Preemptive clarification: The targets in disc golf look like baskets. However, due to the culturally dominant influence of regular golf, disc golfers will often refer to these targets as holes. I have done that throughout this piece.
When playing the Mt McIntyre disc golf course in Whitehorse, the nastiest piece of business is reserved for the penultimate hole.
Hole 17 is one of only two par-4 holes on the whole course, the rest are par-3s.
As you tee off, you cannot see your target. Instead, you see a cross-country ski trail curving gently to the left, guarded closely on either side by thick evergreen fauna. About 100 metres down the trail, there is sandy knoll to the right, on which the target beckons. Just beyond, there is a small gulley.
I have provided a physical description of the hole 17, yet I am aware of how inadequate my words are. To truly capture the spirit of the thing one does not need to account for its geography, but rather for the strange psychological torment it exerts on the Whitehorse disc golfing community.
If hole 17 were a movie character, it would be Hannibal Lecter.
Inevitably, as a cohort of disc golf players makes their way from the basket of hole 16 to the tee off box of hole 17, someone will express their dread re: the upcoming challenge.
“I hate this hole.”
“Me too,” another will reply. “I played here on Tuesday and I was killing it until I got to 17. I threw my first shot 50 feet into the woods and ended up triple-bogeying it. It’s a dream crusher.”
Murmurs of empathy will rise from the crowd.
Considering the remarkable consistency with which these virtually identical conversations take place, one is forced to wonder if a player’s failure to perform well on hole 17 results from a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words: is it the defeatist attitude that causes the defeat?
It is a tough thing to prove, but I thought it was a hypothesis worth exploring.
So I devised a little experiment:
I spent 30 seconds meditating positively before I teed off on 17. I told myself that I was good at this sport and that this hole would not get the best of me this time — and then I threw my disc right into a tree.
What’s odd is that along with a feeling of dejection, I also felt relief. If hole 17 is my nemesis I want to know that my nemesis cannot be bested with a cheap, dime store psychological trick.
I’m sure Clarice Starling would have been secretly disappointed if it turned out Dr. Lecter was a dunce.