Got a flying disc and a pair of walking shoes? That’s all you need to start playing disc golf.
By ANDREA KENNER
PATAPSCO VALLEY STATE PARK, CARROLL COUNTY, Md. – Disc golf is a game that’s a lot like traditional “ball golf.” The rules are pretty much the same. The main difference is that you can start playing disc golf with equipment you probably already have in your closet: A flying disc and walking shoes.
The bad news is that you’ll need to get yourself to one of the area’s disc golf courses and none are in Washington, D.C. The good news, though, is that there are about 65 disc golf courses throughout Maryland and Virginia, and some of those are within a few miles of the District. The two closest courses are in College Park, Md., and Arlington, Va. The College Park course is about a 10-minute walk from the College Park Metro station, and the Arlington course is about two miles from the Ballston Metro station.
At a disc golf tournament called Patapsco Punisher, played on the disc golf course at Patapsco Valley State Park in Carroll County, Md., April 7, more than 70 players — from professionals to newcomers — took to the tees.
Stephen J. Badger, a naturalist with the Patapsco Valley State Park, is also a tournament director and a promoter of the game.
“Disc golf is open to a wide variety of players,” Badger said. “We certainly have an eclectic mix. People from all socioeconomic groups and of all ages are out here to play. Today, we have competitors from 14 up to about age 52 or 54.”
Badger said tournament play is open to everyone, and the tournament is divided into different expertise levels that make it possible for recreational players to play alongside the pros.
However, all of the players in the April 7 tournament were male. Badger said he has found it can be difficult for women to commit the time needed for tournament-level play.
“We’re always hoping to have new women come into the sport,” Badger said. “We do work on various promotional ways to get women into more tournaments. Sometimes we help by finding a sponsor to take care of the registration fees or add cash to their division.”
Matthew Kashima, 14, was one of the youngest players at the tournament. “My dad has always had a basket in the front yard, and I’ve just been playing in my front yard since I was two or three years old,” he said.
Kashima said he likes playing with the older guys, but “they’re a little bit slow.” Some of Kashima’s younger friends play in tournaments, too. “I have a couple of friends that live up in Pennsylvania that play, and a lot of times we get into some bigger tournaments.” Kashima said that the thing he likes best about disc golf is that “you don’t have to be in the best shape to play. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Badger said the Maryland Park Service offers disc golf clinics for people who want to improve their game. “There’s also the grassroots approach by just buying a single disc at a store and just going out and giving it a try,” Badger said.
He said some beginners use Frisbees, but “the discs don’t fly as far, and they’re certainly harder to control in a heavy wind.”
But tournament golfers don’t use Frisbees. Instead, they use specialized discs that are smaller but heavier than Frisbees. Just like “ball golfers,” many professional disc golfers select a different type of disc for different play situations, Badger said.
Course designer Jim Myers said every hole on the 18-hole course offers two tees and two baskets so that players can make the play harder or easier to suit their skill level.
“The thing that we wanted on this course was to incorporate all the elevation changes you see here and make the course something that could go from amateur play all the way out to professional play,” Myers said.
“This course here is one of the sweetest courses in the nation,” he said.
Many of the area’s disc golf courses are free, but for some require a small park entrance fee. The Patapsco Valley State Park charges a $3 entry fee for Maryland residents; the entry fee for out-of-state residents is $5. Once you’re in the park, the disc golf course itself is free.
Registration fees for tournament play varies. The entry fee for the Patapsco Punisher was $45 for pros and $25 for amateurs, but that helps to fund prizes for the top finisher. Mike Moser, the winner of this year’s Patapsco Punisher, brought home the day’s top prize: $195.
View Disc golf courses in the Washington, D.C., area in a larger map