Watching his disc land in a safe position, McBride senses he’s ready to start. After all, you don’t want to waste all your mojo on warm-up throws. Having first learned disc golf at this Waynesville course, McBride now stops by three or four times a week usually on his lunch break.
McBride and Powell are just a few of the many disc golfers now flocking to Waynesville’s challenging course to enjoy a different kind of sport that’s gaining a big following in Western North Carolina. There are disc golf courses in Asheville, Mars Hill, Cullowhee and Brevard. The U.S. has more than 2,000 disc golf courses — North Carolina alone with more than 60 — and the U.S. Disc Golf Championship is held just down the road in Rock Hill, S.C.
Michael Huffstetler, a newly hired recreation coordinator with the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department, has made it one of his goals to draw more people to the sport he’s long enjoyed. In fact, he did his master’s thesis on setting up a disc golf program and course at his college. He even plans on going disc golfing in Gastonia before his wedding date.
“Right now, I just want to get people playing,” he said. “It’s really a relaxing, laid-back sport — that’s why it’s so popular.
Disc golf gained momentum in the 1970s and grew to become more standardized when the Innova company patented its discs in 1983. Innova also produces standardized galvanized steel, chained baskets that are the disc golf targets. The sport combines the strength and agility of throwing a Frisbee disc with the discipline and courtesy of a golf match. Players compete individually or in teams as they each take turns throwing a brightly colored disc towards an above ground chained basket. Most of the “holes” on the course are a par three, meaning you would have to land the disc in the chained basket in three tries to keep a par score.
Players agree on an out-of-bounds before the match or tournament starts. A typical out-of-bounds might include any concrete or asphalt surface. Others might agree that a water source is out of bounds. If a disc lands out-of-bounds, one stroke is added to the score on that hole.
There are specially formed discs for different uses — drivers, mid-rangers and putters. Each has its own weight and aerodynamic shape for different uses. Some are built to roll on the grass to help project a little more distance after a throw. Some allow a throw to curve right or left in a predictable pattern to aid in positioning. Some are built for steady, straight drives. Experienced disc golfers tend to carry a bag full of discs that can be chosen for just the right throw given the type of situation.
Huffstetler advises beginner disc golfers to keep their aim down when they throw so the drive will be level and in bounds. A high-flying throw could send your disc somewhere way off course and out of play.
On a busy Monday night at the Waynesville Recreation Park, disc golfers have to compete with soccer teams and softball players that block the disc golf course without even realizing it. After all, the course does not have the clearly defined lines and boundaries like a basketball court or soccer field. The disc golf course includes lots of open green space and lanes where walkers stroll by. Discs may land in parking lots or among trees and playing fields.
That may be viewed as a nuisance to some as Huffstetler discovered while living near Philadelphia. Town officials there were about to dismantle a disc golf course because of misunderstandings that disc golfers were damaging trees. Quite the contrary, disc golfers have a vested interest in keeping a course clean and protected, Huffstetler explained. He found a way to bring the town, the YMCA and the local disc golf club members together to work out an amiable solution that saved the disc golf course.
Now in Waynesville, Huffstetler is ready to build on that success. He’s been signing up members for a newly formed disc golf club. While you can play the Waynesville course for free anytime, the disc golf club has a $15 fee that earns you discounts on merchandise, email updates on local disc golf events, and a customized disc with the club logo. The money also helps pay for the upkeep of the course.
The club meets at 5:30 p.m. every Monday. The playing fee is $4 for club members and $5 for non-members. Singles competitions are held on the second and fourth Monday of each month while the doubles competition is every first and third Monday. There’s a weekly payout for top scores and an ace pool that builds like a state lottery — more added to the pot each week — in case any lucky disc golfer throws a hole-in-one. Huffstetler is also planning a disc golf tournament in November.
Part of the attraction to disc golf is that you don’t need a lot of equipment or special shoes.
“I’d say it’s a lot less expensive than golf,” said Don Trasport, who found out about the sport from his daughter, a student at Mars Hill College. He first came out to the Waynesville course with his daughter as part of a Father’s Day event earlier in the year.
The first nine holes of the Waynesville disc golf course are mostly along the Vance Street Park, while the back nine are along Richland Creek and the Waynesville Recreation Center. The course is challenging — not only for its lengthy walks down the fairways but also for its tree-lined or hilly obstacles. In some cases, you can’t see the chained basket from the tee-off site. In other cases, a narrow fairway offers little room for error.
When playing in pairs, the team with the best score can lead off the next hole. Birdies are hard to come by, and some discs wind up in precarious places behind fences, stuck along railroad tracks and in thickets of weeds. But that’s where the disc throws get interesting — the concentration, the tactical preparation, the ballet-like stance, the held breath as a disc sails toward its target. As with golf, low scores don’t just come from long drives. You also need the graceful skill to putt — sometimes from a squat, sometimes with arm and body stretched forward as you lunge closer to the basket. But beware: from 30 feet or closer, you must not take a step in immediately before or after your throw until the disc is in the basket or else it’s an extra penalty stroke.
Throws can be made overhand, underhand and with various grips.
“It’s amazing how some of the guys can manipulate the disc,” Trasport said.
On this particular outing, he’s paired with Huffstetler. The two work well together. Huffstetler birdies the first hole and Trasport lands a beautiful putt a few holes later.
Kevin Vinez, a disc golf veteran from Asheville who competes in local tournaments, was impressed with the new Waynesville course. His company, Mountain Disc Sports, sells discs and disc golf accessories and rents the Innova chained baskets for parties or special events. With tournaments just about every weekend somewhere in Western North Carolina, it’s a business sure to grow.
“It’s easy to get addicted to something that’s basically free,” said Vinez.
For more information about the Waynesville disc golf club or the new 18-hole course, contact Michael Huffstetler at 828.456.9207 or go online at www.waynesvillediscgolf.org.