Disc Golf Flies High In NC
The terminology is familiar: There are tee boxes, fairways, and (usually) 18 holes; there are pars and bogeys and birdies and eagles. Players carry long-distance drivers, fairway drivers, and putters. Great drives are ruined by bad rolls, and a good score can be irreparably damaged by a putt that goes past the hole and down an embankment.
But this is not your grandfather’s golf game. This is disc golf, a sport that built its first formal course in 1975, and gained a following on college campuses in the 80s and 90s. Now kids, retirees and professionals of all ages are catching on to the family-friendly game, and North Carolina is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the sport’s hotspots.
Rankin Lake Park, Gastonia
In disc golf, players throw modified Frisbees toward iron basket ‘holes’. As in conventional golf (disc golfers call it ‘ball golf’), the object is to make it to the hole in the fewest number of ‘strokes’. Like regular golf, trees and lakes and streams stand in the way, and just as golfers carry long and short clubs, disc golfers carry discs specifically designed for distance or accuracy, and perhaps a few made to fly straight or curve to the left or right.
Most disc golf players say the big difference, besides substituting flying discs for golf balls, is informality. Disc golf is usually played in public parks, so there are no tee times and no dress codes. Many players bring their dogs along, and some even bring infant children in strollers and backpacks. Best of all, most disc golf courses are absolutely free to play.
“It’s very much about access”, says James Nichols, who heads up the Western North Carolina Disc Golf Club. “Disc golf is every bit as addictive as ball golf, but the start up cost of equipment is much lower, and it’s generally free to play. Plus, you can play 18 holes of disc golf in an hour and a half, whereas a round of ball golf takes three or four hours.”
Nichols says he’s found that North Carolina is passionate about its disc golf, which translates into well-designed and well-kept courses. In Western North Carolina, he was able to find an army of volunteers to help build and maintain the Richmond Hill Disc Golf Course in Asheville, which many consider to be among the state’s best.
The Richmond Hill course features several tricky elevation changes and a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but other North Carolina courses have quirks and charms all their own. At Glenburnie Park in New Bern, a couple of holes play right beside the windy Neuse River, creating major challenges for a player whose disc catches an unfortunate gust. Willamston has a disc golf course in a family farm setting. Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Course has an arm-straining 821-foot par-5 hole. And many disc golfers consider the Gold Course at Charlotte’s Renaissance Park to be among the most difficult in the world.
Nichols says for a sport with origins in and around college campuses, the demographics of disc golf in North Carolina may be surprising to some. In his experience, the average disc golfer in NC is between 35-45 years old, an outdoor enthusiast, and prefers microbrews over Bud and Miller. But more and more people are catching onto the sport every day, and many disc golfing veterans are passing a love for the game on to their children.
In the end, though, the sport’s booming popularity in NC may be a function of its inherent simplicity: a perfect combination of economical outdoor activity, moderate exercise, and an easy-to-learn but hard-to-master sport. For veterans or newcomers to disc golf, it’s a year-round recipe for a great day in North Carolina’s Great Outdoors.
For an up-to-date listing of North Carolina’s disc golf courses, go to the Professional Disc Golf Association’s online disc golf course directory here. Check with individual parks for hours of operation and other information.
added: December 23, 2008
updated: November 16, 2009