If you don’t know what you are looking for, you’d never guess that a nine-hole golf course is located right smack in the middle of Sam Benn Park.
No, it isn’t the standard golf game, with Titleist golf balls flying around to endanger park-goers, neighborhood houses and parked cars. You need a pack of flying discs to play this golf course — a disc golf course.
Built in 2008, the course is a favorite of local disc golfers for the price (free), location and ease of play (open spaces). The sport is growing on the Harbor with more players joining the game and more tournaments are scheduled to feed into the competitive nature of the players.
“I say there are about 40 players who are out here regularly,” Hoquiam disc golfer Dan Brown, who is the associate executive director of membership operations at the YMCA of Grays Harbor, said. “(The YMCA) has hosted a couple of tournaments and the city of Aberdeen has hosted an ‘Ace Race’ tournament in the past. It is growing. It is a lot of fun.”
Brown took up the game in 2012 after retiring from masters track &field competitions, in which he was throwing the javelin. He found it as an outlet for family fun and fitness. The 37-year-old Hoquiam resident is also an assistant track coach at Wishkah High School and disc golf feeds into his competitive nature.
“Javelin was really beating me up,” Brown said. “One day, I went out (at Sam Benn Park) with my wife, Britta, and I thought it was a lot of fun. I was hooked. It is enjoyable. I’m walking in the park with my wife and the whole family could play. I’m getting exercise that wasn’t hurting my back. It has the competition that I had when I was throwing javelin, but it was more about getting better at first.”
Brown admits that he plays a lot of rounds at Sam Benn Park and elsewhere — 500 rounds in one year for approximately 500 miles of walking — and just recently joined the Professional Disc Golf Association, which governs the rules of the game. He’s played in six amateur tournament throughout the Northwest and will play at least two or three more before the end of the year.
The game can be played year-round, including the rainy season on the Harbor. Brown noted that he isn’t the only one out on a misty, wet day playing a round at Sam Benn Park, negotiating the slippery tee boxes and slick grass.
“I’ve invested in a rain jacket and pants in order to play all year,” Brown said. “I’m not the only one out there. It is exercise and I meet new people. It is very enjoyable. It is just like golf.”
Like the standard golf game, the course is marked by tee boxes — asphalt rectangles at Sam Benn Park, with signs for each hole — and the baskets. The distance of the hole determines what par is, just like in standard golf. Sam Benn Park has eight par-3 holes and one par-4 hole on its course.
The tee throw begins the hole at the tee box. Just like throwing a Frisbee at the beach or at the park, a balanced throw sends the disc on its way. Videos of disc golf instruction are found on YouTube, including how to throw the disc and what type of throw to use — forehand, backhand, overhand and rollers, for example.
The forehand throw is the standard throw, which lends to a natural right-to-left curve (or hyzer). The backhand throw provides a left-to-right curve (or anhyzer) for right-handed throwers. For lefties, reverse the hyzers. An overhead throw flicks the disc at first vertically before it spins horizontally left or right, depending upon your grip at the time of the throw. This throw is used to clear low brush or obstacles low to the ground that could impede progress.
A roller is just what it sounds like, a throw that sends the disc rolling on the ground. Depending upon your lie, what obstacles are in front of you and where the hole is, you have to determine what is the best throw to get you there.
It isn’t easy, but it is a lot of fun.
“Just like in golf, you have to have all of the shots in order to navigate the hole,” Brown said. “You start with just a few discs and you learn the throws. As you get better and more experienced, you find you need different throws, grips and moves.
From the tee to the basket, the amount of throws/strokes determine your score. Most beginners need a few more throws to finish each hole. The hole is finished when the disc nestles into the chains or the basket of the hole. If the disc hits the basket or chains, but bounces off, it isn’t in.
During a recent round at Sam Benn Park, Brown and his playing partner, YMCA of Grays Harbor CEO Kurtis Dawson, had at least one or two putt throws bounce in and out of the basket. Just like in standard golf, it has to stay in the cup to count.
“There are times when you throw it just right and it finds a way through the chains and out,” Dawson said. “It is possible. It has to catch the chains or the basket to count.”
Sam Benn Park is a wide-open course to play and the price is right — free. There is a disc golf course at the Grays Harbor Hostel in Elma, an 18-hole course that is also free, but donations are recommended. The Hostel course features more trees and obstacles to navigate around.
Other courses in the Northwest, like Shelton’s Shelton Springs, are literally cut out of the forest and are pay-to-play. Some feature mandatories or doglegs — a designated obstacle in the fairway that must be passed as indicated by arrows or signs — to raise the difficulty of the course.
Brown spoke highly of Shelton Springs for its difficulty and challenges it presents to the player. He has a few videos of himself playing at Shelton Springs on YouTube, narrated by him — http://tinyurl.com/kw3z6l6 — in post-production.
“You’re just walking through the forest,” said Brown, who also has dedicated his Twitter feed (@the_dan_brown) to disc golf. “That is it. Sam Benn is a fun, recreational park. Shelton Springs is cut through the forest and you are playing on trails and brush. Every course offers their own set of challenges.”
With the throws, the disc themselves determine how far you are going on each shot. You could just go to the store and buy a bunch of Frisbees and play, but it may not be as much fun.
There are several discs you may need in your bag, but to start, all you need is a starter’s kit. A starter’s kit of discs — a three-disc pack with a driver, mid-range and a putter disc — is relatively inexpensive. Specialty discs can get expensive and are usually geared toward experienced players who use them for selected shots.
Each disc is weighed differently. Driver discs are the heaviest, for distance, while mid-range and putter discs are a little lighter to throw. All of them, however, are heavier than your standard Frisbee.
“A putter is like a pizza pan, but a mid-range driver is weighted a bit more on the edges,” Brown said. “Each disc, depending upon their shape, it’ll go straight or hyzer or anhyzer when you need it to. A disc golf disc is made to fly a certain way on how it is shaped. A Frisbee is light and won’t go very far. You can go out there and play with Frisbees, but you won’t be competitive. It is like golfing with a (Titleist) and golfing with a whiffle ball. You can do both, but one is made for the game and the other one isn’t.”
There is no limit to how many discs you can carry in your bag, unlike standard golf. Brown noted he carries 20 discs for different types of shots and distances. Some discs are weighted differently to perform a certain shot, while others have different grooves and flexibility for other shots.
“I have about 150 discs at home and got a new bag to hold them,” Brown said. “I’m a bit on the extreme side.”
Once you have your discs and a little time to play — approximately 30-45 minutes for nine holes — at Sam Benn Park, the course opens up. The Aberdeen Parks &Recreation Department rents out multi-purpose discs for a $10 deposit per disc to play and there is a scorecard you can print out online.
“It is a lot of fun,” Brown concluded.
Rob Burns: (360) 537-3946; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RobRVR