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Free golf in parks -- disc golf, that is

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 19, 2008 - Tiger Woods may get the most attention but Frisbee lovers use their favorite discs for a form of the traditional golf game that continues to gain popularity. The St. Louis area has many disc golf courses where holes become cages or lines painted on trees.

Those who play the sport say it is a low-cost way to satisfy any level of the competitive spirit.

Disc golf came into being during the 1960s after the invention of the Frisbee. Ed Headrick, who worked on the "Pluto Platters" at WAMMO, combined golf with the new toy. Eventually, Headrick founded the Professional Disc Golf Association, based in Georgia.

The sport takes most of its rules from golf. Players substitute Frisbees or "discs" for balls and clubs. Players throw at "cages" or "holes" from tee pads. The game is scored in the same way as its parent game, with each throw the equivalent of a stroke with a club. Penalties can be assessed for out-of-bounds play or for play from unsafe areas like streets.

The River City Flyers-St. Louis Disc Golf Club has 350 members, with players and course designers such as David McCormack. They not only play but conduct tournaments and sponsor teams.

Rick Rothstein, a board member of the PDGA and Missouri's state coordinator, said his organization has more than 12,000 paying members and a number of affiliated clubs. The Kansas City-based Rothstein, who owns Disc Golf World, said the sport has become part of the Show-Me Games and noted that the Missouri Disc Golf Championship, which was held in the 1980s, could be revived.

"It's just burgeoning," Rothstein said. "In fact, I joke with [customers]. I get very serious with them and say, 'You know the game is addicting.' Nine times out of 10, they laugh and say, 'Too late.'"

Rothstein said that the social and fun aspects were among the game's big lures as well as the low cost.

McCormack and the club have worked with local parks officials such as those in St. Louis County to install many of the area's courses.

When designing a course, McCormack said, "To me, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. ... My own goal is to have disc golf be professional, presented professionally."

For Tom Ott, assistant director of the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation, disc golf has been a winning partnership. To find the county parks that have disc golf, click here .

"They get quite a bit of use," Ott said of the county's disc golf courses. The courses were put in by the St. Louis Disc Golf Club, and the department just has to mow, which it would have done anyway.

The courses are free to the public and Ott said his department views them as a good way to increase its recreational offerings. Another course is on the way for St. Louis County as the department and club have been looking at Unger Park off Wells Road near Highways 270 and 44. The group will examine the site this month and determine how best to put in a course in a park prone to flooding from the nearby Meramac River.

Parks aren't the only places Frisbee golfers let fly.

The campus at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville has had a course since 2001. Dave Hagedorn attended its opening as a student in 2001. "I took to it immediately," Hagedorn, now assistant director of campus recreation, recalled. "Disc golf is a pretty welcoming sport to all." Hagedorn became an avid player and now 33 years old, still plays.

Thing that appeals to students about the sport he says, is the low cost and how easy it is to play.

"I think there's a very short learning curve to disc golf where you can just go out and enjoy," Hagedorn said. "It's just easy to fall into. I've had fun with it."

Amelia Flood is a freelance journalist. 

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