Disc golf: Give it a throw
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media May 10, 2012 4:22PM
A typical golf bag at the Aurora Borealis Disc Golf Tournament at Jericho Lake Park contained driver, midrange and putter discs, similar to the clubs found in a conventional golf bag. | File photo
♦ 9:30 a.m. May 12
♦ Channahon Community Park, 23200 W. McClintock Road, Channahon
Black Bear Doubles Disc Golf Tournament
♦ 10 a.m. May 12
♦ Black Bear Park, 1784 Essex Drive, Hoffman Estates
♦ (847) 885-7500
Disc Golf Tournament
♦ 12:30 p.m. May 20
♦ Maryknoll Park, 845 Pershing Ave., Glen Ellyn
♦ (630) 858-2462
Bring your own discs or borrow one of ours. With the help of the Midwest Disc Golf staff, contestants will participate in several competitions. Participants will be divided by age and skill level. For ages 10 and up.
Updated: May 22, 2012 8:58AM
If you’ve ever happened across a chain-linked basket shaped like an inverted teardrop while out for a nature hike, you may have unwittingly stumbled upon a disc golf course.
Disc golf isn’t new — it was formalized in the 1970s — but its popularity has vaulted in recent years. It’s grown from a collegiate pastime to leagues with competitive players, said Cathy Kamm with Midwest Disc Golf, based in Lombard.
“It’s a wonderful sport. It’s kind of like golf in that you are playing against yourself on the course trying to beat your last score,” she said. “We play with people from 7 into their 70s. It’s truly a sport that is family-oriented.”
It’s a lot like golf, only played with a flying plastic disc. The object is to throw your disc into an elevated metal basket (called a Pole Hole) in the least amount of shots. You shoot towards the chains from wherever your disc lands.
The benefits of disc golf are numerous; for starters, it’s a low-impact workout that’s easy on your joints as well as your checkbook. Almost all disc golf courses are free to play on, so there are no tee times to reserve. The natural terrain of trees, shrubs and water provides challenges for the player.
Midwest Disc Golf promotes events in the Chicago area; for a beginner looking to get involved in the sport, it’s the first place to visit. The web site is a hub for disc golf courses, leagues and events in the area. The organization helps design courses, organize events, and sells discs and other merchandise.
They have four new disc golf courses in the works right now, she said.
“We volunteer our time to help parks,” she said. “Being that disc golf is kind of a new thing to them; we help them to develop the programming, their clinics, until they are launched on their own. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of people play. We have a growing field sport in the area. It’s popping up everywhere.”
From Aurora to Yorkville and Joliet to South Elgin, there are courses all across the Chicago area to play. All you really need is a disc. Discs range in price from $8 for a basic disc to a three-disc set that includes a driver, an approach disc and a putter for around $30.
“There are leagues throughout the area that have great followings as far as people coming out, and they are a great place for a person to start learning and have the opportunity to play with more experiences players,” Kamm said.
There are clubs in Geneva and Streamwood, and there is also the Fox Valley Metro Disc Golf Club, an organization with about 100 members.
The club was founded in 2006 and is dedicated to promoting disc golf in the Fox Valley area. The club considers Jericho Lake in Aurora and Eagle Ridge Park in Oswego as its home courses.
They have handicapped and doubles leagues, and do a Sunday morning challenge as well. This is when beginners can come out to Civic Center Park in Oswego at 9 a.m. and learn the sport from the members of the club, said president Blaine Scheppe.
Other events they do include playing against other clubs, father-son games and a glow round at night.
“We’ll put lights on the baskets and we get lots of kids,” he said.
The J-Town Disc Golf Club has served the Joliet area since 2009, and has about 65 members.
The club is hosting an all-women’s tournament on May 12 in Channahon.
They’ve held a best-shot doubles game on Wednesdays for nearly 20 years, said club president Ray Hill of New Lenox, although there was never a structured club.
“There are three to five of us that travel to tournaments. If it’s in a three-state radius, chances are we’re all in the car going to it,” he said. “We decided to take the blunt headache of putting something like that together. We gave it a name, we gave it bylaws. I think there was a need for it, and we filled that gap.”
For a $15 donation, members receive a numbered bag tag. Every Tuesday, the club plays a singles league in which members hand in their bag tags. They are re-issued according to your score. The lower the tag number, the higher your bragging rights.
“People see your tag hanging on your bag, and they know that you’re the number five guy that week,” he said.
Each week, they play on one of the 30 courses in the area. The Joliet area has the most disc golf courses per capita, he said.
“It’s one of those things, like playing Slug Bug,” he said. “No one really notices it until they hear about it, and then they can’t get away from it.”
In addition to the bag tags, J-Town Disc Golf offers a members-only tournament that is sanctioned by the PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association — yep, there’s a national association.)
He started playing around 1993 when he saw others playing at Hanes Park in New Lenox.
“It’s been there forever, but there is quite a discussion going on right now on the first-ever Illinois disc golf course,” he said. “I’ve always (heard) that West Park in Rockdale was the first-ever in 1978. But somebody found a basket on eBay that was way up north that was dated ’76 or ’75. So they’re trying to figure out which was the first.”
To get started playing, he recommends just getting a disc “at the 7-11,” he said.
“The more expensive, the more durable the plastic,” he said. “You’re going to hit trees; you’re going to hit stuff. Just yourself involved in the sport, get yourself a first disc and it’s free to play.”
He wouldn’t mind if courses charged a fee, because the sport has grown so rapidly that it’s hard for competitive players to practice.
“The sport has taken off so much in the last year, that every place we go right now is packed to the gills, every park,” he said. “And I think that has a lot to do with the sport being free. Kids get out of school and that’s the first thing they do, grab their discs and go to the park. It’s free exercise — you’re talking a walk in the park and throwing plastic at metal.”
It’s a double-edged sword. He is glad the sport has taken off, but he has to hunt for empty soccer or baseball fields to use as a makeshift driving range.
Newbies looking to join should just show up to an event 15 minutes ahead of time and check in, he said. It’s open to everyone, no matter how young or old you might be.
“There isn’t a person I know that wasn’t a casual player at one point. They all had to break the ice and walk up to the table and introduce themselves and say hi,” he said. “Once you do that, we’ll point you in the right direction. The cool part about the Tuesday night leagues, is it is handicapped leagues, so the first-time player can compete with the guy who’s been doing it 30 years and it’s no big deal at all. We’ll find a spot for you.”
An Ice Bowl is a disc golf tradition, he said, with the motto being “No wimps, no whiners.”
“We have a winter league that runs on Sundays all winter long,” he said. “We in the Chicago area have always been prideful on putting up with the elements. The purpose behind the tournament is strictly fundraising for the charity of our choice, which in this case is MorningStar Mission.”
In 2011, they raised $5,700 and 470 pounds of food, putting them fifth nationally. In 2012, they did $8,600 and 1,000 pounds of food, putting them third nationally.
“It was a no-brainer that we should give back to the disc golf community and show our support for a good cause like that,” he said.
The Fox Valley Metro Disc Golf Club also does an Ice Bowl in January as a fundraiser for the Hesed House, Scheppe said. They’ve raised $15,000 for the charity.
“Everybody throws two rounds of 18 holes in the cold, and the only thing we do is feed them chili to keep their spirits up,” he said.
Scheppe too is surprised at how disc golf has exploded in popularity.
“There’s clubs all around, but ours is kind of special because our face does change every year,” he said. “We’re constantly talking to people out at the parks, the families throwing with discs. We reach out a lot.
“The face does change every year, it’s pretty neat. It’s a huge growing sport. We’re filling up the parks. We need more parks. You go out any given Saturday; you’ll see somebody at each hole out there. It’s super popular.”