When a group of middle school students in Vancouver took tin lids from their lunchroom and started tossing them at trees on the playground, they had no idea they were starting a new sport that would become known as disc golf. Those kids eventually built what they dubbed a “tin lid golf course,” on their school grounds and played most days.
It would be 50 years later before “tin lid golf” would morph into disc golf, brought on by the emergence of the Frisbee flying disc. Originally dubbed by some as Frisbee Golf, professional leagues and the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) started in the mid-’70s.
Today the sport has taken off around the world. According to the PDGA, about 10 million people in the U.S. play disc golf at least once a year, and one million people play the sport at least once a week during the warmer months.
There are currently 19 disc golf courses here in Northern Michigan. Disc golf participants number in the thousands, and the sport is attracting tourists to the region.
This week the Northern Waters Disc Golf Series launches its 13th season hosting a weekly league and a series of tournaments.
“Our North Woods Disc Chucker’s Random Draw Doubles League starts this week in Kingsley and is at different courses every Wednesday through September,” said Mark Hamlin, president of Northern Waters Disc Series. “Anyone can join and you can show up any week to get started. We partner you up, so each week you draw a card and are randomly partnered up with someone and it is a best shot format.”
In ball golf, the player uses the same ball but changes clubs based on the distance and type of shot needed. In disc golf, it’s the discs themselves that are changed out.
“There are different discs for different circumstances on the course,” said Hamlin. “A putter is for that short shot into the basket, it is easier to control. A driver goes great distances but is harder to control.”
And yes, there are also fairway and mid distance discs.
Many golfers expound on the pleasures of being outdoors and communing with nature. That’s certainly true of disc golf as well, but with disc golf you can forget about those expensive greens fees.
“I got into disc golf because it was basically free,” said Hamlin.
“I was attracted to the outdoor aspect of the sport. I enjoy walking through the woods.”
And the cost of the equipment is far less as well. While golfers carry a set of anywhere from 10 to 15 clubs in their bag, you can get away with just one disc, though Hamlin and many others routinely carry more.
“I carry about 12-15 discs in my bag. That is the average that most experienced disc golfers carry,” said Hamlin. “But if you are just getting started you can do so with one all purpose disc that costs about $10.”
But you may not want to stop at one, even as a beginner. Just as in ball golf, you can find yourself searching through the woods for that missing disc.
“You can lose a disc, so having more than one is a good idea,” Hamlin said. “Everyone writes their name and number on the back of their discs, so the etiquette is if you find a lost disc you call the owner. The discs also get beat up from hitting trees so they have to be replaced every so often.”
The Northern Waters Disc Golf Series started in 1999 when a group of avid disc golfers in Northern Michigan tired of traveling downstate all the time to play in events.
Now there is a full slate of weekly matches as well as a tournament series.
“We sponsor a series of tournaments from St. Ignace down to Whitehall but a majority of them are in the Traverse City area. Our first tournament of the season is April 21 in Cadillac and we will finish the tournament series the weekend of September 29 with the Northern Michigan Championships, a two day event at Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills.”
While traditional golf is big on lessons and practice facilities, disc golf is more a “learn as you toss” game.
“Yes this is pretty much a learn as you go sport. It is definitely trial and error, but the more you play the better you get,” said Hamlin. “Really, the best way is to get out with people who are experienced and they will give you tips. Plus playing in a league or tournament helps as well.”
Another aspect of disc golf that Hamlin and the members of the Northern Waters Disc Series like about the sport is its accessibility.
“Besides the affordability of the sport the great thing about disc golf is anyone can do it regardless of age and gender,” said Hamlin. “It is really a lifelong sport and a great physical fitness sport.”
To learn more about the Northern Waters Disc Golf Series or the sport in general contact them at northernwatersseries.com. For a complete listing of disc golf courses in the country, including those in Northern Michigan, go to pdga.com.