On a day more suitable for the Iditarod than golf, 120 disc golfers from eight different states competed on Saturday in the Vineyard Social 14 in the State Forest of Martha’s Vineyard. The tournament was held on two 18-hole courses in Riverhead Field on Barnes Road, near the airport.
According to Jake Gifford, owner of the Lazy Frog in Oak Bluffs and tournament director, the “14” refers to the number of tournaments that have been held since the 2004 inaugural. The “social” speaks for itself, conveying perfectly the atmosphere of this low-key, upbeat, yet competitive athletic event that draws disc aficionados from as far away as Indiana and Georgia.
For the uninitiated — like this reporter — disc golf is a burgeoning worldwide sport. As in traditional golf, courses vary in distance and terrain. The “hole” is a basketlike metal structure approximately five feet in height, into which the disc must be thrown. The most important thing to know: It is disc golf, not Frisbee golf.
The Vineyard Social is a highly anticipated tournament in the disc golf community. For one thing, as an event sponsored by the Pro Disc Golf Association (PDGA), cash prizes are up for grabs.
There are other enticements. “Hey, it’s Martha’s Vineyard,” exclaimed player Chuck Edman of Bellingham. “It’s a beautiful place with beaches, hills, and forest. Who doesn’t like coming here?” His playing partner Mike Murphy added, “When you have to take a boat to a tournament, it feels like a big deal.”
There is also the physical layout itself. Riverfield Park offers a variety of disc-throwing experiences. A large open area, the size of several football fields, contains two different 18-hole courses, White and Blue. The Red course runs through the woods bordering the open area. The tournament consists of two rounds, one on the Red and one on the White.
Unfortunately, the Island’s charms were no match for the month of March. Contestants were greeted on Saturday by temperatures in the 30s. Worse, the White course, flat and mostly treeless, exposed the players, and their shots, to a biting wind.
As we spoke with Todd Daugherty of Nashua, N.H., prior to his round, the wind suddenly accelerated, causing both of us to grab our hats. Daugherty, who plays about 35 disc tournaments each year, shook his head. “Wind like this does crazy things to discs,” he said. “We’ll be fighting to save pars today.”
Nearby, Bryan Marks of Detroit was more succinct: “It’ll be brutal out there.”
We saw just how brutal when we joined a foursome that was not letting the conditions spoil their fun. One hint was the 16-inch stovepipe hat that Dave Tierney was sporting. (In true St. Patrick’s Day spirit, the hat celebrated “Irish Porter.”)
Teeing off in a swirling wind on the fourth hole of the White course, we watched as every drive took a different track: veering upside down to the left, sliding along the snow into a bush, sailing aloft before crash-landing 30 feet from the tee, disappearing into the woods on our right.
Unperturbed, even cheerful, the group picked up their stuffed backpacks and headed toward their respective discs. As we walked, Donnie Phillips from Harvard, Mass., remarked in exasperation, “I tried to throw a Hyzer but it turned into a Skipsy.”
Thus began our real disc golf education. Phillips elaborated: “You’re basically throwing three kinds of discs,” he explained. “You’ve got your drivers, mid-ranges and putters. They have different weights and edges. ”
Gofberg continued the lesson. “There’s some science involved,” he said. “If a righty throws with the left side angled down, that’s a Hyzer. The disc will sail right to left. The opposite is an Anhyzer. A low, straight shot that might slide on snow is a Skipsy. We won’t get into a Thumber and Tomahawk now.”
As we pondered this information, Richard Holdgate of Nantucket weighed in. “Yup. Today it’s all about disc selection.”
With that, Dave Tierney lowered his backpack to the ground and opened the zipper. We were looking at a neatly packed row of about 20 discs of varying size and color. That explained the heavy packs. They were a disc golfer’s version of a bag of clubs. One, or two, choices for every situation.
After enjoying the company and the golfing skills of several other groups, we headed for the parking lot. Suddenly a voice rang out, “Fore!” Sure enough, a purple disc was angling in our direction. We ducked just in time. It looked an Anhyzer … but we couldn’t be sure
Vineyard Social 14 disc golf category winners
Men’s Open: Michael Habets of Newport, N.H. (score 113).
Women’s Open: Julie Ferdella of Rochdale (132).
Men’s Pro Masters 40+: Mark Valis of Worcester (116).
Men’s Pro Masters 50+: David Boliver of Cherry Valley (130).
Men’s Advanced: John Bilsky of Pelham, N.H. (121).
Women’s Advanced: Melissa Turk of South Bend, Ind. (145).
Men’s Amateur Masters 40+: Mike Harter of Nantucket (113).
Men’s Amateur Masters 50+: James Blasi of Nantucket (125).
Men’s Amateur Masters 60+: Paul Brewer of Edgartown (137).
Men’s Intermediate: Jason Buja of Marstons Mills (119).
Women’s Intermediate: Amela Vanderwolf of Nantucket (157).
Women’s Recreation: Kaye Harper of Manchester, N.H. (159).