Disc Golf

Story by Roger Moore

A nice walk in the park, especially these days, is a good thing. As we turn from hot summer days to colorful fall weather, getting outside without the benefit of Oklahoma’s ritualistic Friday nights and Saturday afternoons requires some creativity as the eight-month pandemic continues to force social distancing. A walk through the Oklahoma State Botanic Garden is certainly a place to clear your head. A three-mile stroll around Boomer Lake might do the trick or, if you need more shade, check out Couch Park, named for one of the founding members of Stillwater.

If you need a little more than a walk, perhaps you’ve noticed a few disc golfers at Boomer. But, again, if you want a little more shade, Hoyt Grove Park might be what you desire. Ask many residents and they might not be able to tell where Hoyt Grove Park actually is.

First, what in the heck is disc golf? Those sixteenth-century Scotsman might scoff at the playing of golf with a disc rather than a club and ball, but since the 1970s disc golf has risen in popularity exponentially in the United States. “Steady” Ed Headrick is considered the “father of disc golf.” He owns patents on the Frisbee (1966), and while an employee at the toy company Wham-O developed the Disc Golf Pole Hole (1975) that is part of the landscape of every disc golf course nationwide. It is impossible to answer when someone first threw a Frisbee at perhaps a tree or a specific target. Sports historians still argue in university seminar rooms about the foundations of American baseball much less the fringe sports that have developed in the twentieth century.

But, disc golf does have a founding. George Sappenfield, a recreation counselor at Fresno State University, thought kids on the playground next to a golf course might actually enjoy playing golf with a Frisbee. Anyone who has attempted to golf a ball around Karsten Creek, Stillwater Country Club, or Lakeside knows the difficulty, the hair-pulling rage, the frustration that 18 holes can bring. 

The Frisbee was a big part of the 1960s culture due to its stress-free, recreational flexibility. There is a difference between a competitive sport and just hanging out with some friends, tossing a Frisbee around during the summer. In 1972, Goldy Norton wrote The Official Frisbee Handbook, but Frisbee golf is mentioned only briefly.

While Sappenfield was figuring some things out, across the country in Rochester, N.Y., another group was tossing the Frisbee, except they added a competitive element. What was a regionalized get-together originally, the 1974 City of Rochester Disc Golf Championship morphed into the American Flying Disc Open. Dan “Stork” Roddick won the event and drove home a new 1974 Datsun B210. The rest, as they say, is history with the Professional Disc Golf Association founded in 1976. In 1979, the $50,000 Disc Golf Tournament in Huntington Beach, Calif., showed that the idea of a few became a national recreation. By July of 2016, the PDGA boasted over 31,000 members.

Second, how do you play disc golf? Yes, anybody can play as long as you can throw a Frisbee. However, as with any evolution in sports equipment, there are variations of discs regarding weight and spin rate—those you can throw far and those for a mid-range game. Both of Stillwater’s courses are par 54, meaning every hole is a par 3, each of varying distances. Throwing straight and often low to avoid trees – and the Oklahoma wind – makes for a better round.

Boomer’s course opened in 1982 and is 6,332 feet. With a few rounds under your belt, making a three on every hole is doable except the mammoth No. 10 which runs along Boomer Road from south to north. This requires two monster tosses and then you might be in the neighborhood for a par. 

That park that nobody has heard of, Hoyt Grove Park, opened in 2006. An Eagle Scout Project Site, the course was designed by Riley Smith and sits just to the north of Couch Park off 12th Street. Although this course is shorter than Boomer (5758 feet) it requires much more precision. The open spaces of Boomer are contrasted with the tree-lined holes at Hoyt Grove. If those trees could talk they would tell you stories of daily abuse, of taking various colors of discs off their trunks, branches, and leaves. It is possible to hit a tree on every hole – trust me, I’ve done it. And although a meandering Stillwater Creek does not play a part in many holes, there are certainly opportunities to lose a disc with an errant toss. If you so desire, after playing the opening nine holes, a golfer can slip into El Tapatio Authentic Mexican Restaurant and check out their selection of disc golf equipment for purchase.

At the end of the day, disc golf can be as competitive or as relaxing as you like. It provides a chance to get outside, move around, and do something we have all done at some point – throw a Frisbee. For more information, or to perhaps dive into some serious disc golf, visit https://www.pdga.com or the Stillwater Disc Golf group on Facebook.