Oregon Outdoors: Disc Gold on the Rise

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Ricky Nunez knows that the adage from the tee box at Bear Creek Golf Course’s disc golf course is the same as at Augusta National for The Masters: You drive for show, but you putt for dough — even if your putter is just a plastic disc the size of a salad plate that needs to clank off chains and drop into an elevated basket.

“Absolutely,” Nunez says. “If you can’t pull out your putter and get the disc in the basket, then what are you doing out here?”

In the days and now months of social-distancing, with people looking for ways to find some entertainment and get their cardio exercise, disc golf has blossomed in Southern Oregon.

Bear Creek Golf Course south of Medford has seen close to a doubling of people eschewing traditional golf clubs and balls for Frisbees and other plastic discs.

“There really are a lot more players now,” says Kevin Daniel, the head of the Rogue Valley Disc Golf Club who helped design the Bear Creek Disc Golf Course five years ago. “I’ve heard disc golfers needing to wait for tee times now. That just never happened before.”

Disc golf is a Frisbee version of golf, with players typically following the same course and rules of conventional golf. Each toss is like a swing, with scores tallied against par.

But the basket “pins” generally are off to the side of the conventional golfers’ greens. At Bear Creek, each green on the nine-hole course has two baskets so it can be played like 18 holes.

Oh, and don’t think you can talk during someone’s backswing.

“It’s definitely not good etiquette,” Daniel says.

Disc golf traces its origins to some kids in Sasatchewan, Canada, in 1926, a bunch of bored grade-school kids tossing discs into rings they placed on the ground to see who could hit them in the fewest tosses.

It gained a certain underground popularity in the United States in the 1960s, often among colleges students who used everything from garbage cans or water fountains or trees as holes, but the sport sees its anchor as the Santa Barbara, California, beach crowd in 1968.

Now there are modern courses all over the place, usually with special metal baskets with chains to catch the discs. The Rogue Valley’s first course — since disbanded — was built more than two decades ago off Modoc Avenue. Now close to a dozen courses have popped up in Jackson and Josephine counties, with others in Klamath Falls, Brookings and Gold Beach — all on private property like the Bear Creek and Laurel Hill golf courses.

“There aren’t any on public land,” Daniel says. “For a long time, there were no basketed courses in Jackson County, so we’re really making some strides.”

This is not your typical Frisbee day at the beach. In fact, Frisbee is a trademark of the original discs, but myriad companies now make discs for players who often carry an array in their arsenal.

Mostly, there are drivers meant to carry longer distances off the tees, mid-range discs that provide more control and accuracy, and “putters” meant to finish the deal at the basket.

As in golf, hitting the basket doesn’t count. The disc has to fall in. Hence, putting for dough.

Water hazards are a double-whammy.

“When you throw your disc in the water, it’s like a golfer throwing your club and your ball into the water,” Daniel says. “Our projectile is also our club.”

The local disc club is a loose-knit group, but throwers like Daniel, Nunez and Reed Sorensen try to get out a couple times a week, knocking out rounds in a few hours after work.

Sometimes traditional golfers and disc golfers will join each other in a foursome. When Daniel visits his golfing mother in Southern California, they play rounds together.

“She would take her clubs, I’d take my discs, and we’d go play a round together. Just like we can here at Bear Creek.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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