The Great Outdoors

Disc golf: All the joys of golf without the plaid or green fees

Disc golf: All the joys of golf without the plaid or green fees

I enjoy golf. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to wander around what is essentially a big park while tipping brewskies dutifully hidden from the course ranger.

My problem is that I’m terrible at the actual game. Somehow my skills seem to be even worse than when I started as bored junior high schooler with a long summer break and the attention span of a gerbil.

Fortunately for those of us who have a hard time coughing up regular greens fees for a sport they know will make them look like jerks, there is an alternative. Disc golf grows in following and respectability every year, and with more courses than any other city in the country, Houston is a great place to give it a try.

“The economic downturn has been an absolute boon for this sport,” says longtime disc golf organizer Andi Young. After all, playing is free, tournaments are cheap, and you can buy the equipment for as little as $20.

In parks across the city, disk-toting duffers stand at a designated tee pad and throw special Frisbees toward metal baskets. Par for most holes is three throws, and the lowest score at the end of the course wins. There are more than three dozen courses spread across the Houston area, with monthly tournaments and weekly league play providing a great place to meet new golfing buddies.

The Houston Flying Disc Society has somewhere between 700 and 800 members, Young says, although when she arrived in Houston 20 years ago there wasn’t a single course between Austin and Shreveport, La. Young and a small group of enthusiasts approached area parks departments, and gradually the sport caught on. Eventually Young formed Disc Golf Consultants and helped design courses for parks all over the city.

“We went from no place to play to hosting a world championship in maybe 12 or 13 years,” she says.

Most new sports linger in obscurity for a few decades, and Young bets disc golfers will become more and more common in the years to come. Her fellow players are pitching Houston as the site of another world championship in 2011, and in the meantime they’re welcoming a growing number of players to their affordable and challenging pastime.

Personally, I’ve found disc golfing to be the kind of sport that lends itself to laid-back rambles through a scenic spot interjected by some friendly competition and, in my case, occasional bouts of swearing at trees. In other words: It offers the pleasures of regular golf at a fraction of the price and with seldom a pair of plaid slacks in sight.

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Disc golf players take on basket No. 5 on a disc golf course. Photo courtesy of Peter Barnes
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A disc golf player throws a disc across a pond on a course. Photo by Ildar Sagdejev
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A disc placed in a basket Courtesy photo
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An assortment of flying discs Courtesy photo