On and off course

A few years ago, I bought a disc. Not a Frisbee, mind you, because the disc in question was specially designed for disc golf.

So close: Asheville’s Pat Farnsworth tries for a long “putt” at the city of Asheville’s Richmond Hill disc-golf course.

It wasn’t just any disc, either. It was a Discraft XS long-range driver. I purchased it when I was just learning disc golfing (which, by the way, is a whole lot harder than it looks), and one of my disc-golfing buddies threw his XS very well. I naturally assumed that the reason my discs were always hitting trees was because I didn’t have a Disc Craft XS. So I went ahead and bought one.

A few years later, I lost it.

Frankly, I was glad to be rid of it. Like many grass-is-greener scenarios, this one had ended in disappointment. In short order, the disc developed a crack and I shoved it deep into the bottom of my bag, where it languished next to some cigarette butts.

A few months ago, I rediscovered it—for about 15 seconds. I was at the new Richmond Hill disc-golf course, having more or less given up the sport after the old course closed a year and a half ago. Somehow, the XS ended up in my hand and I gave it toss from the 18th tee. I’m not sure where it went. The crack in it, I think, must have affected its trajectory, because it vanished shortly after leaving my hand. I didn’t look around for it long (like I said, it was cracked—as well as warped, beat down and smelly). If a professional appraiser were to place a value on it, he or she would probably put it on par with a used to-go cup. And yet, as a testament to how passionately disc golfers feel about their sport and their discs, it turned out I couldn’t get rid of the old XS so easily.

The next day, I got a phone message.

“Bro. I found your disc. Call me. Peace.”

Most serious disc golfers write their name and phone number on their discs with permanent markers so if they lose one, someone else will return it. I ignored the call. The next day, another one came.

“Hey. Me again. Still got your disc. Let me know when you’ll be back on the course.”

Again, I ignored this call. I appreciated the sentiment, but figured the caller would get the idea that he had found an undesirable disc. He didn’t. He kept calling.

“Me again. Still got the blue XS. Just trying to give it back to you. I’ll be at the Bier Garden tonight if you want to pick it up. Should be on the course tomorrow around … .”

Finally I called back and told the caller to keep the disc, throw it away or leave it at the course for me to pick up later. I suspect he chose the latter, and then another player grabbed it and subsequently lost it, because two days later I got another call, this time from someone else.

“What’s up, man? I found your XS. Bill from Waffle House said he knows you. I gave it to him to give back to you. Peace.”

I don’t know anybody named “Bill from Waffle House.” I never saw the disc again.

A lot of things about disc golf surprise newcomers to the sport. The vocabulary, for one: A “basket” is no longer something you store fruit in; it’s a free-standing round cage that serves as the equivalent of a conventional golfer’s hole. An “orc” is not an evil creature that serves the White Hand of Saruman; it’s a 21.2-centimeter distance driver with a high-speed stability rating of minus one.

And here’s the real surprise: Because a good round of disc golf is often accompanied by microbrews and Grateful Dead T-shirts, the sport has developed a reputation for informality. In fact, every outing is guided by firm rules of etiquette. One is that you never, ever talk while someone else is throwing. I learned this when a hippie in baggie shorts shushed me. It was embarrassing.

The next rule is that you never steal a disc. In your day-to-day life you may be a professional thief or a petty criminal, but the moment you step onto the golf course, you’re a friend of all humanity. You pick up your trash, and if you find a disc, you call the phone number that’s invariably written on the back of it.

It should be mentioned that these points of politeness, and many others, serve to obscure the inherent silliness of disc golf. It’s a sport that some take very seriously, and that can be damnably frustrating, and yet, at the end of the day, what it amounts to is a couple of guys drinking beer and throwing pieces of plastic around. The sport has a professional league, but the country’s top pro makes less money in a year than a garbage man. And yet it’s one of the fastest-growing sports around.

I’m not sure if that’s because we all have too much time on our hands, or if it’s instead a commentary on the inherent silliness of all sports. After all, how dignified is it for a grown man to spend thousands of dollars on a country-club membership? Is there anything noble about swatting a small felt ball over a short net time after time? Is breaking your neck on the football field any better?

All I know is that I made fun of my friends who played disc golf until I started playing the sport myself. And my friends who didn’t play made fun of me in turn—until I took them out for a day on the course. Now they ask my advice on matters such as what’s the best “approach” disc for an intermediate open course.

I tell them Bill from Waffle House might be able to help.

[Longtime Xpress contributor Sam Wardle is moving to the wilds of Durham later this month, and we’re sorry for our loss. All we can say is, “Good Luck, Bro. Call us. Peace.”]

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