Pardon me for this rant, but sometimes you just have to ask “WHY?”. My wife and I were visiting our daughter and son-in-law this past winter in Raleigh, North Carolina. My wife wanted to go for a walk. I was on the shelf due to a recent foot injury, but decided to accompany to a local park to sit and work on a writing project while she got her steps in.
It was a perfectly sunny and cool. If we were in our native New Jersey, it might be an early October, crisp autumn day. Were we back at our Coral Springs, Florida home, people would have been wearing parkas and emptying the store shelves of propane and hot chocolate. I found a bench and table across the parking lot from some tennis courts and opened my notebook. In a few moments, I heard some rustling in the leaves along with some muffled voices.
Through the trees, I got a glimpse of beards, boots and flannel. I wondered if there was a lumber mill nearby. When the men got closer, I realized that based on their slight builds, general pallor, glasses and a man-bun, that these were not lumberjacks, but were instead hipsters. But what would they be doing in a park? I didn’t see any drones or remote controls.
Another thing that I found puzzling was that they each had a backpack, but one unusually shaped as though for some special purpose. The four young men stopped at a small platform near a post and one of them put his Starbucks cup down and opened his pack. It contained a dozen or more colorful disks. He took one out and began to stretch and swing his arm about as though in preparation for something.
The young man stood on the platform and flung the disk Frisbee-style through an open area in the trees. His compatriots nodded with approval and raised their cups in salute. The one fellow without coffee toasted with a stainless steel water bottle that he plucked from a side pocket of his disk bag. I looked I the distance in the general direction of the thrown disk and saw a large metal basket raise on a metal pole festooned with hanging chains.
After the other three men threw their disks and headed toward them, I got up and walked toward a sign near the platform. I learned that they were playing disk golf. I’d heard of this years ago, but never saw it. I figured it had died a quick death like many other faux sports such as trampoline basketball, lawn darts and the shake weight.
Being a sports enthusiast, questions immediately began forming in my mind. I watched for a while, and several others came onto the course and played through. Here are some of my questions and observations in no particular order…
Footwear – Name an outdoor sport, not in the water or on ice, where you don’t wear sneakers or cleated shoes and can wear suede boots. I did not see one person wearing sneakers. A quick online search of the rules made no mention of required or banned footwear. I assume that it is a hipster thing.
Hipsters – I do not wish to malign any group, particularly one including my son. Why do they all wear beards? They dressed and looked nearly as uniformly as the Amish or Hassidic Jews. Also, there was not a woman to be found. Surely a sport that can be played in boots could be unisex. Unlike traditional golf, I did not see any ladies tee boxes. Possibly it is like Augusta National where they still restrict by gender. Many of the hipsters wear cool hats, I must admit and I assume the skullcaps might come in handy should the crew want to knock over a liquor store after the game.
Warmups – There was no pattern. Most of the fellows just swung their throwing arm about in a circular motion as if trying to shake off a lifetime of physical inactivity.
Rules – It appeared that disk golf is played pretty much like traditional golf. I saw one guy throw a disk too far to his left and when it landed, it skittered on its edge across the street. He actually walked across, waited for a break in the traffic and took his next toss from the curb. Like traditional golf, you continue to make throws (strokes) until you get your disk (ball) into the hole (metal basket). There was even an equivalent of a “gimme” putt. If you could slap the chains on the basket while standing with your disk still in your hand, that was “in the leather”. There did not appear to be an equivalent to heaving your putter into a lake or wrapping your three iron around a tree since this would necessitate removing or severely damaging your arm.
Equipment – I couldn’t figure out the large number of disks that the guys were carrying. Tournament “real” golfers can carry up to fourteen clubs in their bag. This is necessary due to the wide variety of shots using the clubs. Driving, pitching and putting all require extremely differently designed tools. In disk golf however, every “shot” is thrown with the hand. Imagine if you were to play a round of traditional golf, but threw the ball rather that strike it with a club. You would basically throw the ball the same way each time except possibly when you got close enough to the pin to throw underhand, possibly for more accuracy. There would be no reason to use a different ball and certainly not a different arm.
The disks all appeared to be pretty much the same at least in size and shape. I actually found a disk in a gully. Even this was odd as while it is easy to lose a golf ball after a sliced 220 yard drive into the underbrush, it should be pretty damn easy to find a bright red disk of 8-9 inches in diameter that just travelled 40 yards. I picked up the disk to examine it. It was an Innova Dragon model. It was imprinted with a series of four numbers that looked something like this: ([-2]). It also indicated that it floats in water. There were no water hazards on this particular course, but I guess it could happen. I did find it odd that it specified floating in water, as though a legal disclaimer was needed in the event that you were playing near the liquid nitrogen pond on Jupiter.
By checking the Innova website, I learned that the four numbers on the disk represent in order, ratings for Speed, Glide, Turn and Fade. They make 93 different models with a speed range of 1 for the Polecat, to 14 for the Colussus. The glide can have a low of 1 (Rhyno) and a high of 6 (Archangel). The turn ranges from -5 (Mamba) to 0 (Banshee). I have no idea which end of the range is better. The fade ranges from 0 (Foxbat) to 5 (Whippet). What the hell is a foxbat?
The disks range in price from $12-$16 with very little variation. This means that a starter set of 14 disks would cost about $168 plus specialized bag. You could get a decent starter set of clubs for that.
Did you know that there is a Hall of Fame for disk golf? For what, exactly? Pete Rose has more hits than any major leaguer in history. Barry Bonds has the most home runs. I’d cut off a pinky to hit one. Neither of them is in their Hall of Fame. What is the disk golf equivalent of 762 home runs?
When I walked back toward the table to meet up with my wife, I passed two of the basket-on-a-pole contraptions about a dozen feet apart. It seemed odd to me until I realized that it was the disk golf equivalent of a practice putting green. Then it seemed super-odd. The thing that amazed me the most was that the meandering course layout surrounded another part of the park. It was a baseball field.
I suddenly realized that if any of the kids from my neighborhood growing up had found a bunch of disks from the future, we would immediately have known what to do with them. We’d have used them for bases. Here I was, in a park on a beautiful day with a couple of dozen young men. There was a completely open and unused ballfield. Instead of getting up a game, the guys were meandering around the field tossing plastic discs into metal baskets.
Eventually my wife came back from her walk. I recall her occasionally coming to some of my baseball and softball games to watch me play. As we walked back to the car, I asked her if she’d come watch me play disc golf. I think she laughed for five minutes straight. Maybe if I grew a beard…