Note: This is part 10 in a series of posts which make up the chapters of a tongue-in-cheek look at the game of disc golf and why we love it so much, despite the lack of reciprocated affection. It is not actually intended to improve your game…unless it does…in which case we’re happy to take the credit.
Chapter 10 – Golf with Frisbees
Let us take a couple of steps back now, clear our minds, pretend like we know nothing about this life-engulfing sport obsession of ours, and see disc golf from the outside looking in. Often, once we embrace the game and fall in love, we are no longer able to perceive our thoughts and actions through an objective lens. Our vision of disc golf is already distorted by our personal experience, and that distortion makes it seem all the more glorious and wonderful.
But what do other people think when they hear us talk of disc golf? The vast majority of the outside world doesn’t have a clue what we’re talking about, other than it must be related to a term that they recognize. Golf. When defined simply in words like “golf with Frisbees,” the outsider might say, “Ooooh. Now I see.” But still, to say that they understand the game as intimately as we do is like saying that a person is a chef after learning to make toast. Right? They can’t truly understand disc golf until they experience it and taste the sweet nectar uniquely extracted through the collision of plastic and metal.
My brother is passionate about disc golf. It took a single game on a hillside covered in weeds and scrub oak to become addicted. Now he talks of the sport frequently at home and at work, even to those who have no understanding (and face it, probably no real interest) of disc golf. One time he was at home, excitedly sharing disc golf stories and probably telling tales of amazing professional throws he’d watched online. His wife, who had probably let the sound of his voice wash over her like the pleasant, yet completely passive sound of elevator music, finally chimed in.
“Why do you take disc golf so seriously?” It seemed silly to her that he was so excited about “golf with Frisbees.”
Thankfully, his young son came to his defense. “What’s the big deal? Other people like baseball and football, and they talk about those all the time. Dad just feels the same way about Disc Golf!”
Thank you, my wonderful nephew! That is it! Why can’t a bunch of grownups feel just as excited about the game of disc golf as millions upon millions of other people do about games like football, soccer, basketball, hockey, synchronized swimming, or curling? It’s completely natural. It doesn’t make us nerds, outcasts, or weirdos, just because we like a sport that they don’t understand!
But my brother’s home wasn’t his only front. He also carried that love of the sport to work. One of his coworkers had heard so much about his love for disc golf that they went to watch a local tournament. That coworker was surprised upon arriving at the scene. Large numbers of people were carrying sizable bags of discs, and the holes were…well…sturdy metal cages.
The coworker mused, “Oh. I thought it would be a few guys throwing frisbees into milk crates or something…”
That pretty much sums it up. That is what the outside world thinks. That is how they see us and that is how they envision the sport we love. We’re nerds throwing frisbees into milk crates. The only way to shatter that perception is to get them onto the fairway, put a disc in their hand, and tell them to let it fly.
I’ve personally been involved in efforts to persuade my hometown to embrace disc golf and install a course on one of their park properties. It has been an uphill battle, and I haven’t won yet. I’ve visited with the parks and recreation manager, who graciously acts interested and expresses a half-hearted desire to do something about it, then doesn’t do anything about it. I’ve met with the city council where I had to explain the sport in detail and try to convince them of how popular a course would be, if they would just give it the green light. But it was like I was speaking a completely different language that they could not understand.
The most success we’ve had in that town was when the high school bought seven baskets on a splurge, then not knowing what to do with them, stuck them in the ground in corners of the soccer practice fields and next to the baseball diamonds. There are no tees. There is no course layout. There are no hazards other than fences around the baseball diamonds which might have to be climbed to retrieve an errant disc. I’m grateful that there are basically seven practice baskets near my home, but it isn’t a course, and there is no reason anybody would go there to play an actual round of disc golf.
My efforts have seemed hopeless, primarily because the people in charge have no real understanding of the game or its appeal. They just smile and nod and say, “sounds great,” though you can see in their eyes that they’ve already dozed off while listening to my passionate pleas.
I remember being at the town’s annual “Health Days” festival one spring, and I’d set up a putting basket for kids to try. One of those city council members recognized me.
“Hey, aren’t you the guy who tried to get a course set up in town?”
“I feel bad that didn’t work out. It seems like it would have been a lot of fun.” It was polite banter, because he could see the kids having fun trying to toss the putters into the basket. It was like he was finally wrapping his mind around the game I’d tried to describe, but still didn’t really take it seriously.
I thought I’d rub it in a little bit. “Yeah, that was too bad. Since then, we’ve seen Hyrum and Nibley put in nine-hole courses, and Amalga just put in six holes in their little park”
“What?” He looked stunned. “Really? Wow.”
Now let me explain. Hyrum and Nibley are two small towns about eight miles away, with smaller populations. However, they have city representatives that take the development of their parks very seriously. They were excited to put courses on their land. But the real stinger was my mentioning of the town of Amalga which borders my home town, and they have a population just under 500 people. To imagine that a little town of alfalfa fields, that has more livestock than citizens, was more proactive about developing their parks than their much larger neighbor…well, that was an outrage.
The city council member looked surprised, more genuinely disappointed, and walked away. I’m sure he forgot about it once he got to the deep-fried-Twinkie stand. But I wanted him to feel, at least for a moment, that he was the one who was out-of-touch, and not the other way around. I wasn’t the unreasonable nerd that wanted them to install an inexpensive feature in their parks. But instead, he and his city were the ones who were late to the party. There still isn’t a course in my hometown, and I don’t see a future where their will be, unless it is privately owned.
My wife works as a judicial clerk and sits through many hours of court procedures, including drug court, where recovering drug offenders report to the court about their progress in becoming contributing members of the community. In one such hearing, the man who was reporting was asked if he was staying out of trouble.
“Yes, your honor.”
“How have you been spending your time?” the judge asked.
“I’ve been playing a lot of disc golf.”
The judge burst into laughter and asked what that was.
“Well, it’s golf, but with discs…or…um…frisbees.”
The judge laughed again, thinking this was a ridiculous game that the offender had made up in order to justify his lack of responsible activity within the community. My wife cleared her throat, blushing in embarrassment before speaking up.
“Your honor, that is actually a thing. It is becoming quite popular,” she said nervously.
“Oh…OK then.” The judge was surprised that his clerk knew about this game that only a moment earlier seemed more like a drug induced hallucination than a reality. The offender looked relieved.
Eventually disc golf will grow to such an extent that people will know it well, because they’ll see players in the local parks, they’ll see baskets everywhere, and it will creep into the public eye with the ripples of the exploding online media market. Will it ever be mainstream? I don’t know. But it has the potential to at least rise from general obscurity. For now, let them laugh. I don’t care, because I’m playing disc golf, and they aren’t.
Chapter 1 – Why Do We Play?
Chapter 2 – Be the Basket / Be the Disc
Chapter 3 – It’s Always the Disc’s Fault
Chapter 4 – Achieving True Disc Lust
Chapter 5 – The Need for Companionship
Chapter 6 – Rules of Communication
Chapter 7 – Keeping Score
Chapter 8 – Disc Golf and Sports Injuries
Chapter 9 – Disc Prejudice and Brand Elitism