Disc Golf Fever

Features

By Tory Irmeger

Disc golf – sometimes called Frisbee golf – is a variation on traditional ball golf where a player attempts to throw a flying disc into a basket, usually on a 9- or 18-hole course. Although not technically a team sport, disc golf boasts an unmatched community experience that has led to a huge boost in popularity in recent years. Here, we chat with local players to learn more about the niche game that’s taking the Scenic City by storm.

disc golf in chattanooga

The Disc Golf Boom

Disc golf has been around for decades, maintaining a modest yet passionate following. Several factors of the game make it attractive to people from all walks of life. Starting the sport is relatively inexpensive, courses are featured in beautiful outdoor settings, and friendships developed on the course are often made for life. While no singular person is accredited with the invention of the game, disc golfers can thank the inventors of the Frisbee for popularizing disc sports throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. Ed Headrick, an inventor for Wham-O, founded the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) in 1976, which is now the leading governing body for the sport. 

While disc golf slowly gained traction over the years, the most recent boom can be attributed to a surprising culprit: the pandemic. With many team sports on hold and athletic facilities shuttered, the open layout of disc golf courses allowed players to continue to gather and play while safely social distancing. Justin Spears, Cleveland local and avid disc golfer, remembers how disc golf provided community during this time. “The game became an actual lifeline as one of the only viable social outlets available,” he says.

The statistics reveal this shared experience worldwide. Between 2019 and 2022, the PDGA’s number of active members doubled, increasing from 53,000 to over 130,000. Long-standing players welcome the growth, most having started the sport because a friend or family member once invited them to play a round. “You can’t help but share what you love,” Spears says, “And disc golfers love this game to an almost alarming degree.”

 

caitlin yelvington

What is disc golf like?

“Many courses are in parks or wooded areas, so disc golf is like hiking with an added objective. Because it’s not too physically demanding, it’s great for all ages and easy to bring along friends or family who are new to the sport.”

– Caitlin Yelvington

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justin spears cutting large ribbon with large scissors

Disc Golf in the Scenic City

Photos Courtesy of Justin Spears

Chattanooga has long been a haven for outdoor sports enthusiasts, and now the Scenic City can add several disc golf courses to its impressive resume. “We have a unique mixture of terrain we can utilize for courses,” says Kyle Burriss, Rossville local and competitive disc golfer. “From tightly-wooded fairways to open ball golf course fairways set up for tournaments, there is a shot for everyone.” Local players are sure to test their mettle, whether overlooking Chickamauga Lake at the Dallas Island Disc Golf Course, avoiding eponymous sinkholes at The Sinks, or exploring Cleveland’s first course at Fletcher Park.

Whereas ball golf is often distinguished by vast, open greens, disc golf courses can conform to the organic flow of forested areas and natural landmarks. Open courses provide a clearer shot and an easier target, while heavily forested areas provide plenty of challenging obstacles for the more advanced player. Spears, who helped establish the new 18-hole course at Fletcher Park, is excited about the diversity of courses on offer in the Greater Chattanooga region. “It keeps the game feeling fresh and exciting,” he says. “The relatively mild climate and peerless natural beauty of the area make it possible to enjoy playing throughout the entire year.”

This surplus wasn’t always the case. When disc golf was still flying under the mainstream radar, it could be a challenge to find accessible courses nearby. Disc golf courses tend to be cheaper to develop than sports facilities like tennis or basketball courts, but clearing out underbrush, removing trees, and maintaining fairways is no small feat.

Having played the sport for over a decade, Burriss can recall the community collaboration required to establish the current disc golf scene. “A lot of courses that predate the 2020 boom of disc golf were designed, funded, and physically cut out by grassroots efforts through local clubs,” he explains. Although the pandemic brought an influx of new players to the course, ongoing efforts between disc golfers, business owners, and community members are necessary to make disc golf accessible and available to all.

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Most memorable disc golf experience?

“The experience I most cherish took place the day after the ribbon cutting for the Fletcher Park course, when my daughter asked me for the first time if we could go play a round together.”

– Justin Spears, PDGA #226251

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frisbee in chattanooga park

Photo Courtesy of Kyle Burriss

A Shot for Everyone

Disc golf draws people of all walks of life, offering a fun way to spend time in nature and exercise without breaking the bank. For the casual player, no expensive equipment is necessary – all you need is a flying disc, and most courses are free to play. “You can play your entire life for merely $20 if you wish,” says Cierra Schusterick, disc golf tournament director and competitive player. “I know 3-year-olds that play and I know 83-year-olds that play. Everyone can enjoy it.”

For players like Donavan Davis, disc golf offers an economical and time-friendly alternative to a full round of traditional ball golf or other formally organized sports. When a friend introduced him to disc golf, he was immediately hooked. “Because discs are made to have different flight shapes, the learning curve was much easier than putting on a golf green.” He adds, “Witnessing a disc in flight and the sounds of chains when it lands in the basket is very captivating.” And every player, no matter their skill level, talks about chasing the high of landing the perfect shot.

 

frisbees in a bag

At its core, the sport is simple: a player stands at a tee area and throws a disc towards the designated basket in as few throws as possible. Similar to a golfer’s assortments of irons, there are several disc types that a disc golfer can use depending on the course. Although it can be tempting to buy up several discs to start with, most players advise starting small. “People tend to go for the fastest disc with the coolest names, and most times their arm speed just can’t handle something like that,” Burriss says. To avoid discouragement, he recommends starting with slower speed discs while you learn throwing technique.

While there are plenty of online resources and videos that can provide tips for technique, nothing beats the bonding that happens on the course. In Chattanooga, there are casual leagues and groups that hit the course year-round. “Join the local disc golf Facebook group and go to weekly organized events,” Schusterick recommends. “Don’t be afraid to meet new folks and ask for guidance from more experienced players!” As with any sport, the competition can get fierce, but ultimately everyone is out to have a good time and enjoy the fresh air.

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kyle burriss

Best part about the sport?

“I see so much positivity on the course. It’s always ‘Good shot!’, ‘Nice putt!’, or ‘Smashed that drive!’ Players tend to help other players out.”

– Kyle Burriss,
PDGA #81670

cierra schusterick

“In every city I’ve lived in, I’ve met some incredible folks through disc golf. No matter where I go, I know I’ll have a friendly community to meet up and throw some discs with.”

– Cierra Schusterick, PDGA #62614

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frisbee in chattanooga parkPhoto Courtesy of Donavan Davis

Friendly Competition

With the growing popularity of the sport, there are opportunities for casual players and competitive players alike. Caitlin Yelvington played disc golf recreationally for years before getting involved competitively. “The growth of the professional side of the sport over the last few years is drawing people in,” she says. “You can now watch live disc golf throughout much of the year, and there are occasional broadcasts through mainstream media outlets.”

Local tournaments fill up quickly in the area, and Burriss is hopeful that the increased demand for competitions will usher in a wider range of professional events and players from around the world. “The Scenic City offers so much,” he says, “We would love to get a large-scale tournament here because we think the economic impact would be greater than anticipated.” In addition to casual- and PDGA-sanctioned leagues that host regular events, Chattanoogan disc golfers often gather for charity tournaments to support local causes.

With a community that feels more like more like family than friends, there is a unique atmosphere when players gather for tournament days. Yelvington has participated in several tournaments and was the winner of the 2019 U.S. Women’s Disc Golf Championship in the FA3 division. “You can feel the buzz as players arrive to the course,” she says. “Everyone has their own rituals and routines to prepare themselves. Some people dress up in polos and some people sport their finest tie-dye.”

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donavan davis

Photo Courtesy of Donavan Davis

 

donavan davis

What is the disc golf community like?

“This community attracts a very diverse group of backgrounds. Disc golfers are welcoming, willing to take the time to give a tip or two, help look for a lost disc, or return one to you.”

– Donavan Davis,
PDGA #112284

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man throwing frisbee in chattanooga

The Disc Thrown Round the World

Being part of the disc golf community means having the opportunity to connect with others around the world. “My favorite memories revolve around traveling with my buddies to collect courses all over the States,” says Davis. “We have played in many magical spots.” Currently, there are over 9,000 courses in the United States, featured anywhere from parks and school campuses to campsites and breweries.

For Schusterick, disc golf provided an outlet for her competitive spirit but was also a great way to make new friends when moving to a new place. “In every city I’ve lived in, I’ve met some incredible folks through disc golf,” says Schusterick. “No matter where I go, I know I’ll have a friendly community to meet up and throw some discs with.”

For anyone looking to get involved in the sport, it’s becoming easier than ever to connect with local leagues. In March of 2023, the PDGA officially reached a quarter of a million enrolled players, marking a huge milestone since Headrick’s humble beginnings in the ‘70s. Whether crossing off destination courses from a bucket list or playing a round in your own backyard, disc golf promises a lifetime of fun. “This sport can be one of the best aspects of life and enjoyable for people of any age,” Schusterick says. “Now get out and throw!”

Where to Play

  • The Sinks
  • Dallas Island
  • Camp Jordan
  • Cloudland Canyon
  • The Narrows
  • Fletcher Park
  • Portland Park
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