Sunday, October 4, 2009

Diversion: Chapel Hill Disc Golf

Urge to explore. Urge to exert. Urge to compete. To excel. Yes, these are the desires of the human, the desires of the fit, the desires of me. How to accomplish these elevated goals? And for free?

Is there a way?

Play disc golf.

Disc golf expertly rides the crest between the mainstream and the unappreciated. It is a sport that is select yet free of requirement. What the hell does that mean? Don't worry, we'll explore that. But first, let's get a little background for the new-b's.

All through the country, disc-golf courses wind through suburban forest patches, most often as a section of a larger park. It's a part of the bigger picture and a thoroughly American creation.

Here in Chapel Hill, NC for example, the local course is part of the Outdoor Recreation Center, maintained by the university. On some holes you are within sight of volleyball and tennis courts, a rope course, or other practice facilities. On other holes, you are thoroughly immersed in the forest.

This is what you are greeted with at the first tee.

In bare essentials, disc-golf is similar to traditional golf. Birdies, eagles, bogies, drives, chips, and dog-legs are all part of the disc-golf lexicon too. But after that, things begin to change. For example, here is what I find in my bag of weapons:

My fairway driver. In a backhand throw it has a strong hook to the right. Easy to spot when I throw it 200 feet into the woods.

The auburn putter, heirloom of my father. Heavy and deep, it is most often seen in the chains. Lol. Or bouncing of the rim.

The beauty of this sport is that there is room for all. It is everything that traditional golf is not. It is not homogeneous. It is not white men coveting status, veins bulging from their buttoned-up collars, sweat hidden from their expensive slacks. On the disc-golf course your more likely to see bare skin shining, hairy, flabby, or not. Needless to say, the freedom of cutting loose is often undervalued. But not here. In a single round you will bear witness to a diverse assemblage. There are:

The true pros, that have refined the flick of their wrist to attack the dog-legs and let their disc soar for 400 feet if necessary.

The pros that want a workout, that finish the entire course in 30 minutes, running from shot to shot, hole to hole. I find these intimidating and off-putting. Odd and inaccessible.

The pros-in-training, that drain a birdie but follow it up with a tee-shot into the trees. They lack the consistency that we all covet. I am a pro-in-training.

And then there are the amateurs, that are either in their fetal stages, throwing just for the sake of throwing, or as a diversion while walking the dog.

What next? Well I can't leave everything up to the imagination. I'm going to give you a virtual tour of one hole. The 3rd hole in Chapel Hill. Daunting is the only word appropriate to describe it.

This is what it looks like on paper.

This is what it looks like from the tee. Can you ignore the water and launch? Or can't you?

After you throw over(or in it), this is your view looking back.

And this is what it looks like after 1 throw. :-)
As mentioned before, while playing, there is more to enjoy than just disc golf. The course is not sterile, like "normal golf." I love the outdoors. I love the observation of wilderness and the beating sun. I write down notes of what I see.

Down the sodden fairway a phoebe is sitting on the basket, but as we approach it retreats, first in circling flight and then onto the crown of a sweet gum.

For all the squirrels that make their homes here, I still expect more. Along the path, around the pond, a crouching squirrel turns into a cluster of brown leaves as I pass by it.

Behind the 7th tee, a black rat snake sits in the pine needle floor. I rush and grab it, its body contorting, recoiling and striking the top of my hand with it's unhinged jaw. I feel the rows of teeth dig in and release as I tug him away. Pricks of blood turn into isolated pools, and as I fling my hand on my next throw the blood scatters. Super beautiful.

The 12th hole skirts the backstop of the softball practice field, where Red-tailed Hawks are often seen sitting on the posts or wheeling in the sky, all too ready to laugh as a wild toss skids onto the diamond.

I urge you to explore. Just don't tell too many people. The bane of d-golf is a queue at the tee.

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