With traditional golf courses like Mountain Brook and the Stanly County Country Club no longer in operation, the popularity of disc golf has grown in recent years.
Disc golf involves the same principles as regular golf, but players throw different types of flying discs, similar to Frisbees, into large metal baskets. The sport began around the 1960s and flourished a decade later when Frisbee inventor Ed Headrick left Wham-O to create the first disc golf company.
The United States has the most disc golf courses in the world (approximately 6,652), and Stanly has five disc golf courses, four public (Fox Chase, Oakboro District Park, City Lake Park in Albemarle, and Richfield’s Goose Landing) and a private course, Hardaway Pointe in Badin.
Albemarle has its own disc golf group, the Albemarle Disc Golf Association (ADGA), which organizes a league as well as tournaments which attract competitors from outside the county.
Many of these tournaments, including the Ice Bowl each February, are played on the original course, and perhaps the most physically demanding of Stanly’s courses, Fox Chase.
Within the confines of Chuck Morehead Park and operated by Albemarle Parks and Recreation, this is an 18-hole championship-level course that requires golfers to tread various elevations.
The walking/running track that winds through the woods of Morehead Park has hosted many high school championship cross-country competitions and tests the fitness of golfers and runners.
The Ice Bowl has been challenging disc golfers to play in cold conditions for 13 years.
The one-day, two-round PDGA-sanctioned event brought together golfers from amateur to professional level.
Fox Chase ranks among the toughest courses in the state and beyond according to several disc golf websites.
According to Brent Thompson, President of the ADGA, City Lake recently hosted an event that brought together approximately 75 golfers.
City Lake used to be a nine-hole course, but several years ago it was expanded to an 18-hole course. The course has open areas and forest holes with less severe elevation changes than Fox Chase.
Oakboro District Park hosts many ADGA and other events on an 18-hole course that has fewer elevation changes and has pine straw on the fairways of some of the course’s holes . The signature 17th hole had line after line of trees with less than two feet between each one. Each hole of the two sets of tees at Oakboro is a par 3 ending in a long par 4.
Goose Landing at Richfield Park, built in 2013, has several natural tees and also features something that many disc golf courses lack: several water hazards that players must hit to continue their rounds.
The newest disc golf course is also a rarity in the world of this burgeoning sport: a private course.
Hardaway Point Golf Course is built on part of the former Stanly County Golf Club and Badin Inn Golf Club.
Owners Vanessa Mullinix and Stephanie Owens, who also own the 1913 Badin Inn on the property, opened the course designed by Bryon Carter of the Albemarle Disc Golf Association. The course takes advantage of the fairways and elevations of the old course to challenge golfers for $5 per round.
Hardaway Point is open seven days a week, but also has a bar and grill for golfers, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Plans for the course and club include several tournaments as well as the addition of a game room with a pool table, air hockey, video games and more.
So why do disc golfers love the game so much? The reasons may be surprising.
Thompson said he discovered the sport after watching it on YouTube. He then got a set of boot discs to try out.
“I love playing ball golf, but disc golf is something you can do for free and practice at the same time. I was physically in better shape, but also had fun and enjoyed the challenge of learn how to get better in the game,” Thompson said.
He said he quickly discovered ADGA and played championship games “which developed many friendships and also entered into a competitive side of the game for me. I quickly started playing tournaments and I am now tournament director.
To those considering joining the sport, Thompson said disc golf “is a fun sport that grows quickly and can be enjoyed at all levels, whether it’s kids learning the game, a group of friends Hang out and enjoy a casual game or the pros playing for the money Stanly County offers some excellent, highly rated courses and a fun time.
ADGA Vice President Daniel Diorio said he enjoyed the camaraderie of playing the game.
“I’ve met guys on the course and through the sport that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It also strengthened existing friendships by giving us a reason to get together for a few hours a week,” Diorio said.
Playing disc golf helps fuel his competitive spirit, he said, as he gets older without other activities.
“League play and tournaments raise the stakes of the game and allow me to test my skills against others. I went from baseball to adult softball and now I use disc golf to practice,” Diorio said.