On perfect weather days, such as we have had of late, I want to be outside, doing something athletic or active. As a boy, my best days were outdoors: playing soccer, basketball, catch, touch football, softball, volleyball, tag, whiffle-ball, ultimate, box-ball, ten-step, and other games made up on the spot. Or walking in the woods, gardening, swimming in the pond, playing in a stream, hiking in the mountains, throwing rocks, digging holes, or watching from an apple tree as a man on a tractor cut, raked and baled a meadow. And I was fortunate that I spent most of those days in beautiful places: Bradford, Vermont and Boulder, Colorado.
As an adult, time is not as infinite, but I still enjoy most of the same things. I am still playing basketball and soccer on weekends. I have also discovered another pastime—disc golf—that, on its best days, combines a good level of competition with a walk or run around lovely natural places.
When I mention disc golf to those who have not gotten the bug, I am often met with skepticism. It seems to evoke either a negative association with regular golf, or the idea of randomly throwing Frisbees at a garbage cans and trees. Disc golf has grown to be considerably more than that. (You can get information about the sport, and a map of most of the courses in the United States at www.pdga.com. Believe it or not, there is a professional disc golf association, and a tour). But I am not recruiting any more people to play, because I enjoy the lack of crowds in the parks and the fact that the sport is still almost free.
I am blessed by a number of world class disc golf courses within range. A course typically has 18 holes. If you are good, they take two to five throws to reach the targets, which are called “pole holes”—metal baskets with hanging vertical chains that catch the disc. There is something aesthetically pleasing about watching a disc sail through the distance, following the curve you visualized for it—but it is jarring when you miscalculate and hear the rude thump of the disc hitting a branch or tree trunk or other obstacle. Devotees of the sport carry various discs: long distance drivers and putters and approach discs; discs that turn right or left.
My home course is at Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland. It is a pretty place. It has holes with lots of variety, including disc-eating cedar trees. The most famous hole runs through the woods alongside the rightward bend of a brook. We call it a “rollers paradise,” because there are multiple opportunities (for those who have mastered the skill), to roll the disc great distances along the ground rather than throw it through the air. I have not yet developed a roller.
Patapsco Valley State Park has an equally spectacular course that is long and wonderful. I have been there about ten times. And I am also a big fan of the fifty acre course at the Rockburn Branch elementary school not far from Patapsco. On the signature hole at Rockburn, you must throw from on top of a hill next to an abandoned house to a hole far downward, over a stream, and into some woods. It is rare at Rockburn to run into any other players. There are two great private courses well worth longer journeys from DC—“The Grange” in Virginia, and “The Woodshed” in Paw Paw, West Virginia. All of these are long, varied, good-looking places to visit and try your hand.
Each disc golf outing is a small lesson to me in what makes fun. Good company is key. Good competition also makes a difference—I like games that are close and are settled in the last few holes. I also learn each time how much a positive attitude or a preoccupied mind affects my level of success and enjoyment. When I can relax amidst the sun and the trees and fully concentrate on the simple matter of throwing a disc, life is uncomplicated and I am once again a kid on vacation. I want more such moments.