Main Street News

Tees and Trees: Disc Golf for Newbies

By Published On: June 27th, 2024

My journey with disc golf began last month, but the sport has been on my mind for years. I have the UDisc course locator app on my phone and a starter set of discs, but they were just collecting dust – until a chance encounter at the Salisbury-Sharon Transfer Station. There, I reconnected with Earl Dakers, my daughter’s former soccer coach, avid disc golfer, and a competitive guy always on the move. 

It didn’t take much to convince Earl to take me out and show me how the game works. We met at Taconic State Park Rudd Pond’s nine-hole course after work on a Friday evening in a rainy drizzle. Concerned that my slow learning curve would significantly hamper progress through the nine-hole course, I brought along my daughter Olivia and son Caleb as proxy participants. While Earl instructed them, I took notes. 

Disc history

Before I share our disc golf outing, let’s take a quick look at its history. The sport began in the mid-60s and was initially marked by sporadic and isolated disc sitings using Frisbees. It started to gain traction in the early 70s, and by 1974, it had become an organized sport. The iconic disc golf pole hole you see today was patented in 1975, and the Professional Disc Golf Association was founded a year later in 1976.

As of March 2023, the PGDA’s membership grew to 250,000, much of that growth fueled by COVID-19. Today, over four million people worldwide play disc golf. In the US, there are over 10,000 courses, with that number increasing daily. Men’s involvement in the sport dwarfs women’s, but that may be changing. Currently, around 15 percent of PGDA members are women. 

Let’s get playing – but first

Earl advised that the Rudd Pond course is an excellent place for a beginner to start. It’s a compact, nine-hole course with a mix of wooded and open baskets beginning adjacent to the parking lot. Earl also recommends another fun course, albeit more challenging, at Norbrook Farm Brewery in Colebrook, CT. This course has the added benefit of post-play refreshments and an active disc golf community. 

Earl warned that disc golfers are sticklers for rules and etiquette. The sport is self-officiated, relying on the honor of its players. More experienced players are keen to help newbies learn the rules and progress. Earl reminisces about his first foray into the sport five years ago using a Frisbee. His first clumsy attempts drew supportive and instructive disc golfers to his side. 

After a longstanding relationship with golf, that was all it took for Earl to put his clubs away and invest in a set of discs. He joined the PGDA early on, received his ranking, and now participates in tournaments locally and further afield. Earl relishes the adrenaline of a tournament and challenges himself through competition.

Earl described, “I love being outside in the woods. This sport puts me in nature, and the disc golf community is very conservation-minded. I enjoy going to different courses in places I never thought I’d go to. It’s also great exercise. Sometimes, I’m hiking five miles over a course.” 

Earl also enjoys the camaraderie. “Disc golf has given me 30 to 40 friends in this area. It gets harder to make friends as you get older. Disc golf is a great way to meet people with a common interest. I’ve met lifelong friends through the sport. People can show up to a course on their own and hang out at the practice basket, knowing that someone will show up to play.” Earl also enjoys a solitary round of disc golf to focus on his game and decompress after work. Making his way around the Rudd Pond course takes him under an hour.

Unlike golf, Earl plays disc golf year-round as part of the New England Team Challenge. His team in that league is the Norbrook Narwhals, which plays through the winter. He fondly shared his experience playing a match last year in a minus 14-degree windchill and six inches of snow. 

Tee off and stay inbounds

At the first tee, Earl unpacks colorful discs from his backpack. He explained that you begin with the driver tee off the tee box. This launch pad provides the space for momentum-building wind-up before you send your disc flying. Many courses also have a beginner’s tee closer to the basket. However, this is not the case at Rudd Pond. Each tee-off area has a sign with the hole number, the par, the distance to the basket in feet, and a flight path map to the basket noting out-of-bounds areas.

These out-of-bound areas are not part of the course and include roads and paths, bodies of water, and areas beyond fences. If your disc lands out of bounds, you add one throw to your score and play the disc from approximately one meter within where your disc sailed over the boundary line. According to UDisc, out-of-bound areas are designated to keep golfers from throwing discs into roadways, areas with non-players, and heavily wooded areas or to increase the hole’s difficulty.

Playing by the numbers

Your discs’ names mimic those of standard golf clubs – five iron, driver, pitching wedge, and putter. Discs vary by weight. Earl advised us to go for lighter discs as beginners. Each disc also has four numbers listed on it. These represent speed, glide, turn, and fade. 

Speed is how fast your disc will go, ranging from 1 to 14 – higher number, faster speed. Glide is how well it will float, rated from 1 to 7 – higher number, better float. Turn stands for how much the disc will turn to the right for a right-handed back handed (RHBH) throw, rated from 1 to 5 – lower number, more turn. Fade represents how much the disc will finish to the left for the RHBH throw, rated from 0 to 5 – higher number, greater left finish. 

Reach back and let it rip

Earl demonstrates a drive with a balletic wind-up. After his first throw headed in a graceful, even path toward the basket, he explained to Olivia and Caleb that disc golf can be “frustrating and humbling.” How true those words turned out to be as their drives veered off into the adjacent woods, bouncing off trees and landing way out of bounds. This is where the standard warning is issued – always tick-check after a round of disc golf and watch for poison ivy. Even seasoned players end up in the woods! 

Earl observed the wonky trajectory of Olivia and Caleb’s attempts and opined that they were textbook rookie flight paths. For right-handers, the disc will go left, which is exactly what happened. He sent them off into the woods to find their errant discs. Once located, Earl explained that they must make their next throws from behind where their discs landed. If using a different disc, leave the previous disc on the ground. If you’re using the same one, use a disc marker, a cookie-sized disc used as a placeholder. 

Earl also recommended we brandish the black Sharpie and mark each disc with our name and phone number. Discs are easily lost and sometimes found by other golfers, who, as a matter of honor, try to reunite players with their missing equipment.

Our play progressed over the nine holes, with lots of treks out of bounds and into adjacent wooded and wetland areas. Most holes for Olivia and Caleb were over par, but by the end, they were throwing a bit straighter and enjoying themselves. For me, gaining familiarity with the sport before throwing a disc was instructive and confidence-building. On a quiet afternoon, you might find me on the course at Rudd Pond, practicing my putt on an open basket or attempting to reach back and rip it. Maybe I’ll see you there!