A little disc goes a long way
As usual, I’m lost in the woods. Somewhere in these trees, my disc is waiting for me. It’s bright orange, but that doesn’t seem to help. I can’t find it underneath the bushes and the beer cans. Once I do manage to locate it, I’m still surrounded by aspen trees and more than one hundred feet away from the hole. If this were traditional golf, I probably would have just called it a day and taken a drop. Disc golf, however, is a whole different game, especially as we play high up in the middle of The Canyons Resort.
Today marks the second that The Canyons has been open for summer. Listed on their slate of summer activities is disc golf on course at the top of the gondola. High-altitude play to say the least, but my shots don’t seem to get the same thin-air flight so prized among traditional golfers who play at elevation. All the same, I get a picturesque backdrop behind my shots as they dogleg and drift in ways that seem physically improbable.
Although disc golf has been around for some time, this is the first that I’ve ever hit the chains. Basically, disc golf is the offspring of Frisbee and golf (some refer to the game by its "Seinfeld" moniker, "frolf"). Like golf, the game is played on a course with nine or 18 holes. Depending on the design of the course, holes can be anything from marked spots to more professional elevated metal baskets with draped chains in the center. Some players compete in less formal "object courses" that incorporate everyday items around town like lights and signposts. Also like golf, every hole has an assigned par number, numbers that I probably won’t reach all day. Fortunately, in disc golf few courses charge greens fees or have dress codes. They also don’t usually have restaurants and bars after the ninth hole, but most people seem willing to make the sacrifice.
Legend has it that a man named Ed Headrick invented the game with friends while a toy engineer at a company named Wham-O several decades ago. Part of the evolution of the game, aside from establishing the concept, was to create discs with flight patterns more suitable to the game. Discs designed for the sport, regardless of their particular specialty, travel in a more decidedly straight and steady way than most run-of-the-mill Frisbees . At the Canyons, the sport shop will actually rent out three different types of discs for golfers. Headrick also helped set standards for courses. His St. Andrews of disc golf is a course he fashioned by hand in Southern California not far from his place of work. One of the key elements of these early courses, were baskets, or "pole holes" as they are sometimes known, that are officially designed for discs.
The game, of course, caught on and now at least two organizations monitor and promote its play while a few companies manufacture discs specifically designed not just for the game, but for specialty shots. Like its clubbed counterparts, engineered discs can help counter winds, long fairways and other hazards that keep golfers away from par. The right driver, sometimes, just makes a golfer look good.
Up here, a good drive will take your game a long way, literally. Most of the holes run from around 200 to around 300 feet and require a few good tosses to get to the basket. If the wind picks up, as it seems to do, every throw needs a little mustard. Most players opt to get a little more power by taking a running start at each tee. Usually, people look like Adam Sandler in "Happy Gilmore" as they take their first shot.
Gripping these discs is slightly more difficult than handling the standard Frisbee to which most of us are accustomed. They weigh a little more and don’t really have the same grippable lip as Frisbees . These more compact fliers look almost like fat squished Frisbees or really lightweight discuses. Either way, the more I muscle up, the more they seem to drift out of control and land near any body of water in the vicinity.
The basic idea of disc golf is identical to the basis of traditional golf; shoot long and straight. But, like traditional golf, those who have trouble staying straight ultimately end up finding hazards. Although the Canyons course is a little rough with snow and some random trees here and there, this principle still applies.
The first tee is a bit hard to find, but once off the gondola it’s just to the right facing uphill. Most of these holes begin with a marked tee box made of gathered and circled rocks and an orange sign that gives (sometimes erroneous) hole information. I reach for the driver on the first hole and the bright orange disc floats for a bit before parking itself square to the left of the fairway. fairway, in this instance, I mean a mostly thawed ski run. My second shot gets me a little closer, but I’m still learning that these discs have a flight pattern all of their own so staying straight can be difficult. All the same, I pull out the putter and tap it in for a soothing par. Amazingly, these specially designed poles are very effective at catching discs if they’re put anywhere near.
Reality catches up to me on the next hole. This one calls for a bit more skill as players have to go over a quickly moving stream after a bit of a rolling hill. I aim the disc hoping it will head down and catch some wind before heading back up the hill. Instead, it buries itself right into the soil like an angry gopher. I finish this hole two over par, and that’s pretty much the way things continue over the next 7 holes.
At times, one has to be a bit of a woodsman to play the game. On hole four I find myself tightrope-walking along a fallen tree to get to my disc buried somewhere underneath the shrubbery. On hole seven, I end up on my hands and knees crawling below a vengeful conifer. It’s safe to say that I’m having fun.
Josh Orzech of the Disc Golf Association says that the game is addictive and although I’m sunburned, covered in mud, pollen and leaves, I’d have to agree. "We’ve noticed that disc golf is doing really well right now," Orzech said. That success, he attributed partly to the low cost of the game. For players to enter the game it usually costs the price of a few discs and a walk. Parks and recreation areas can also receive a high return on a relatively small investment.
Most courses are placed on land in areas that are not suitable for other recreational pursuits, with the exception of hiking, and, of course, skiing. The entry cost to turn most of these spots into tennis or basketball courts, said Orzech, is usually much higher. The average disc golf basket runs about $250. Including minimal landscaping fees and other services, a course can be installed for a few thousand dollars and most baskets last around 20 years. Orzech said that unlike other sports, disc golf can accommodate hundreds of players a day in a relatively confined area.
Not surprisingly, The Canyons has plans to add another nine holes to their course in the near future. They are simply waiting for the rest of the snow pack to melt before they can install the baskets. Although my short game could use some work, I will have my driver and mid-range disk, as well as a good pair of boots and pants, ready to go when they open.
Where: The Canyons Resort Disc Golf Course at the top of the gondola
How: Discs are available for rent at Canyon Sports
When: The gondola operates Wednesday thru Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: $15 for the gondola ride.
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