I managed a surprise trip to my hometown this past week to visit my mother and play a couple rounds of disc golf on my old home course. A sport which I picked up from an ex-girlfriend, and while my passion for her has faded my love of the game remains strong. There’s nothing like getting out on the course on a beautiful day, and bombing some long drives. One of my absolute favorite sounds is the rattle of the chains as you sink your putt for under par. If ball golf is a good walk ruined then disc golf is a good walk made better. This sport of sports hasn’t always existed and like most things I enjoy I find myself just as curious about the history as the activity itself.
The history of disc golf is two fold, first the history of flying discs themselves and then the development of the sport of dosc golf.
The flying disc, known colloquially as a “frisbee,” dates back roughly to the turn of the 20th century. Around this time numerous individuals were playing games with various empty pie or cake tins. In fact it’s from the use of empty pie tins from the Frisbie Pie company of Bridgeport CT, that we get the name Frisbee. However it wasn’t until the late fifties that Frisbee would become synonymous with flying disc. The original business concept came to Fred Morrison when he and his wife were offered a quarter for a $.05 cake tin they were playing catch with on the beach in 1938. After his rerun from WWII Fred sketched up an improved aerodynamic disc, found a business partner and began marketing Flying Saucers, which became rebranded as Pluto Platters before the rights were sold to the Wham-o toy company and they were renamed Frisbees.
Disc golf was originally invented in the mid-twenties in Saskatchewan by a group of students at Bladworth Elementary. They originated the game, which they called “Tin Lid Golf,” by playing with tin plates and throwing around a serious of obstacles at fixed targets. While greatly enjoying the game and developing a course once the group left school the game left with them and wouldln’t be seen again until the 1960’s.
Kevin Donnely would be the man to bring the game back. He started playing a version called Frisbee Street Golf in 1959 and by the mid sixties he had become the Recreation Supervisor of Newport Beach, California where Wham-o (Copywright owner and early Frisbee manufacturer) would hold the first Frisbee Golf tournaments. These early tournaments set many precedents for the game as it’s played today; establishing rules, pars, hole lengths and penalties for out of bounds etc. However the holes where just Hula Hoops (another Wham-o toy) and the discs used where just plain Frisbees and not the specialty discs we use today. The two figures who would bring the game to what we know it as now would be “Steady” Ed Headrick, who invented the disc golf basket in the 1970’s, and Dave Dunnipace who created the first modern golf disc in 1983. The creation of the golf disc with it’s beveled edge greatly improved the distance and accuracy of the game and really made it what it is today.
Since then there have been numerous courses developed all over the world. The Professional Disc Golf Association, founded by “Steady” Ed in the 1970’s, has had over 52,000 members to date and grows yearly. New courses are developed all the time, while advancements in disc technology continue to be made.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what those people in the park were doing when they were throwing discs into baskets now you have an idea. And if you’d ever like to join me for a round I’d be delighted.