Rhode Trippin’: Disc Golf

Head to your local green – snow or shine – for some socially distanced fun

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Some say that Rhode Islanders don’t like going anywhere more than 10 minutes from home, but with the travel bug biting, many of us are now looking for in-state ideas for an afternoon, day trip, or staycation. Each month, Bob Curley, author of 100 Things to Do in Rhode Island Before You Die, will share about places to go within our own state – this month, it's all about a flying disc sport.

You might say that tossing a Frisbee into a snow pile isn’t quite as life-affirming as playing a summer game of catch on the beach. I won’t argue with you. But then again, disc golf isn’t Frisbee, and while it’s a game that can be played at any time of year, this hand-tossed take on the Game of Kings has grown particularly popular during this pandemic winter.

Played like traditional golf, but substituting discs of various sizes and weights for drivers, putters, and woods, disc golf follows a familiar format. Players toss discs across (sporadically) manicured greens toward each “hole” – actually a raised bucket surrounded by disc-catching chains – with scoring based on a stroke and par system.

Unlike “real” golf, however, disc golf has a minimal price tag, and a relatively gentle learning curve. A beginner disc set can be had for about $20, and play on most courses is free (Willow Valley charges a modest $5 per round).

“I grew up playing Frisbee with my father, which was a great starting point,” says Eric Therrien, a North Kingstown resident who started playing disc golf in 2019. “There are several techniques for throwing discs that take a lot of practice to increase distance. Once your distance starts to get good, then other types of throwing techniques start coming into play – hyzer, anhyzer, tomahawk, backhand, forehand, and others.”

Each season brings its own wrinkles to the game. “Spring can get muddy at times. In summer, full-bloom trees definitely add a challenge,” Therrien says. Discs can get lost under piles of fall leaves and, needless to say, snow (pro tip: attaching a ribbon to your disc can aid retrieval).

Over the past year, the relative handful of disc golf courses in Rhode Island – including three 18-hole layouts in Ninigret Park in Charlestown, at Curtis Corner Middle School in South Kingstown, and the privately owned Willow Valley Disc Golf Course in Richmond – have been magnets for people looking for COVID-friendly outdoor activities. Quinten Scott, a disc golf tournament player and organizer who is also involved in leagues that play on Wednesday nights at Willow Valley and Sunday mornings at Curtis Corner, estimates that there are now about 1,000 disc golfers in Rhode Island.

“We’ve gone from nobody being on the course to waiting for 10 minutes for people to play through,” he says. 

Other local disc golf courses include a 9-holer in Pawtucket’s Slater Park, a 9-hole practice course at North Smithfield High School, another practice course on Prudence Island, and a new course in Bristol for use by Roger Williams University students. Several more are located in nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Scott says disc golfers tend to be a friendly community that welcomes new players to join in. Clubs and volunteers help maintain courses, including a brigade of local Prudence Island players who arrive for games riding lawn tractors to clear out the underbrush before play begins.

Disc golf is “cheap to play, you get outside, and can get a several-mile walk in,” says Therrien.

Plus, it’s a near-perfect sport for social distancing.

“Players have a very similar respect as those on regular golf courses; groups wait their turn, maintain a respectable distance, and let faster players play through,” says Therrien. “It is one of the consistent activities I’ve been able to do during the pandemic.”

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