I covered a Putt-Putt championship once. Competitors wore visors and golf shoes without spikes. They drank bottled water and waggled before they addressed the ball. They threw grass into the air to assess the wind. They were so serious they were pretentious. Then theyd step in front of a giant plastic dinosaur.
I spent time with disc golfers Monday. And even though the afternoon was hot enough to make a mannequin sweat, they were cool to be around. Plastic dinosaurs and pretension were absent. They were regular guys (and women) who do what we all have throw a flying disc. They simply do it better.
The 2012 Professional Disc Golf Association Professional and Amateur World Championships will be held in Charlotte Tuesday through Saturday. The tournament has attracted more than 1,100 entrants, which makes it the biggest in the sports history. Theyll use 14 courses, also a record.
Two of the courses are at Elon Park, in Charlotte south of Ballantyne. In the parking lot is a table with 1,500 discs for sale. They range in price from $5 to $25 and have names such as Surge, Stalker and Nuke.
On the course is a man pushing a baby stroller, and in the stroller are the 20 discs with which hell compete. Some are for driving, some are for mid-range shots and some are for putting.
They sail high as a golf ball, low as a line drive and curve outrageously en route to the wire mesh basket that constitutes a hole. There are no sticks with which to hit the disc, no machines to propel it. Theres beauty in the simplicity of the throw.
Kingsley Flett, 47, and Kim Holmes, 61, watch appreciatively. They represent the 30-member Perth (Australia) Disc Golf Club.
Perth is 11,492 miles from Charlotte and, no, they did not get a direct flight.
Flett, a physical therapist, is an athlete; he played Australian Rules Football professionally. He was always training; he was that kind of guy. He needed a game he could play for the sheer joy of it. He found one.
Holmes is a lecturer in law at whats comparable to a community college. He was introduced to discs golf the way we all were.
Two Mormons came to his neighborhood. They brought the Book of Mormon and flying discs. At the local college they showed a film about disc golf. The discs helped attract, and connect, their audience.
Holmes, a Roman Catholic, converted. He converted to the way of the disc. He has competed in New York and California. Hes still a Roman Catholic.
We walk to No. 18, which is 814 feet, a par-5. Our group expands and contracts and at the moment it includes golfers from Arizona and Chicago and one baby stroller.
Nobody yells Get in the hole!
People say or yell:
Hot garbage (round was so bad it smelled like hot garbage).
Niced. Niced means that off the tee the shot looks beautiful.
Nice! somebody yells.
Between the Ni and ce the disc goes over the trees, past the creek and across the S.C. line.
Youve been niced.
Kevin Tritten is niced. His throw looks ideal as he unspools on 18.
Moments later four of us go into the woods to try to find it. Nobody has to be asked.
Tritten, 41, and a server at Mortons, often plays alone. But he doesnt stay alone. Hell ask to play through and the group will ask him not to leave.
As we walk Monday everybody is friendly and nice even though they unintentionally nice each other.
Its not like the stereotype, says Tritten. Its not a bunch of potheads running through the woods.
Alas, disc golf can be pretentious, too. Flett greeted some competitors in a parking lot before a tournament (not this one) and they ignored him. They were professionals, he a mere amateur.
Flett was flabbergasted.
An adult throwing a Frisbee through the trees is all you are! he yelled.
But when the disc sails much farther and truer than you ever thought it would, so pretty in the air and not a plastic dinosaur in sight, isnt that enough?