The great game of golf is at a crossroad. Like all sports, growth depends on young people taking an interest, but a new era of entertainment is a reality.
More and more youngsters are eschewing outdoor sports for indoor amusement: video games. And let’s face it, video games can be addictive. My own kids are glued to a controller and monitor for hours at a time, engrossed in visual fantasies far more realistic than toy soldiers or dolls.
The traditional game of golf requires time and money – maybe too much time and money. Fewer people of any age wish to give up most of a day and a good many $20 bills to tee it up and play 18 holes. This is especially true this time of year as the thermometers start creeping into the high 80s.
While remedies such as lowering the holes from 18 to 12, reducing the required number of clubs and lessening golf ball distance are feasible, they may never occur. And that brings us to an entirely different way to satisfy the basic golf enjoyment via a parallel version of the game: Disc golf.
Disc golf is a fraction of the cost and still remarkably sporty. The courses are generally 5,000 to 7,000 feet (not yards) in length with 18 holes consisting of a teeing area where a plastic, Frisbee-like disc is flung toward a distant chain basket fixed atop a metal pole. Like on a golf course, some holes are straightaways and others dog legs. The farther and more accurate your disc shots (throws) to the baskets, the lower your scores.
The concept has caught fire in recent years with sporting goods stores partly or totally dedicated to disc golf. Florida alone accounts for about 200 disc courses, including two in Clearwater: Cliff Stephens Park (600 Fairwood Avenue) and North East Coachman Park (1120 Old Coachman Road).
Trevor Toenjes owns the Local Route Disc Golf Pro Shop in Clearwater (220079 US 19 N, (727) 888-4420). His store is 4,000 square feet filled with discs, disc carts, apparel and you name it. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week.
“We custom outfit newcomers just as they fit you in a regular golf shop,” said Toenjes. “You can get a starter set of five discs for $45 and a free orientation on how to throw and play the game.”
Toenjes knows the disc golf well. “I started in 1981 and became the world’s disc champion,” he said. “It takes half the time to play compared to regular golf and ten percent of the cost. You can play disc courses for free.”
The disc serves as both the club and ball, and as said the “hole” is an elevated basket. There are three basic discs with different dynamics – a blunt-edged putter that travels slowly and drops quickly when hitting the basket, a mid-range disc reminiscent of an iron in golf with a thinner edge, and a driver disc made for distance throwing of up to 450 feet.
In addition to daily play at disc courses, sanctioned local and national tournaments take place. The Professional Disc Golfers of America (pdga.com) establishes the rules for play. While disc golf isn’t going to make dyed-in-the-wool golfers sell their clubs or foreswear the traditional game, it’s a pretty nifty and inexpensive alternative.
Besides the advantages of disc golf compared to regular golf, there’s practically no impact to the environment: less mowing and watering needs, no fertilizing, and no divots. It’s more of a nature walk amid chirping birds and scurrying squirrels while testing your disc skills.
Before you foolishly conclude that disc golf isn’t for you, give it a try. You will probably discover that in some ways it’s even more satisfying than the regular game. And when you see how many others are out there flinging discs in shaded parks, you’ll be even more energized.
Feature photo: Linda Binz Ray practices her disc throwing at Northeast Coachman Park