Why Sonoma County disc golfers are getting some overdue respect
Laura Parker, an avid disc golfer who has been competing in local and regional professional tournaments for the past three years, believes her sport deserves more respect.
“For whatever reason, disc golfers get kind of a bad rap,” she says. “Maybe it’s the beer! But come on — ball-golfers party on their carts, and they’re still considered serious amateur athletes. I don’t know why some folks kind of shun disc golfers.”
Ever since the sport was invented and developed in the 1970s, at Sonoma State University and elsewhere, disc golf — formerly known as Frisbee golf or folf — has had a reputation as being a little silly. This reputation persists. When a receptionist with Sonoma County Regional Parks heard that the Press Democrat was doing a story about disc golf, she laughed. And this reporter, a longtime player, was not surprised. That reaction is common.
But by playing the sport, or just watching it played well, it is clear that it is a truly athletic endeavor that requires and develops serious skills.
Like its cousin (which disc-golf ers really do call “ball golf,” and definitely not “real golf”) the object is to traverse a course — usually 18 holes — and hit targets. Instead of mashing a ball with a club, the disc golf player is throwing an 8- or 9-inch, 160-to 180-gram disc toward a target, often an elevated basket strung with chains, that might be 300 to 400 feet away — in pro tournaments, much farther. As in ball golf, throws (“strokes”) are counted, and obviously the fewer the better.
Getting a solid strike on a golf ball is notoriously difficult. Similarly, getting a golf disc to fly properly involves coaxing it, with arm positioning and hand-and-wrist movement, to turn to the left or to the right, to get around trees and other obstacles. Or sometimes even to make it turn to the left and then to the right — or vice versa. Making this more possible and more complicated, golf discs come in hundreds of models that, because of their shape and weight distribution, display different flight characteristics.
Players carry several or dozens of these discs in shoulder bags or backpacks as they play. In recent years, modified baby carriages with racks for discs have appeared on courses — with cup-holders for cold beverages, of course.
The sport has developed a jargon to allow manufacturers to communicate each disc’s flight characteristics, and so players can tell golf stories. So you might hear someone at Plow Brewery’s taproom, which is frequented by disc golfers, mention a “hyzer” — a disc thrown with an angle of release that has the outside edge tilted downward — which will cause the disc to sail to the left when thrown by a right-handed player; or an “anhyzer,” (yes, pronounced like the first name of the beer company) which will have the opposite effect.
All told, a well-thrown golf disc can fly a lot farther than would seem possible, and can look like it’s being guided by remote control.
“If people could see what the players on the national tour, the real professionals, are doing — it is really impressive,” Parker says. “Sometimes it’s just flat-out amazing.”
Parker described a thriller of a throw she witnessed at the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA)’s San Francisco Open, which took place at Gleneagles Disc Golf Course back in May. It was tossed by Paige Pierce, who would go on to win her fifth consecutive PDGA World Championship on Aug.18.