Just a few days ago, ESPN posted a video compilation on their Instagram page. The caption reads “Because who doesn’t love a hole-in-one”.
I think it’s safe to say that anyone who sees that caption and follows ESPN’s Instagram account would immediately assume that the post highlights some impressive golf shots. Maybe some tee shots over water, 235 yards out, with freakish amounts of backspin – a shot that’s equally as difficult as it is impressive to watch for us wanna-be PGA tour cardholders here at Good Griefs.
But low and behold, ESPN has done the unthinkable.
Not only does the post lead off with a disc golf shot as the initial slide, but five of the eight shots included are all disc golf hole-in-ones. The remaining three were golf shots similar to the example post I provided. Let’s also not forget that less than one month ago, disc golf provided us with the greatest shot in its 94-year existence – hailed by some to be one of the most clutch moments in sports history.
One, 247-foot birdie shot sent every inch of sports and pop culture media into an absolute frenzy, and for very, VERY good reason.
James Conrad’s shot was beyond impressive and challenging to say the least. 247 feet away from the hole is no joke – essentially an equivalent distance to a normal par three tee. Right in front of him sat a massive tree, eliminating the right side and forcing him to play a low, left to right throw to get towards the basket, which isn’t a normal trajectory for a back-handed player.
Oh, I forgot to mention, this was in front of about 1,400 live spectators, the final hole of the World Championships, and Conrad was down one stroke on the leader – who may just be the greatest disc golfer of all time, Paul McBeth. The only other sports equivalent to a shot of this magnitude would be an up-and-coming golfer hitting a 175-yard approach shot in for birdie to tie Tiger Woods on the final hole of the Masters. I’ll spare you the suspense, that’s never happened.
Needless to say, after all my buildup of the shot, Conrad perfectly executed his backhand anhyzer (left to right arcing shot) around the tree and dead center of the chains for birdie to force a playoff hole in the World Championships. As soon as the metallic ring of plastic hitting chains echoed across the field, the 1,400 strong crowd surrounding the final hole went into an absolute frenzy. Shock, excitement, and overall disbelief plastered on the face of every spectator and no expression more distinct than that of James Conrad, realizing that he just made one of, if not, the most clutch shot in SPORTS HISTORY.
Yes, I said it. Sports history. I dare anyone to give me a shot with a higher degree of difficulty where the stakes were higher than this one. It simply does not exist.
Of course, as the sports gods would have it, Conrad ended up winning the playoff and becoming disc golf’s world champion. Just icing on the cake at that point, but nonetheless, giving the “holy shot” that much more weight.
(Photo by USDGA)
As I alluded to earlier, mainstream media lost their natural minds over the shot. ESPN had it plastered all over social media, with the shot taking it’s #1 play on SC Top-10. SB Nation called it “the greatest disc golf shot in history.” To top it all off, my personal favorite podcast and the #1 sports podcast in the world not only mentioned it, but co-host PFT Commenter went so far as to say “I actually think that this is the most clutch play ever – in the history of any sport. Like name me a better shot than this.” These are just a few of many, many mainstream reactions to the shot, and I have a feeling this won’t be the last time you see disc golf pop up on your social media feeds.
These clips are just the beginning for what I’m predicting to be a disc golf explosion around the US. It is already a fairly popular sport, but one that I’d still consider having somewhat of a “niche audience”. After seeing how viral Conrad’s shot went, I no longer think it’s too far fetched to say that disc golf can become one of the most popular recreational and competitive sports in the world. Yes, that is an INCREDIBLY bold statement, but more and more people every day are starting to take notice of the wonders of disc golf.
. . . . . .
I got my first set of discs November of last year. Earlier that year, during the pandemic, I started to pick up normal golf and let me just say, the itch that everyone talks about… yeah, it’s a real thing. I felt as though I was hitting the range every single day trying to get better and better because there were really no other activities I could do. I’d go out to play rounds with my friends fairly often, and although I was seeing improvement, golf is still so dang hard. I was starting to get worn out from playing and not seeing much progress in the fall and truth be told, my bank account was starting to become a bit weary of my addiction.
Then I discovered JomezPro on YouTube – the best source for disc golf coverage on the internet. I started watching videos of past tournaments, specific player clips, instructional videos, and before I knew it, I was hooked on learning more and more about the game.
Just a few hours after I got my first set of discs, I drove to Burke Lake Park to play my first round. I went without any expectation on how I would do, but obviously figured there would be some learning curve to playing for the first time. I’ve always been pretty good at throwing frisbees with distance, especially from the forehand side, but still, I’d never thrown a disc golf disc before and had virtually no idea where the disc would be going. After a slow start, it only took me a few holes to get the hang of how to get distance and directional curve on my throws and I found myself hovering just above par for my first round ever. Pretty stark contrast from my first round of normal golf. I will say, Burke Lake Plays very short, but the course would still give any disc golfer a challenge with its dense woods and sometimes rapid elevation changes. I fell in love with the game of disc golf that day and went to make the turn to play 18 more holes as soon as my round was complete.
(Photo by Dynamic Discs Blog)
Sure, you could say that years of throwing the frisbee around with my friends and practicing throwing an ultimate disc as far as possible may contribute to me being naturally good at the sport, but after playing round after round with new friends who had hardly ever even thrown a frisbee before, everyone I’ve played with has found an aspect to their game they could score low with. My girlfriend and I play together virtually every time we're together now, and she will beat me on a regular basis, regardless of the fact that I can throw the disc about 300 feet further.
Simply put, disc golf is on the brink of blowing up. All it needs is to continue expanding at the rate that it currently is – exposure is key.
If I still haven’t convinced you from the Conrad video and my own personal discovery, then I have a few reasons which prove disc golf is for anyone (mainly the last reason).
1. Easy to learn…
As I said before, anyone I’ve played with has found a form or strategy that works for them within their first few holes. Playing with someone who has experience will even further reduce that time it takes to learn, and before the round is over you'll will be shooting for aces on par-threes. If you’ve never been good at throwing a frisbee or just can’t seem to get the hang of it, no need to worry there either. Disc golf discs are designed to be smaller, heavier, and made of more dense plastic which allows them to fly straighter, correct themselves, and go WAY further than an ultimate frisbee. It only takes a few practice shots to find your stroke and how to replicate it for 18 holes – just focus on spin and your release angle and you will be ready to play in no time.
Anyone who has played sports before (namely golf) will quickly be able to recognize this lack of true learning curve. It takes your average person years to find a consistently good golf swing, and even then, after thousands of range balls, you’ll still have days where you simply can’t get rid of that duck-hook into the left side trees. Disc golf is very much a hole-to-hole experience where you can make corrections at every tee box and even manage to score low on shots that go awry into the woods. I find the lack of a learning curve to be the biggest difference between disc golf and normal golf – or any other sport for that matter.
Now, please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, just because it’s easy to pick up doesn’t mean it’s easy to become competitive.
2. … But very challenging to perfect
Disc golf becomes hard after you’ve learned the basics. The allure of playing better than you expected for your first few rounds wears off very fast when you suddenly think you’re the next Paul McBeth. This progression, as opposed to the ease of leaning the basic, is much more similar to the likes of what you’ll experience after becoming competent with normal golf.
Disc golf, just like normal golf, is split into three main actions. Tee shots, approach shots, and putts. Each one of these three actions requires a different type of form, flexibility, and finesse to master.
Tee shots are all about maximizing distance and finding the most direct, open path to the hole. The biggest difference between disc golf and normal golf in this regard, is that there will often be a massive oak tree no more than 20 feet in front of you, right in the middle of what is supposed to be wide open fairway. People say that trees are 90% air, but coming from experience, discs don’t do well with any sort of altercation with a tree. As most of the time you are trying to optimize distance off the tee, missing these trees become tremendously more difficult the harder you try to throw the disc – especially when you factor in wind. If you happen to throw one directly into a branch just 50 feet from the tee box, you’ve pretty much set yourself up for a second tee shot into the exact same conditions you’ve started from. Judging lines, being precise, and playing smart are actions in disc golf that even the best are challenged with every round.
(Photo by Oak Brook Disc Golf)
Approach shots deal with the most variability out of all three categories. Distance control and precision are what you need to focus on here. Trees, again will ALWAYS be a factor in these shots. The difficulty of approach shots goes up even more when dealing with obstacles near the basket or drastic elevation changes. One bad bounce on an uphill basket can result in a 100-foot roll back down the hill, most of the time into areas you don’t want to be playing from. Being strategic and taking your time with these shots are paramount. Finding the perfect balance between playing safe and being aggressive when the option is available is what will lead you to a low score.
The final part, putting, is where you’ll see the biggest difference between the pros and the amateurs. Making 10+ foot putts in disc golf is way more challenging than it looks. Combining the perfect amount of spin and distance control, as well as the accuracy to put the disc in the center of the chains can only be done with consistency after hundreds and hundreds of repetitions. Not to mention, some putts will force you to work around trees, work uphill, and against wind… all at the same time. All that being said, there is no better feeling sinking a 50-foot bomb for birdie in the midst of a challenging round. Just like in normal golf, those are the moments that will keep you coming back for more.
The challenge of perfecting these three areas of my game is something I think about every single day. Every round, the game will give you glimpses of what you’re striving for only to humble you with a bad bounce off a tree into the water you’d been meaning to avoid the entire run-up. There are bad days and there are good days, but every day on the course is one that will provide you with a shot that won’t stop replaying in your head till you go to sleep that night. Once you’ve experienced that sensation, congrats! You’re now officially obsessed.
3. Time Commitment
Normal golf usually takes 4+ hours. I can play 18 holes at my local disc golf course by myself in about 45 minutes. Once you’ve learned the basics, there’s nothing else to do but play. Holes are shorter and more compact, pace of play is faster, and as you’ll see in pro tournaments, people generally jog to their shots. To me, it’s the perfect after-work activity to get in right before the sun goes down. You’re essentially on a brief hike/jog where you get to compete with yourself and others, all while burning calories and working up a bit of a sweat. Not to mention the scenery... Go out to Vermont and play one of those courses in the mountains. Sure, you may lose a disc or two, but does it even matter with mountain views like that? I certainly don't think so.
4. The Community
(Image by Your Tahoe Place)
Disc golfers are generally the coolest people I’ve ever met. People from all different backgrounds embrace their granola side for a short period when on the disc golf course, and everyone just seems to be happy to be there. There’s no limit to the size of group you can play with (I’ve seen groups of 10+ all together laughing and drinking while playing, man it seems like a blast) and I’ve often finding myself playing with a few other random singles I met on the course that day. Everyone is relaxed and supportive, always quick with a compliment of your approach shot that cut through the trees and came to rest five feet from the basket.
If you play often and want to play competitively the PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association) offers amateur memberships for 50 dollars a year with plenty of tournament and league opportunities for anyone to participate in. As a proud new member of the disc golf community, it is one that I know I will be a part of for the rest of my life.
And now… for the best reason:
5. IT’S FREE
Yes, you heard me right. Playing disc golf is FREE. The only expense you will have to endure to play disc golf is to buy discs. For 20 dollars on Amazon, you can buy your first starter set which will come with an Escape fairway driver, a Truth midrange disc, and a Judge putter. I can assure you, those three discs will be all you need at 99% of courses you come across.
Say goodbye to the days of paying exorbitant amounts of money every round only to lose countless sleeves of expensive Pro V1’s and shoot 115. Almost every disc golf course in the US is free to play except for a few of the top private clubs in the country. Courses are plentiful in state parks and highly populated areas all over the country, and perhaps even more common in sparsely populated areas. Playing for free will only further entice you to grab your discs and head to your nearest course a few times a week. It allows you to get the repetitions needed to go from competent to competitive in a much quicker period of time than any other sport out there, and for not even a fraction of the price.
So… have I convinced you to go out and start bangin’ chains? In all seriousness, I would recommend disc golf to absolutely anyone, regardless of athletic background. The best disc golfers in the world aren’t the freaks of nature you’ll see in football and basketball. Instead, they are guys and girls who look just like us who happen to be dang good at throwing frisbees. I encourage you now, more than ever, to hop on this train NOW… because it’s only up from here.