Disc golfers welcomed in the New Year in style

Ready, aim, shoot the disc. Competitors in the New Year's Day disc competition let fly at Ocean Park — Photo by Nikki Youngblood

As many New Year’s celebrants recuperated from New Year’s Eve festivities, disc golfers turned out in full force on Martha’s Vineyard Sunday to participate in the annual Offshore Ale Company’s New Year’s Day Disc Golf Tournament.

More than 40 players, including some who traveled from as far as Pittsburgh, Penn., just for the event, took part. Offshore provided breakfast sandwiches for the players and two tickets that could be redeemed for bottles of the popular Oak Bluffs brewpub’s beer.

The tournament is the brainchild of Offshore Ale Company owner Phil McAndrews. He plays in the tournament and donates equipment to the disc golf course.

“It was cold with a lot of snow one year on New Year’s Day,” Mr. McAndrews said. “Everyone was worn out from the holidays, and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun just to go play disc golf right now. It was such an unlikely thing to do right then, but we did it, and we had a great time. It’s now become part of a tradition, and it’s a great event that we look forward to every year.”

Similar to traditional golf, a disc golf course consists of eighteen “holes,” where the object of the game is to toss a disc into a basket in the fewest number of strokes possible on each hole. Disc golf holes are usually between 200 and 500 feet. Players use a variety of discs, depending on the shot they are facing, as different discs are designed to curve different ways while in flight and to fly different distances.

The first event of the day was the “Ring of Fire.” The object of the competition was to make “putts” to win prizes.

To make a putt in disc golf involves throwing a disc into a modified basket that also has chains that can catch a disc flying directly over it. There were three rounds. The players circled the basket from ten meters away and simultaneously “putt” their discs until just one player was left who had not missed a putt.

The event also had a stipulation where if all of the players missed the basket, anyone who had previously missed their putt was allowed back into the competition, so this led to some good-natured gamesmanship as the 40 or so players who had already missed rooted for the players who remained to miss their shots.

The next stop in the contest was the Riverhead Disc Golf Course in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest off Barnes Road. Golfers were grouped into foursomes and teed off in a shotgun start, in which all groups begin at the same time but on different holes.

Riverhead Disc Golf Course started in 1997, as a nine-hole course with makeshift baskets made from tires, chains, and wood planks. It has evolved into 54 holes spanning 15 acres with official baskets, and most holes featuring rubber tee matts to throw from. Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students play the sport at the nearby course as a part of their physical education curriculum. Regular players at the course include men and women who are in their sixties and seventies.

“We have over a thousand players now, and probably five thousand rounds are played per year on the course,” said Jake Gifford, owner of the Lazy Frog store in Oak Bluffs and master of ceremonies for the New Year’s event. He also finished in third place.

Nick Gross of West Tisbury took first-place honors. He received a trophy and a $100 gift certificate at a ceremony at Offshore Ale after the tournament, thanks to his round of three under par.

Mr. Gross is a student at UMass Amherst, where he studies environmental design, with a concentration in horticulture. He has been playing disc golf for four years, and he said that it is his main hobby.

There were also prizes for the rest of the top 10 scorers for the day, the player who had the highest score, and the player whose score put them exactly in the middle of all the golfers. Also of note was golfer Pat Whalen, who recorded a hole-in-one on the ninth hole of the tournament.

Part of the growth that disc golf has experienced may be attributed to the inexpensive nature of the sport. Most disc golf courses are free to play, and a new player could get started with an initial investment of just $8 for a disc.

Since the first-ever standardized disc golf course opened in 1975 at Oak Grove Park in Southern California, there have been more than 3,000 more that have opened in about 40 countries around the world. It is estimated by the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), the governing body for the sport, that eight to 12 million people have played disc golf at least once, and 500,000 play the sport regularly.