I really wanted to make fun of disc golf.
I think it has to do with my past experience with the only other disc sport I have ever played: Ultimate Frisbee.
Ultimately, I expected to run joyously around on a grassy field unhindered by sidelines, referees and other tiresome trappings of organized sports, while chucking a piece of spinning plastic.
Ultimately, what I got was bickering about the rules, scolded for not running the plays properly, and people who took their Frisbee pursuits way too seriously.
Ultimately, it sucked.
But I am happy to report that I have since made peace with the game and have seen its original charm restored by local players.
So, I turned up at the Mount Mac disc golf course for league night. It’s a bunch of guys tromping around in the woods chucking Frisbees.
It turns out that playing disc golf in Whitehorse is challenging, fun, laid-back and generally rad.
The local players are friendly, helpful, infinitely patient folks who you’d be lucky to spend an evening hanging out with (sigh).
Dave Griffiths runs league night and appears to be the patronly guru of disc golf in the Yukon: “We started out throwing Frisbees at targets in backyards all over town back in the early ’70s,” he says.
“Of course, we thought we invented the game.”
By the late ’70s, Griffiths and his crew started to get serious. They established an official, standardized course … in the pioneer cemetery.
“Martha Black’s headstone was the 7th tee,” he says nostalgically. “A monument to a bunch of folks who drowned during the Gold Rush was an especially tough hole … uh … you’re not going to print this part are you?”
In fact, there are varying accounts, but one of the first-known instances of anyone playing golf with a flying disc occurred in Vancouver in the ’20s. A group of kids played a game with tin lids that they dubbed, Tin Lid Golf, on a course they laid out in their school playground.
But if this game wasn’t invented by Yukoners, I think it’s safe to say it was invented for Yukoners and folks like us.
It’s got all the makings of a classic Yukon pastime: Walking around in the woods? Check. My dog can come? Check. Dirt cheap? Check. I can drink a cold beverage while I play? Check.
But disc golf and the local crew who play are far from disorganized or indifferent — at least on league night they are. There are personal records to be beaten. There’s bragging rights at stake. There’s a few dollars in skins to be won and an “ace pot” up for grabs for a hole-in-one.
The night I played saw a new course record established and a hole-in-one, both pulled-off by local legend Dan Reimer (sadly, both accomplishments were tainted by the spectre of doping as speculation ran wild regarding the performance-enhancing potential of his heart attack medication).
I am happy to report, however, that at this point there appears to be no risk of anyone taking disc golf a little too seriously in Whitehorse. Even among the hardcore (and really, really good) players I had the chance to play a round with, there seems to be a mindfulness that, in the end, it’s still about walking around in the woods chucking a Frisbee at targets.
“It’s the Zen part of the game that I like,” says Griffiths.
“It’s about the companionship and hanging out with my dog,” confirms Richard Vladars.
“It’s just a walk in the woods,” Alastair Smith summarizes. “It’s got some of the great qualities of ‘real’ golf, but it’s still got that fringe element – it’s not country club-ish and it’s a lot less damaging to the environment than your average super-cultivated golf course.”
When you play a round, you can expect to walk about two kilometres. It will take one to two hours and your feet will rarely be on level ground. Yup, it turns out that a round of disc golf is a bit of a workout.
“This is my exercise,” Reimer reports, still clearly stoked with his most recent round. “When I don’t feel like going for a ride or whatever, playing a round of disc golf energizes me.”
This strikes me as high praise from a guy who I know is super-active.
Far from the lovable, lethargic hippies I expected to find when I turned up for league night, Reimer does it all. Mountain biking, trail running, skiing … he’s truly a role model for active and healthy living and it so happens that he gets a kick out of disc golf.
Then again, it could be the heart attack medication speaking.
The new disc golf course at the Mount McIntyre ski trails is always open. League play happens on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. at the Dog Trail parking lot. Beginners always welcome. Bring $3 for “green fees”.
For more info, call Dave Griffiths (667-6771) or Matthew Grant (334-3856).