We continue our exploration of the many, and sometimes surprising, variations on the theme of golf that exist nowadays with a look at Disc Golf.
The first recorded instance of people playing ‘golf’ with an aerodynamic disc rather than with club and ball, took place in Vancouver British Columbia in 1926. It appears that a group of schoolchildren regularly played the game with tin lids on a course they set out in their school grounds. They called it ‘Tin Lid Golf.’
Numerous accounts exist of various forms of ‘Disc Golf’ being played throughout the next four decades until, in 1960, the Chicago-based company, Copar Plastics, attempted to market a commercially packaged game called ‘Sky Golf’. However, the Frisbee culture was little more than embryonic at that time and the game failed to catch on.
In 1965, while playing a round of golf during his summer holidays, a college recreation counsellor by the name of George Sappenfeld realized that his students could play a version of the game on the playground using Frisbee discs. When, 3 years later, he became a Parks and Recreation supervisor, George contacted the manufacturers of the Frisbee, the Wham-O MFG Company, and requested that it help him with his plans to hold a Frisbee golf contest. By way of response, the company sent him a batch of Frisbees along with Hula Hoops to use as targets. The following year, he talked “Steady-Ed” Headrick, the inventor of both the Frisbee and the Disc Pole Hole catching device (destined to become the equivalent to the hole in traditional golf) into including a Frisbee golf event in the All-Comers Frisbee meet being held at Pasadena's Rose Bowl fields. It seemed as if George’s concept was destined to catch on.
Surprisingly however, nothing more was heard of Frisbee golf for the next seven years. Indeed, even the 1972 Official Frisbee Handbook, which listed all the games that could be played with a Frisbee, made no mention of golf.
However, in the meantime in Rochester, New York, a group of people began regularly playing a form of disc golf as a competitive sport. Within a year of starting (in August 1970) they were organising The Annual City of Rochester Disc Golf Championship.
Amazingly, it wasn’t until 1973 that these avid disc golfers discovered, via an International Frisbee Association newsletter, that unbeknown to them an entire Frisbee culture had been born. Eager to learn just how many people would be interested in participating, they decided to make their City of Rochester Disc Golf Championship a national tournament, which they named The American Flying Disc Open.
The success of the tournament, which took place in 1974, persuaded “Steady-Ed” to take another look at disc golf. He hired the winner Dan Roddick, to head up Wham-O's new Sports Promotion Department and decided to include Disc Golf as an event in his 1975 World Frisbee Championships.
Ed became so convinced that disc golf could be big, he resigned from his position at the Wham-O MFG Company and started up the Disc Golf Association Company in 1976 – a move that introduced disc golf to thousands of Frisbee players. Properly organized play and national tournaments quickly became a shared goal. Players got together and formed the Professional Disc Golf Association to help oversee and guide the rapid growth of their sport.
The popularity of disc golf grew rapidly and exponentially. Each new course spawned yet more courses in nearby towns and cities and Ed, having designed the first bespoke course at Oak Grove Park in La Cañada Flintridge, California, was soon designing and selling disc golf courses country-wide.
The PDGA is now a worldwide force. There are thousands of disc golf courses around the world and its growth shows little sign of abating. The sport of disc golf is fast becoming as professional as its traditional ancestor.
Hugely popular in the USA, it is currently a minority, but growing sport in the UK. There are already 35 disc golf courses up and down the country and, under the auspices of British Disc Golf Association, professional disc golfers now take part in an organised Tour.
There are, as you might expect, many similarities with the traditional form of the game. The object of disc golf is likewise to complete each hole in as few shots/throws as possible. The main difference is that instead of selecting the appropriate club with which to hit your golf ball, given the type of shot you want to play, you select an appropriate disc, similar to, but not the same as, a Frisbee.
A professional disc golfer will carry about a dozen different golf discs including a range of 'drivers', 'approaches', and 'putters'. Not all discs fly straight. Some are designed to curve in their flight (similar to the way in which the ‘bias’ in a Crown Green bowl affects its roll).
As in golf, there is a teeing area where you make your first throw or 'drive'. Wherever your disc lands, that's the spot from where you make your next throw or 'approach shot' to the basket. Then, hopefully, you are close enough to make your 'putt' for a par.
Disc Golf is an ideal family activity. It can be enjoyed equally by all age groups, from schoolchildren to pensioners, making it an excellent life-time sport. It's easy to play at a basic level, so you can enjoy it from day one, without the need to take lessons. [Beginners are advised to start by just using an 'approach' disc or 'putter' which flies straight!] Although generally considered to be a 'niche' sport, it nonetheless has more 'street cred' than its more tradition-bound ancestor, which may well widen its appeal.
It's relatively easy on the pocket too, so you can still play even if you have a very limited budget at your disposal. The number of courses available to play on is growing at an ever increasing rate, so the chances are you won't have to travel too far to play either. Early signs suggest that it might not be too long before its popularity here in the UK soars, just as it has done elsewhere.