Take a hike and throw a disc as you go.
By Chad Swiatecki
“It’s like a hike, but you’re throwing a disc as you go.” There’s not a much simpler explanation of the popular sport of disc golf than that given by Damon Neth, owner of Austin’s Disc Nation equipment supplier and a longtime enthusiast. There’s a bit more to the game, of course, but disc golf’s allure comes from the simplicity of tossing a Frisbee-like flying disc around a modeled and usually wooded course and into a wire basket, which is analogous to the hole in ball golf.
Disc golf fits so well with Austin’s fit, outdoor, laid-back attitude that there are 30 busy courses in the greater Austin area. Official counts put the number of casual-to-serious players at 25,000 and Neth says the number could be much higher.
“It’s the characteristics of the city, with so many young people and college students here and people who were already in to ultimate Frisbee,” Neth says. “Regular ball golf is so frustrating and demanding to become proficient, but disc golf is easy to play right away, even if it is difficult to master.”
Another reason for disc golf’s popularity is its affordability, since beginner players only need one medium-range disc (lowest price: $8) to get started playing. Like golf clubs, there are discs designed and weighted for different throwing lengths and types of shots. There are even “putter” discs made for maximum control at a short distance, with prices for some models climbing as high as $50. Frequent players usually carry a bag with a selection of 12 discs designed for different flight paths, though one each of a driver, a mid-range and a putter disc will allow a starting player to become competent quickly for less than $50.
Clothing for disc golf can be summed up in one word: casual. Light, loose pieces like shorts, T-shirts and standard athletic shoes work best because even though tossing a disc is an easy movement, it can involve lots of motion, running and twisting to throw with the proper velocity and direction.
The chance to be active and relaxed outdoors was what attracted Austin’s Troy Herman to disc golf, using the sport as a way to rehabilitate from injuries after leaving the U.S. Army.
“I love the outdoors and there’s something innate and natural about taking a disc and throwing it at a target,” says Herman, who began playing disc golf 12 years ago and plays at least one round per week. “You take someone out to play for the first time and they see some instant success, but they also see how the mechanics work and they want to try it again and get better. You see the gears turning and they get excited because it’s not at all intimidating like the first time you go to a gym or a golf course.”
As a board member of Austin’s Waterloo Disc Golf Club—active for more than 30 years and one of the oldest clubs in the country—Herman gladly admits he’s an extreme enthusiast for the sport. He estimates he currently owns more than 200 discs, though the number would be far higher if he counted the many pieces of equipment he’s given to beginners to introduce them to the game.
“You put the disc in their hand and it just happens, and you don’t have to do much else,” he says.
Getting the Gear
For beginners, a single medium-range disc (about $8 at stores such as Austin’s Disc Nation) will let them experience the game and learn how to aim and maximize their shots. Regular players expand to a selection of drivers, mid-range and putter discs, which start at $8 each and go up to $50 for special composite materials. From there, specialty discs made for hooking, slicing and precision throws are available (there are literally thousands to choose from) at retailers such as Disc Nation and more.