Positioning himself carefully, and looking as if he is about to go into battle, Cutler has one last look at the basket. Suddenly, he takes four or five rapid steps to the edge of the teeing-off area and unleashes his Frisbee with a smooth and yet powerful sweep of his right arm. I watch, mesmerised. Somehow Cutler’s Frisbee spins elegantly through the air, avoiding trees, branches and undergrowth to land within a foot of the basket.
“That’s the idea,” says Cutler. “Now it’s your turn.”
I’m taking part in a disc golf contest amid the Mendip Hills. Like me, my fellow competitors are new to disc golf. My brother, Chris, his sons Sam and George and my son Elliot have signed up to see what it’s all about – and there is a sceptic in our midst.
“I don’t get it,” was Elliot’s verdict when we arrived at the Mendip Activity Centre, the home of a 10-hole disc golf course. “How can throwing a Frisbee be a sport?” In vain did I tell Elliot, 17, that a long time ago – while at university – I’d been part of an Ultimate Frisbee team. Now known simply as “Ultimate”, the game grew out of the American counterculture of the Sixties. Two mixed-gender teams of seven play against each other, the aim being to pass a Frisbee to a team member in the opposing team’s end zone. Physical contact barely occurs and players cannot take a step once in possession of a Frisbee; to add to Ultimate’s sense of sporting nonconformity, the game relies on players’ sense of fair play rather than referees to enforce rules.
Elliot is not convinced. His doubt lessens, though, as Cutler reveals not only that there is a British Disc Golf Association (BDGA) but that the Professional Disc Golf Association hosts annual world championships. “It’s a great community,” says Cutler, who is ranked second on the BDGA national tour. “We play at courses up and down the country. There’s always a really good atmosphere. It’s a fun day out.”
Cutler explains that disc golf “is just like traditional golf, but instead of a golf ball and clubs, you use a Frisbee”. The aim is to throw the Frisbee from a tee area to a hole, or target, the most common form of which we can see on the Mendip course – an elevated metal basket. “As you progress round the course,” says Cutler, “you have to begin again at the place where your Frisbee last landed. You complete each hole when you’ve successfully landed the Frisbee in the basket.”
It sounds simple enough – and is pleasingly democratic, too. Disc golf is nothing if not inclusive: anyone can play – men, women, children – of whatever age and ability. There is little by way of etiquette beyond an insistence on fair play, and nothing of the snobbery than can plague golf clubs. You can even have a drink while playing, though it won’t make for speedier course completion.
Like golf, equipment varies. Cutler shows us 20 Frisbees of differing size and weight. “Just as you have different clubs, depending on the range of the hole, you have different Frisbees for different parts of the course.” He advises starting with lighter Frisbees because they fly straight and glide well, and shows us the correct throwing technique: the disc is held firmly with four fingers under the rim and thumb over the top, and released by a flick of the wrist, once we’ve reached back and pulled through in a horizontal motion with our throwing arms. “Try and be smooth and loose in the first part of the throw, then finish strongly,” says Cutler. “It’s much more about good technique than strength.”
Our first attempts are promising. Cutler advises a little less force here, a touch more style there, but we seem to have the hang of it, so he devises a competition. It’ll be the Bristol Wades – Chris, Sam and George – against the Cornwall Wades, myself and Elliot. He gives me scorecards, so we can enter how many throws it takes each person to complete each of the 10 holes. Their names, starting with Badger’s, taking in The Bumps and Blossom Blast and ending at Lyncombe Lane, suggest that disc golf enthusiasts enjoy their jargon. This turns out to be true: Cutler is adept at any of hyzers (making the disc fade to the left), anhyzers (where they fade to the right) and tomahawk throws (overhand throws at a vertical angle).
Throws of this calibre elude us, intentionally at least, but no matter: the game is entertaining, challenging and more physical than Ultimate thanks to where it’s taking place. Initially, the course wends its way through woodland; evading branches and undergrowth means that most of us take three to four throws to complete each hole. The feeling, as a disc lands in a metal basket, isn’t quite the same as scoring a goal or a try, but it’s easier than putting a golf ball and has its own curiously whimsical sense of satisfaction. Then come hills to climb before we’re atop the rolling Mendip fields. Here, we face a new difficulty – the wind. Cutler makes it look easy, taking no more than two throws for any hole. To my delight, I also complete one hole in two, and am the only one of both Bristol and Cornwall Wades to do so.
This makes the difference. We’ve all been fairly consistent, taking three to four throws per hole, with one or two glitches. Come the final reckoning the boys score 37 each, Chris has taken 34 throws and I’m the winner with 33. I ask Elliot if he now agrees that throwing a Frisbee can be a sport. He does, and Chris suggests a rematch. I’m only too happy to say yes. It’s been fun – and at last, all these years later, playing Ultimate Frisbee at university has paid a dividend.
A POTTED HISTORY
Disc golf was a part of the World Frisbee Championships in 1975 and was formalised in the United States in 1976, with the creation of the Disc Golf Association Company in 1976.
The man credited with popularising disc golf is “Steady Ed” Headrick, who designed the first bespoke course at Oak Grove Park in La Cañada Flintridge, California. Headrick also designed and patented the modern Frisbee.
Flying discs date back to the 1900s. In 1926, a group of American college students played a game of throwing tin plates at targets, which they called Tin Lid Golf.
There are 35 disc golf courses in the UK. Professional disc golfers have up to 20 Frisbees, and take part in a tour under the auspices of BDGA. Prize money is not their motivation.
Visit bdga.org.uk and mendipoutdoorpursuits.co.uk
Originally Posted @ www.telegraph.co.uk