Disc Golf: My New Obsession
If you walk or bike regularly in Sunnybrook Park, you may have seen people toss colourful frisbees up and down the park, attempting to land them in metal baskets with chains. This is the sport of disc golf and my latest obsession.
Chances are you have never heard of this activity, or maybe once a few years ago when a professional (yes, they exist) disc golfer named James Conrad nailed a shot from 250 feet to win the Disc Golf World Championship (yes, that also exists). That shot was ESPN's play of the week and played a lot on national media in Canada and the U.S.
I discovered disc golf in May of 2023 when I realized there is a short course near my parents' house in Elora, Ontario. It looked like a fun activity I could do with my kids while they were visiting their grand-parents. I bought a few starter disc sets. Then I discovered that E.T. Seton Park, just outside of Leaside, is an excellent course that attracts players from all over the GTA and I live 5 minutes drive from it!
It didn't take me long to get completely obsessed with the sport and six months after starting, I now have a collection of around 40 discs, a number that seems to magically grow by the day. I also have a practice net in my yard, and I spend way too much time poring over slo-mo videos of professionals throwing the disc. I love hitting the course at Seton early in the morning, feeling the breeze and sunshine, and the clink of the chains as you finish a hole.
So... What exactly is disc golf?
Disc golf actually is quite similar to regular golf in that you try to take a small object and you try to make it move towards a "hole" that's a certain distance away, with obstacles in the way. However, instead of a ball, that object is a frisbee. Well, it's technically not a frisbee, which is a disc designed to be passed between people (ie. caught). Disc golf discs are hard-edged and I absolutely do not recommend you try to catch one. It will hurt. Trust me on this one.
Much of the terminology of disc golf was taken directly from actual golf: You "drive" on the "fairway", "putt" when close to the basket, and an even score is a "par". There are usually 9 or 18 "holes", which are not actual holes, but baskets that catch the disc. Disc golf courses are usually shorter than golf courses because an average player can throw the disc around 300 feet, not 300 yards.
What's so great about this obscure sport?
Well, five things stand out:
1) You get to walk in nature. A lot. While the Seton Park course is fairly short when combing the length of the 18 holes, there is a lot of walking from basket to the next tee, and I find I usually end up with 8000 steps per round, which is around 7 kilometres, or almost 5 miles. You do all this while surrounded by nature and sunshine, and it is the single best thing for my mental health that I have found in the last 20 years. Sounds a lot like golf, right?
2) Yes, BUT: the biggest difference between golf and disc golf is the cost. My extravagant acquisition of many discs, bags, the throwing net and other accessories has so far cost me less than $500, which is the cost of a single decent-quality golf driver, let alone a whole bag of clubs. Also, courses are generally free, or maybe $10 to play. The cost to entry to disc golf is one of the lowest in all sports. You don't need fancy shoes, equipment or a membership anywhere. A starter set of three discs is around $35 and they are usually good quality.
3) Easy to learn, hard to master: most people know how to throw a frisbee, so most people will know how to execute a basic throw in disc golf. However, to become good, you need to master a few specific types of throwing, which aren't particularly simple to learn, and it provides a good technical challenge to people like me (ie. masochists).
4) Lower chance of injury. You are basically walking and throwing. Yes, if you throw the disc intensely hundreds of times a day, you can get an overuse injury. The chance of this is pretty low, though, especially if you keep yourself in decent shape and have some mobility. One of the main reasons I gravitated so quickly to disc golf
is that many friends of mine recently all got seriously injured playing various team sports, and there is basically no chance of that in disc golf.
5) It's a great family sport. In fact, my 9-year-old daughter Evie loves it, and can toss a disc like nobody's business! She even watches the pro tour events with me on YouTube! When I'm out playing rounds, I see tons of families, seniors, couples and the like playing together. What beats spending time in nature with your loved ones? It's also a fun thing to do with friends that doesn't involve alcohol (although from what I've seen, it absolutely can)...
OK, you convinced me, how do I get started?
I recommend getting a basic starter pack from one of the larger manufacturers, like Innova. It includes three discs of perfectly useable quality. That's the set I started with, and my family still uses the discs regularly. The set will last for several months play, by which time you'll know if you want to keep playing disc golf. If you do, you have the option to buy all kinds of discs in all kinds of plastics that last much longer.
Once you have the discs, you can head over to ET Seton Park in the Don Valley to play a round. However, I recommend you watch some basic throwing videos on YouTube to get a sense of how to make the disc fly level and straight. The motion is a bit different than the ultimate frisbee disc you are probably used to passing around.
A note of caution: the Seton park course is actually fairly difficult. If you want an easier challenge with less chance of losing a disc in the woods, try the course at Woodbine Beach. Much shorter holes and less foliage mean more fun and less cursing. Just like real golf!