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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2007/02/20
by John Zinkand

Disc Golf: Heady Goodness

Theres something about disc golf that attracts the jamband fan. A friend of mine said something funny the other day. He said, You either see families playing disc golf or you see hippies playing disc golf. Of course in reality many different types of people play disc golf and some people are very serious about the game and even play professionally (http://www.pdga.org/). But around here in Oregon, its true that one mostly sees families or hippies walking through the forested parklands hurling plastic discs at the metal disc golf baskets dotting the landscape. With recent weekend days in the high 50s and even low 60s, Ive already been out on the courses a few times this year. Disc golf is a very mellow and laid back sport, and it really suits the mentality of the jam fan or hippie type person. Its social, theres a little bit of exercise involved, its usually played in a scenic park, one can easily partake in the favorite hippie pastime while they playthe list goes on and on.
For those that are not familiar, disc golf is Frisbee golf. Its just like regular golf, but plastic discs are thrown for a stroke and the holes are metal baskets with chains hanging down to sort of catch the disc. The discs used are not like normal Frisbees. They have thick plastic edges and need to be thrown in a different way than a normal Frisbee. Basically, they are designed to really sail if thrown correctly. If you tried to catch someones drive shot, youd break bones in your hand. They fly fast over long distances and are fairly heavy. Differently weighted discs are used for different distances depending on throwing style and personal taste much like using different golf clubs. Theres even a specially weighted putter disc for when you get within 50 feet or so of a basket. My putter is made out of softer plastic so that it helps grip the chains that hang down. People can get pretty into the sport.
Most people dont even realize that there are courses all over the country. In fact theres probably a course within a few miles of your city or burg. The course itself is a huge factor in the quality of a particular disc golf experience. Ive played disc in Massachusetts and California, but mostly Ive played in Oregon. Good courses have obstacles, elevation changes, and lots of different distances. Obviously, playing a flat course with no obstacles and each hole being the same distance wouldnt be very much fun. In southern California, the courses are dryer and dustier and the vegetation is scant. In Massachusetts, theres not as much elevation change in a course, but usually many trees to deal with as challenging obstacles.
Oregon courses are my favorite, however. Weve got huge pine trees, big hills, lots of lakes and rivers to throw over or around, and we also have the extremely challenging obstacle of Marionberry patches. If you are unlucky enough to hurl your disc into the heart of a thick Marionberry patch, kiss it goodbye. Even the sharpest machete couldnt hack through the gnarls and clumps of dangerous thorns. Ive lost a few discs to the Clackamas River, as well. Losing discs on the course is simply a part of the game. Thats why it doesnt hurt to have backups along with you and why many players carry a special case slung over the shoulder filled with discs – much like a golf bag.
Theres an art to the game and different ways to play it. Some people throw the disc back handed like a normal Frisbee, while others throw it forehanded. How level the disc is when released from the hand significantly determines the direction it will arch at the end of the flight. Depending on what obstacles are in the way, one has to throw a disc a certain way to get around the obstacle while still making the disc fly a good distance. If throwing a disc down a hill, one barely needs to put any effort into it at all because the discs just sail. Its not an easy sport to master and can be frustrating initially, especially if playing with someone who has more experience. While some may find it surprising, there are many subtle nuances to the sport – its not just randomly chucking some Frisbees around.
Its fun to go out there and throw the discs, get a little friendly competition going, and enjoy a nice long walk with some buddies. Listening to music on headphones is perfect when playing a solo round, too. The sport is mildly addictive. The more you play the more you want to play and its more fun as you get better. A long drive between a few trees that sails off into the distance is as satisfying as a soaring guitar jam that takes off and sails out into the cosmos. A drive attempt that flies about 20 feet before slamming into a tree is as depressing as getting shut out of a sold-out show. There are so many highs and lows to be experienced out there on the disc golf courses of America. As the weather warms up, lets see those discs soar high across the skies.

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