It’s New Year’s Eve in Long Island, New York, about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and there’s an inch of snow on the ground. Still, 45 men and women have hit the links for a golf tournament.
But this tournament features frisbees, not balls.
They’re playing disc golf, which is a sport that is exactly what it sounds like: golf with flying discs. Disc golfers tee off, aim for the greens, and “putt” from short distances, trying to toss their frisbee into a metal basket fixed to a pole planted in the ground.
Courses are similarly structured to those of its ball-based brethren, and can include water hazards and sandy bunkers. However, disc golf playing surfaces are frequently littered with more adventurous obstacles, such as in-play shrubs, trees, and extra-steep hills.
The group of players braving the bad weather are part of the Long Island Disc Golf club.
This is a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining local courses and spreading the word about a sport they love — one that’s growing at a feverish pace.
“The club is just so awesome,” says Meg Collins, a 29-year-old administrative assistant who commuted three hours from her home in New Jersey to compete in the New Year’s Eve tournament, as its lowest-ranked player. “The people are great. You can play a round and not know anybody and leave with a hundred new friends.”
“It’s an inclusive sport; nobody takes themselves too seriously, even if you’re terrible at it, which I am,” she adds.
One of the primary reasons disc golf is catching on is that it is an inexpensive sport to play, drawing people from all walks of life.
You only needs a frisbee, and most courses are either free to play on or charge just a few dollars a round. People can even create their own makeshift course at a park if they like. Just put a target on the ground somewhere and challenge some frisbee-owning friends to hit it in as few tosses as possible.
“There’s a new course going in the ground about every day in this country,” says Justin Menickelli, board of directors’ president at the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), the sport’s governing body. “It is unbelievable.”
Nobody knows quite when disc golf was invented, but according to Menickelli, it first began enjoying noticeable growth in the mid 1970’s, primarily in Southern California and Western New York. Today, participation in disc golf doubles about every six years in the United States, Menickelli says, adding that disc golf sees tournaments hosted around the world. Recently, its popularity exploded in Scandinavia.
“Disc golf can be played by men and women, boys and girls, all at the same time, on the same course,” Menickelli says.
“With its very low startup cost, with it being virtually free, you don’t have those economic barriers that you do with golf.”
Rounds of disc golf also take about half the time of a round of golf.
Collins says that she’s built tons of new relationships thanks to disc golf. “You’ve got the hippie guys that like to play in the woods,” Collins observes, “and then you’ve got people who play ball golf and thought this was interesting and wanted to try it. Just a lot of different types of people and somehow everybody gets along.”
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It’s those friendships that keep her going back to Long Island for games, even though she’s over two hours away, and has been playing for a few years — admittedly without getting much better at the sport.
Many in the game feel a greater effort needs to be made to attract people across all cultures.
The sport is pulling in greater funds thanks to its increased popularity, and Menickelli says the PDGA must utilize the money tactfully. “We need to be cognizant of how we redirect our revenue into promoting our mission, which is to promote the sport globally, improve the game, and make more people want to be a part of it,” he says.
Similar to many disc golf groups across the country, the Long Island Disc Golf club sponsors local charity events and has done outreach to children’s groups, like the Boy Scouts of America, to secure the sport’s finest players of the future, who can play the game right now. And they’re always looking to expand their reach to more players, no matter their ability.
This inclusivity is clearly one of the reasons Collins keeps coming back.
“It’s not one of those things where you’re judged because your skill level is low or because you’re a girl,” Collins says. “Everybody’s there for the same reason, so if somebody’s a little bit slower, everyone else just plays a little bit slower. We’re all out there having a good time.”