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At Canterbury disc golf course, game is ‘good for the soul’

  • Dan Albert of Laconia gets ready to throw his disc on the 3rd hole at the Top O Hill Disc Golf Course in Canterbury.

    Dan Albert of Laconia gets ready to throw his disc on the 3rd hole at the Top O Hill Disc Golf Course in Canterbury.

  • Peter Elliot of Salisbury tees off on the second hole.

    Peter Elliot of Salisbury tees off on the second hole.

  • Dan Albert, left, of Laconia and Peter Elliot of Salisbury before they head out to play their round in a tournament at the Top O the Hill Disc Golf Course in Canterbury on Monday, July 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    Dan Albert, left, of Laconia and Peter Elliot of Salisbury before they head out to play their round in a tournament at the Top O the Hill Disc Golf Course in Canterbury on Monday, July 21, 2014.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • Dan Albert, left and Peter Elliot, center, clown around with owner Marty Vaughn before the disc golf tournament at the Top O Hill Disc Golf Club in Canterbury Monday, July 21, 2014.

    Dan Albert, left and Peter Elliot, center, clown around with owner Marty Vaughn before the disc golf tournament at the Top O Hill Disc Golf Club in Canterbury Monday, July 21, 2014.

  • From left:<br/>Peter Elliot, Dan Albert and Marty Vaughn head on the second hole at the Top O Hill  <br/>Disc Golf Club in Canterbury Monday July 21, 2014.

    From left:
    Peter Elliot, Dan Albert and Marty Vaughn head on the second hole at the Top O Hill
    Disc Golf Club in Canterbury Monday July 21, 2014.

  • Owner Marty Vaughn tosses a disc called a jump putt while he warms up for the Monday tournament at the Top O Hill Golf Disc Club in Canterbury July 21, 2014.

    Owner Marty Vaughn tosses a disc called a jump putt while he warms up for the Monday tournament at the Top O Hill Golf Disc Club in Canterbury July 21, 2014.

  • Dan Albert of Laconia gets ready to throw his disc on the 3rd hole at the Top O Hill Disc Golf Course in Canterbury.
  • Peter Elliot of Salisbury tees off on the second hole.
  • Dan Albert, left, of Laconia and Peter Elliot of Salisbury before they head out to play their round in a tournament at the Top O the Hill Disc Golf Course in Canterbury on Monday, July 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff
  • Dan Albert, left and Peter Elliot, center, clown around with owner Marty Vaughn before the disc golf tournament at the Top O Hill Disc Golf Club in Canterbury Monday, July 21, 2014.
  • From left:<br/>Peter Elliot, Dan Albert and Marty Vaughn head on the second hole at the Top O Hill  <br/>Disc Golf Club in Canterbury Monday July 21, 2014.
  • Owner Marty Vaughn tosses a disc called a jump putt while he warms up for the Monday tournament at the Top O Hill Golf Disc Club in Canterbury July 21, 2014.

A round at Canterbury’s Top O’ the Hill Disc Golf Course really begins at basket three.

Making par is realistic on the first two baskets, which feature open fairways and pins less than 200 feet from the tee box. At basket three, dozens of trees stand between the player and the pin, and dense brush straddles the fairway. The 18-hole course is about 6,174 feet long and densely wooded with 30- to 40-foot-wide fairways.

It is a natural space that’s becoming one of the most popular in the state, one recognized by the Professional Disc Golf Association as a “gold status” course and the site of pro and amateur tournaments. The course, one of 13 in the state listed by PDGA, has contributed to – and benefited from – the rapid rise of the sport’s popularity. About 80 people will play the course on a weekend day during the summer, and Monday night leagues draw crowds of about 40 players competing in pro, intermediate and women’s divisions.

New players are flocking to the laid-back game that blends leisurely strolls through the woods with friendly competition, and in many ways its enthusiasts represent the opposite of traditional golf’s country club reputation.

Polo shirts and khakis are out. Athletic shorts and T-shirts are in. Expensive clubs are left at home in favor of discs that cost less than $20, and rigid tee times are replaced by a show-up-when-you-can mentality.

“We call it blue-collar golf,” said course owner Marty Vaughn. “It’s good for the soul.”

In disc golf, players chuck plastic discs at chained baskets with the same objective as regular golf: to complete the course in as few strokes as possible. Par on the course is 62, and even recreational players keep score.

“It’s probably the competitive nature” that we enjoy, said Peter Elliott of Salisbury, who was wrapping up a Monday morning round with Dan Albert of Laconia. Both players started playing in the last two years, and both said they visit the course a few times a week.

“I got the bug in late fall last year and came out all winter,” said Albert, 30, who played in cargo shorts and T-shirt.

Playing the course never gets boring, they said, because its boundaries and contours are always changing. “It’s crazy how the course changes with every season,” Elliott said.

Greg Proulx and Christine Simpson of East Concord were walking toward the first tee as Albert and Elliott were wrapping up their round.

“It’s great to be able to get out there and walk through the woods,” Proulx said. “And anyone can do it.”

For Simpson, who said she and Proulx try to play a round together each week, disc golf is both a challenging and accessible game.

“I can play a round with him and not feel like I’m holding him back,” Simpson said.

People play the course year-round, Vaughn said.

“I think disc golf has finally arrived in New Hampshire,” he said. “Everybody can afford it and everybody can try to play. If you don’t have $5, just pay me next time. I just want everybody to have a good time.”

Vaughn lives on the 48-acre property with his wife, Betsy, and their four children. They played their first disc golf round in Austin, Texas, in the mid-1990s. In 1998, the family moved to Canterbury, to the farmhouse where Betsy grew up. Building a disc golf course wasn’t a dream for the former U.S. Navy serviceman. It was a plan.

“All my friends thought I was crazy,” Vaughn said.

He started charting the entire property seven years ago with Google Earth. He walked through the woods in search of holes with good flow and walkability. He cleared brush and installed baskets for more than three years before opening in May 2011.

“We would laugh and take pictures when we had three or four cars in the parking lot when we first opened,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn works at the course full time. Cutting brush, clearing trails and working in the new pro shop at the course keep Vaughn from playing as much as he used to, but the game is still a big part of his life.

“I’m just living the dream,” he said. “How can you not love playing disc golf? Once you start playing disc golf, it is a constant thought on your mind.”

(Top O’ the Hill is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and the pro shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. One round costs $5, and a day pass is $8. For more information visit topothehilldiscgolf.com.)

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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