By Robert H. Hooker ~
I don’t remember the exact day or year, but I do remember the exact spot where I first tried disc golf.
Hole 7, Winthrop Gold.
Roughly 10 years ago, I arrived at Winthrop with my son, an avid disc golfer. At his insistence, we stopped at the course during a weekend trip to see family in South Carolina. The United States Disc Golf Championship was to be played there in a few weeks and he wanted to take on one of disc golf’s most iconic courses.
I had no real knowledge of the game. Only knew that my son was enthralled with it; he had even won a few local tournaments.
On the first hole, I watched in awe as he threw his shot. The basket was 325 feet away, barely visible, tucked behind guardian trees. His shot started out right but turned left as it lost speed and settled near the basket for an easy birdie.
He held out a disc for me to try. I told him I was content to watch. I knew from my younger days that throwing a Frisbee a hundred-plus yards was not within me.
He played a few more holes and continued to impress, throwing long arcing shots that curved right or left, soared high over trees or rocketed fast, low and dead-straight toward their targets.
We then came to his favorite hole. Number 7. The basket was more than 300 feet away, surrounded by a circular bamboo fence 15 to 20 feet high and maybe 40 to 50 feet in diameter. I watched as he stood on the pad, took a couple steps, slid his left foot behind his right, reached back and then launched the disc like a trip hammer.
It was a combination of freight train power and ballerina grace. The disc arced high in the air, turned right and then left, and landed safely for another birdie.
“Here … try it,” he said, extending his plastic offering once again.
“I can’t throw those things—I’ve only thrown real Frisbees.” To my dismay and amazement, he reached into his bag and pulled out an original Frisbee.
I reluctantly took the disc, walked onto the tee pad and tossed it just as I had, so many years ago, outside my college dorm room. The disc flew about 50 feet and settled to the ground.
My son said, “That’s good, now try to get your whole body into it.” He showed me how to stand, how to X-step, how to reach back, how to pull the disc through close to my chest.
But it seemed too complicated, and not something my fifty-something-year-old body could manage. And so, I ignored everything he said, picked up the Frisbee and gave it a heave. And then I chucked it again. After three attempts, I was only halfway to the bamboo fence. I handed the Frisbee back to him.
With disgust in my voice, I said “I can’t do this.”
I had given up on myself and disappointed my son. He knew me well enough not to press the issue. But the rest of the day went well. We laughed and joked our way around the course.
Years passed and my son continued to play. I was happy that he found something he was good at, but my interest in disc golf never went beyond asking him about his latest tournament.
A few years ago, my son moved into my house. I have a good-sized piece of property and it wasn’t long before disc golf baskets sprouted up in the yard. My son, a neighbor and their friends began having nightly matches after work.
Nearly every night my son and the neighbor would drink a couple beers and play disc golf in the yard until dark and sometimes later. At some point, I realized my neighbor was no better than me at the game, but always seemed to have a good time.
One evening I grabbed a beer and headed outside to see if I could join them. I was fine with throwing 50-to-75 feet, if I wasn’t the only one doing it. That night I told myself that, if I could throw 150 feet consistently, I would give the game a serious try.
The next day I looked on YouTube for a disc golf lesson. I found much more. There were hundreds of lessons available. The entire world of disc golf seemed to live on YouTube. It didn’t take long for me to reach my goal of throwing 150 feet, and then I went well beyond it. I was hooked.
From that day forward I threw every day after work. My now 65-year-old body was building muscle I didn’t know I had. I went online and bought disc after disc, trying to find the magic one that flies straight every time.
I went from watching instructional videos to watching professional tournaments. I discovered the unbeatable Paul McBeth, his nemesis Ricky Wysocki, and my favorite Paige Pierce.
Flash forward a year and a half to 2019. I’m standing in the exact spot where I had uttered those terrible words: “I can’t.”
I’m on hole 7 again, but this time I’m carrying a camera and watching the best disc golfers in the world play the sport I’ve come to love at the USDGC.
The event doesn’t disappoint. It’s a celebration of disc golf by more than a thousand people, the old and young, men and women, everyone eager to discuss their disc golf experiences, or speculate about the winner. In the end, it is veteran James Conrad winning his first big tournament with one last putt on the final hole.
As the tournament concludes, I am tired and happy. The experience was even better than I had expected. I head across the course to the parking lot. On the way, I pass hole 7. I’m carrying four souvenir discs, each stamped with the tournament logo. Two for me. Two for my son. I look around and see that I’m pretty much alone. I take out the Mako 3 and walk onto the tee pad. I’m a 67-year-old man with a purpose—to finish the hole I had quit so many years before.
I look at the basket, take two steps forward, cross my left foot behind my right, reach back, pull through and let go.
Robert Hooker is a welder and a musician whose current passion is playing and promoting disc golf. A native North Carolinian, he currently lives near Zebulon, N.C.
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Parked is made possible in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.