Active Outdoors: Golf on the fly
Visiting from Sydney, Australia, Phil "tree-nied" White, who earned his nickname for hitting trees with his flying disc, takes aim at the 17th hole on the championship Disc Golf course at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, NH. He missed the putt and bogied the hole . . . (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Alex "lady arms" Peters, who is visitng from Sydney, Australia, celebrates as she sinks a put for par on the Disc Golf course at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, NH. Fellow Aussie Max "pitch and putt" Halden also applauds her success. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Max "pitch and putt" Halden tees off on the Disc Golf course at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, NH, while fellow Aussie Andy "fading" Wood looks on. Extra eyes help keep tabs on discs that fly off the fairway. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Golf and I just don’t get along. When someone asks me why I don’t play, I usually answer “I’m not old enough.” But disc golf is a completely different experience, much simpler, more active and (for me at least) just plain more fun.
Disc golf comes complete with tees, fairways, roughs and holes. But, instead of using clubs and a ball, it’s played with flying discs (most people call them “Frisbees,” but that’s a registered trademark). If you’ve ever tossed a flying disc in your yard, you have
more than enough skill to get started.
There are thousands of disc golf courses in the United States – including at least 11 in New Hampshire, 18 in Vermont, 33 in Maine, 30 in Massachusetts, 12 in Connecticut and 64 in New York. Some are free and you must bring your own discs, some have a small “greens fee” and rental discs available. Generally speaking, the “pay-to-play” courses I’ve seen are fancier and better maintained, but that isn’t always true.
You typically tee off with a “driver,” a compact, heavy disc designed to fly a long way. If you’re good, you can make it fade left or right at the end of its flight for precise shot placement. Or, you can be like the rest of us who are lucky to get the disc to fly in the general direction we had in mind when we made the toss. Some long holes require several shots with a driver from even the very best players – and lots of shots from the rest of us.
Closer to the hole, you use an “iron” designed specifically for accuracy. If you only play with one disc, this would be it. As with regular golf, you then use a “putter” (a soft, sticky disc) to sink your final shot into the “hole.” The softer disc is less likely to bounce away.
Holes can vary from a simple opening in a piece of plywood to the fancy Innova “Discatchers,” which use hanging chains to stop the disc (if you hit them!) and drop it into a catch basket about waist high. Way cool! Accuracy is required. You are definitely allowed a Tiger Woods-style fist pump when you nail one.
Some courses have 18 holes, but nine holes are plenty for beginners and duffers (like me) who take a lot of shots on each hole. It takes at least an hour or more to play nine holes – more if your discs have a tendency to bounce off trees.
Some disc golf courses have spectacular settings. Some are easy and flat and wide open, others twist and turn through the woods, and still others snake their way up and down mountainsides on ski trails. They are all fun, but I love the mountainside courses.
Disc golf is just one more worthy way to get motivated, get outdoors, get some exercise and have some fun. Most courses stay open through foliage season (what a wonderful way to go leaf peeping!).
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Earlier this week, I shared the new 18-hole championship disc golf course at Mount Sunapee (mountsunapee.com) in Newbury with four Australian twentysomethings, Phil “Tree-nied” White, Max “Pitch and Putt” Halden, Andy “Fading” Wood, and Alex “Lady Arms” Peters. These four terrific kids were on their way to Boston from Canada where they’d played in a series of “Ultimate ” tournaments (usaultimate.org/about/ultimate/default.aspx), another game played with flying discs.
Familiarity with the basics theoretically should have given them a huge advantage, but they quickly discovered that disc golf requires its own skill set. “Ultimate fields don’t have trees in the way,” Phil observed with a grin after the first hole. It was particularly fun to see them enjoying a game they clearly weren’t yet good at.
Alex (“Lady Arms”) was smart enough to play conservatively from the short tees, and, as a result, schooled her companions, who spent lots more time looking for discs in the woods.
Tips for playing disc golf
1) Wear hiking boots or trail shoes. You may want long pants when your discs fly into the “roughs.”
2) If the course you are playing offers short tees, start there. You’ll have more fun.
3) Unless you’re a real pro with a flying disc, go for accuracy rather than distance. Keeping your disc in the fairway makes the game go a whole lot faster, even if your “score” suffers. Searching for lost discs is the least fun part of disc golf.
4) Let the best player shoot first, then have him or her move down the fairway to spot for other players in case the discs fly into the trees. You can always blame poor shots on stray gusts of wind!
5) Bring a small backpack with drinks and snacks, just as you would on a short hike. We probably walked two miles playing 18 holes at Sunapee.
6) Forget par, forget beating your buddies, go out, get some exercise and have a great time. Worry about keeping score later, if you want to.
7) Take a whole crew with you when you go to play – disc golf is ideal for mixed ages and abilities. It’s cheap, fun and easy.
Where to play
For a searchable listing of disc golf courses, go to pdga.com/course_directory. Put in your zip code or town and it will list and link to all your options, starting with the closest. Great resource!
Ski area options
I love the “mountain” courses that a number of ski areas offer:
∎ Bretton Woods (brettonwoods.com) in Bretton Woods, N.H.
∎ Granite Gorge (granitegorge.com) in Roxbury, N.H.
∎ Mount Sunapee (mountsunapee.com) in Newbury, N.H.
∎ Wildcat Mountain (skiwildcat.com) in Pinkham Notch, N.H.
∎ Base Camp Outfiitters (basecampvt.com) in Killington, Vt.
∎ Okemo Mountain Resort (www.okemo.com) in Ludlow, Vt.
∎ Brewster Ridge Disc Golf at Smugglers’ Notch Resort (smuggs.com) in Jeffersonville, Vt.
∎ Sugarbush Resort (sugarbush.com) in Warren, Vt.
∎ Bousquet Mountain (bousquets.com) in Pittsfield, Mass.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)