On a sunny Tuesday evening, I made my way to the Dartmouth Commons to try a sport that’s recently been set up in the park: disc golf. The city’s parks and recreation is running a pilot project throughout the summer to gauge interest in the frisbee-flinging game, and it’s offering free workshops—maybe to get people hooked. I showed up for the women-only workshop (Tuesdays 6-8pm until Sept. 11, meet at the Thistle Street entrance) and joined a group led by Tanis Trainor. She competed in the PDGA Amateur Disc Golf World Championships last month, so I was in good hands for my first game.
Trainor explains that disc golf basically follows the same rules as regular golf. The basic goal is to get your frisbee into a basket in as few throws as possible. For scoring, every hole has a par, (the average number of throws a good player should take to get the disc in the basket), one throw under is a birdie, one throw over is a bogie and so forth. At the Commons, all nine holes are Par 3. A hole-in-one is called an ace, and there have been two since the course was set up last Friday. Just like regular golf, you tee off, and then a far throw is a drive, and a short throw is a putt. There are even different types of discs just like there are different types of golf clubs. Players carry around saddle bags or carts filled with discs. During my first round, I played with a putter, a disc for the shorter-distance throws this hilly, tree-filled course requires.
Of the group, I was the only one who had never played disc golf. I haven’t even thrown a frisbee since I was a kid. On my first few throws, I couldn’t get the disc to fly more than a few feet. I hit trees. I flung my disc in the opposite direction than I intended. I watched the other players' discs soar through the air in a graceful arc, landing at least in the vicinity of the basket. For me, it was more like hurling a pancake.
But nobody laughed at me. My team members cheered me on when I got my disc remotely close to the goal. Trainor pointed out what I did well on a given throw—be it my arm position, strength or transferring my weight from foot to foot properly—and gave me tips for the next one.
Across all nine holes, I didn’t even make par. I didn’t get a bogie either. The holes that were supposed to take three throws took me five or six. But I had a blast. Spending time outside, meeting new people and getting some physical activity made for a great Tuesday evening. There was a bagpipe practice in the park at the same time we played, which provided a very Nova Scotian soundtrack. My teammates took me under their wing, and encouraged me to try again next Tuesday. It’s a tradition to get ice cream when you get your first birdie, so I’m motivated to do better next time.
Trainor says what she likes about disc golf is that it’s a nice challenge, there’s a social aspect and anyone can play (her mom was playing with us on Tuesday). She says it’s affordable compared to other sports—until you start building your disc collection. In addition to the different types of discs, like putters and drivers, you can ones with different “flight numbers” that change their behaviour. There are discs that veer right or left, or fly high. Like any activity, you can go pretty deep.
There are courses all over Nova Scotia, and tournaments all over the Maritimes. The Dartmouth Commons course is the second in HRM, the other being in Hammonds Plains. Trainor says disc golf is like “a hike with a purpose.” It seems like an addictive hobby: we passed a man who was on his sixth round of the night. And disc golf players are dedicated. They even play in the winter, with ribbons attached to their discs so they stick out in the snow. I stumbled across a community I didn’t know existed, and it’s welcoming to newcomers.
Not everyone is happy about the new disc golf course. When I left the park, I noticed the signs about the pilot program had been vandalized. Someone had scribbled out the information on one sign and wrote “wrong” on top with a sharpie. “Keep our parks green” was written over “Dartmouth Commons Disc Golf” on the other sign.
But if disc golf is disruptive, I didn’t see any evidence. The course is in an off-leash dog area, however none of the dogs we saw went chasing after the discs. The park was practically empty. And nobody protests the softball in another area of the Commons. I guess some people hate fun. As I walked away, I saw two disc golf players wiping the Sharpie markings away with hand sanitizer.
The disc golf pilot program at Dartmouth Commons runs until Sept. 11. You can borrow equipment for free from Findlay Community Centre (26 Elliot Street in downtown Dartmouth) and reserve by phone at 902-490-4728. The general workshop and youth workshop are on Wednesdays from 6-9pm, and Saturday July 30 and Aug. 13 from 10am-4pm. The women’s workshop is on Tuesdays from 6-8pm. No equipment or registration is required for the workshops.