One more game before classes start

Tripp Christian stands at the entrance of a wooded trail in North Cabarrus Park. The aged trees form a canopy overhead, filtering the hot August sun from him and the green laurels sprouting among the hardwoods.

"Beautiful," he said.

The scenery is pretty, but Christian had aimed the compliment at the piece of plastic he just sent gliding down the narrow clearing that runs between dense trees. The plastic disc obediently follows the bend of the dirt path below, and grazes at the base of a metal chain basket.

A fetching throw.

Christian, along with his friends, Chris Stamopolous, Cory Driscoll and Spenser Kunze, have met for an afternoon of disc golf in the park. It's something the close-knit foursome of 19-year-olds do regularly. They are part of a growing number of locals who play the game on one of the area's two public courses.

Disc golf as it's played today was first introduced in the mid 1960s when a Californian recreation counselor made a game out of tossing Frisbees into baskets. The amusement was a hit, and in 1980 construction of courses in parks and playgrounds skyrocketed nationwide, at a rate of 50 per year for the next 20 years.

The popularity has continued into this last decade, with a 15 percent increase in courses built annually. Today, more than 3,000 courses exist, two of which, North Cabarrus Park and Dorton Park, are in Cabarrus County.

"We average about 25 to 30 players a day, depending on the weather," said Senior Park Ranger Doug Buckner of North Cabarrus Park's course.

It's a sport Buckner has seen all ages play, including the 55-plus crowd, who competed in disc golf during this year's Cabarrus Senior Games in June.

"Some of those guys can be pretty competitive," said Buckner.

Disc golf is a lot like ball golf, with eagles, birdies and bogeys, but considerably cheaper. A typical disc costs under $10, and most public courses, like those at Dorton and North Cabarrus parks, are free.

The idea, to toss the disc in the metal chain basket with the fewest throws possible, resembles sinking the ball into the hole with the least amount of strokes.

Both games share the same benefits: enjoying the outdoors, getting a little exercise, socializing, and for many, the challenge.

"You're about to look for that," said Christian to Driscoll, as a sudden breeze diverts his disc from its path, carrying it into a jungle of tall, green stalks.

But all four stop to help, disappearing into the high grass to scout. After what they deem a worthy effort, they let the jungle have it.

"It was an old one," said Driscoll.

Losing a disc is fairly common, Christian said, but writing his name and telephone number on his discs often leads to their return. Unique ones, like his tie-dye disc, he won't use at baskets surrounded by thick brush. "I try to throw orange, that way I'll get it back," said Christian.

After a few more baskets in the woods, twigs cracking and leaves crunching underneath, the players come to a clearing where the soft grass of an open field holds a faraway basket, barely visible.

"This one's just arm strength," said Stamopolous, as he whips his driver across the meadow with brute force.

By the time they play to the ninth and final basket, the beads of sweat dripping down their faces will convince anyone there is a workout hidden within the game.

As summer comes to an end, soon the friends will end their games for a time, too. But they'll practice a variation popular on their college campuses: urban disc golf, where made-up courses can be printed online and use campus buildings, pillars, and statues as goals.

But before they do, they decide to play one more round on their hometown course.