecard.
Paul Wright, who won the World Amateur Disc Golf Championships in 2009 and placed second in 2010, watched as his plastic pancake glided between two giant evergreen trees, soaring behind a hill and out of sight.
“I think it’s got a chance,” Wright said, leaning and swaying and squinting and hopping on one foot. “I like it, I like it.”
Rattle, rattle, chiiiinggggg.
“Now that’s what a clean ace sounds like,” he said, grinning. “Could you have scripted it any better?”
There I stood, in shock and awe, forcing a smile under the towering, moss-cloaked trees Monday morning at NAD Soroptomist Park in Bremerton. It was me against Wright: nine holes and one victor, a chump vs. a champ.
“Umm, can I go home?”
Sure, I was there to learn, to feel for the first time what it’s like to throw a disc, to experience first-hand a sport that’s becoming more and more popular in Kitsap County as players young and old flock to the courses.
But I didn’t sign up for this walk through the woods to lose. I was there to win.
Disc golf, once considered a counter-culture activity only suited for hippies and beer-drinkers, is gaining popularity among the masses. There are plans to build at least two more courses in addition to the four already in Kitsap — one on Waaga Way in East Bremerton and another in Kingston — said Wright, who designed the course at Fredericksen Wilderness Park in North Kitsap.
According to Wright, there are 43,000 members of the Professional Disc Golf Association and more than 3,000 courses worldwide. The West Sound Disc Golf Association, of which Wright is the president, has about 60 members. It’s a sport that anybody can play.
During the tail-whipping delivered by bona fide pro to Average Pro, there were players on the course of all ages — high schoolers enjoying summer break, experienced players enjoying retirement.
There were 80-year-old players on the course last week for the West Sound Senior Games.
“I encourage all people to come out,” said Bremerton’s Doug Stuart, 40, whose 12-year-old son, Spencer, is an avid disc golfer. “It’s cheap, good exercise and great scenery.”
Spencer Stuart, entering seventh grade at Mountain View Middle School, has been a duffer of discs since the age of 6 or 7. He picked up the sport after watching his father play, intrigued and curious.
Now the youngster competes in tournaments across the country, from Walla Walla to Idaho to Florida.
“I just like watching the discs fly,” said Spencer Stuart, who carries 19 discs in his bag. “At first I wasn’t throwing that accurate, but you get better every day.”
It’s not an expensive sport, either.
Discs vary in price, and for novices, they can be purchased for $10 at most sporting goods stores. There are three basic types — the driver, mid-range and putter — and each have different edges, some skinnier and more aerodynamic than others.
The driver is sleek, built for speed and distance, while the edges of the putter are thicker, best for short-distance tosses.
Although Wright carries more than 25 discs in his bag, beginners — and even experienced players — can get by with a few.
Plus, most discs are bright, easy to find following errant throws, so it’s rare to lose them. Trust me, I know. I never thought I’d be so familiar with the foliage at NAD Park. The ferns are lovely.
But perhaps the best perk of golfing with discs: It’s free, no course fees.
“Once you have a set of discs, you can go out to a park and it doesn’t cost a thing,” Wright said.
Part of the reason the sport is free, however, is because players like Wright maintain courses with their own money or by fundraising.
At NAD Park, cement tee boxes were installed at every hole to prevent eroding where foot traffic is high. There are signs throughout the wooded course marking each hole, the walking trails are clear and trash cans make it easy to shed extra weight.
What I enjoyed most, when I wasn’t trudging through the brush in search of discs thrown wildly, was the strategy involved.
Having no idea what to do and when, most of my strategic decisions, especially those in the most critical moments, were made by Wright.
The 54-year-old Wildcat Lake resident, who built an eight-stroke lead through five holes and beat me by 14, knew which discs to use, where to throw them and at which angle in every situation.
When he wasn’t celebrating birdies and well-executed shots — as I struggled to calculate implausible scenarios where it was possible for me to win — Wright played coach.
“I’ll do my best to teach you, to my potential demise,” he teased.
“I’ll do my best to destroy you, even if I have to cheat,” I thought.
Wright talked about some discs’ natural tendency to curve right, and how players must adjust accordingly, and that the slope of the earth, especially near the pin, influences how an approach shot should be made.
He explained the different grips, that players should fan out the fingers on their throwing hand when using the putter from short range.
And the Kent firefighter knew all the disc golf slang, most notably, “Tree Love.”
Tree Love, I learned quickly, is when a player receives help from a branch or a trunk or a stump following a botched hurl. A bail out, essentially.
Rarely are there clear paths to the cup, so the most accurate throwers hit trees on occasion. And many of the pins aren’t visible from the tee, meaning players must sometimes throw blind.
My shining moment came late in the match, on back-to-back holes when winning had taken a backseat to simply finishing. I made par on Hole 16 and 17, coaxing my disc to the target in the allotted three tosses.
Those were my lone pars on a score sheet littered with bogeys. Wright made four pars — zero bogies, plus the ace and four birdies.
Yet Wright claimed to be impressed by my game, for reasons I’m still unsure.
“For your first time playing, I would say you were a ‘9,’ maybe a ‘10,’ and I don’t hand out 10s,” he said. “People don’t come out and here and just bogey (every hole) their first time playing.”
Kitsap County Fairgrounds, 1200 NW Fairgrounds Rd., Bremerton
NAD Soroptimist Park, 6002 Kitsap Way, Bremerton
Van Zee Park, 300 Tremont St., Port Orchard
Fredericksen Wilderness Park, 22000 Big Valley Rd. NE, Poulsbo
For those interested in disc golf, the West Sound Disc Golf Association hosts meetings once a month.
The day and time of the next one has yet to be determined.
For more information, visit www.wsdga.org.