Jerry Jones isn’t the only one dreaming of a world championship.

The Dallas Disc Golf association hopes to bring the obscure sport’s world championship competition to Lake Highlands in 2012 with an estimated 600 players from throughout the world.

To make it happen, the club needs to raise several thousand dollars via mini tournaments to make a bid for the tournament, plus verify that all logistics are worked out.

“It’s kind-of like a very small Olympics,” says longtime association member Dirk Snow, explaining that Dallas would be bidding against other cities, but has the advantage of being a good location as far as international travel.

Snow and the rest of the determined group that frequents the B.B. Owen Park course have a passion for a sport played much like golf in rules of courtesy, safety and scoring, but with obvious equipment differences.

Several club members first met in the late ’80s at the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center disc course across from the high school. That former rec center course held the distinction of being the first course in the state. The game’s popularity spread so quickly that Texas now has 177 courses, including 30 or so in the metro area plus other nearby locations being considered, say Snow and fellow longtime member Danny Waldron.

Snow, a radiology technician at Parkland Hospital, and Waldron, an engineer with Interphase, are two of the club’s ringleaders. Snow has been known to insist that colleagues divide into disc teams — so no surprise that Parkland has added a disc golf event to its annual Skin and Bones Olympics for employees.

Waldron has played on foreign soil eight times and holds international designation as an “Open Grand Master Player”. Both men began their disc golfing days at the old rec center course, and they have watched their club grow to about 200 members while fostering the development of several of the surrounding area’s courses. The two also were part of the group responsible for creating a disc golf course at B.B. Owen.

During the ’70s and ’80s, the former Owen home site was a horse pasture. When the land reverted to become a city park, the Park and Recreation Department installed a basketball court, parking lot and lights. The rec center disc club took notice and talked to department officials about moving the course to B.B. Owen. To show their commitment, the club planted four post oak trees on what would become the 15th fairway and kept them alive with a volunteer bucket brigade and water from the creek running through the plot.

The club constructed a kiosk to post rules and tournaments. The park department added picnic tables and donated 60 small trees, which the club planted along the 18-hole route. Finally, in 1994, discs and Frisbees came to B.B. Owen Park, along with portable restrooms and water fountains, also courtesy of the park department.

If the course secures the spot of world championship host, Snow says B.B. Owen would see a good  amount of play. But sites such as Flag Pole Hill, Samuell-Grand and Olive Shapiro parks, and the White Rock Stone Tables area off Buckner are now being studied as potential satellite courses that could be usable in time for the sport’s ultimate tournament.

The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) Tour functions comparably to the PGA Tour, in that disc golfers compete at tournaments throughout the year, earning cash prizes according to their tournament rankings. (The cash prizes, however, aren’t nearly as substantial as the PGA’s, which is to be expected when your tour sponsor is Woodchuck Draft Cider as opposed to FedEx.)

Unlike the PGA, whose top players emerge from wins at big-name tournaments like the Masters and the U.S. Open, the PDGA determines its stars similar to NASCAR’s system: Disc golfers accumulate points throughout the entire season, and their cumulative standings determine whether they participate in the world championship.

“Some players can make $70,000 a year,” Snow says. “It’s kind of like low-budget golf. No one’s hit a million yet that I know of, but it has the same passion as golf, and it’s kind of the same addiction — it’s you against the course. You want to do a little better next time than you did last time.”

Some of the major players travel the world playing disc golf, but the sport has various divisions based on age and skill, and players of all levels are invited to the world championship. It’s not necessary to travel to make the cut; Snow says many players simply compete at local courses to tally the points needed for the sport’s big competition.

If Dallas ends up winning a world championship bid, “it’s well over a million-dollar impact on the economy,” Snow says.
That’s the reason most cities welcome the competition, and Jill Beam, who schedules events for the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, agrees that “it would have great economic value for the city of Dallas” and is already working with Snow and others to hammer out the details of a bid.

No one is sure where disc golf started, although some say it began in California and moved eastward. One story includes a game with mayonnaise lids introduced sometime in the 1920s, and other stories in later decades involve tin lids and, by the 1960s, the then-newly patented Frisbees. But the game didn’t gain steam until the mid-’70s, when players began organizing nationwide and world tournaments.

Serious players buy small discs at sporting good stores. Basically, each disc type flies differently depending on where you intend it to land. Some players carry pouches with as many as 12. The process of playing a hole is similar to golf, including the terminology, except that disc golfers start at a tee pad instead of a tee box, and the “hole” on the putting green is actually a metal basket on a post resembling a mangled parking meter with dangling chains.

The sport has its unique challenges. Scott Cook, a professional painter and president of the club, says the group is working on the design for a temporary pole base that can be extracted from the ground during muddy weather and used in a drier spot or at another course. (One of the advantages of disc golf is that, except for permanent courses such as B.B. Owen, the baskets — and therefore the course — can be moved to any location.)

Trees are not considered a nuisance on disc golf courses, but instead a welcome obstacle. It’s bad form to hit the trees or any other fauna on a disc golf course — a faux pas that invokes an automatic two-stroke penalty.

“If a hanging twig or branch is snapped off, it diminishes the game challenge for everyone else and you, too, next time you play,” Snow says. “Without challenges, you may as well play on an empty parking lot.”

Disc golf is a great way to get exercise, Snow says. The courses are about a third the length of a golf course, and the fairways much narrower, so it takes only about two hours to play a round, says Waldron, who tries to get on the course every day. Another advantage: No green fees or major equipment costs. Anyone with a dime store Frisbee can walk up for free and try to land a putt in three tries.

Not to mention, Snow says, that with only 150 feet between the tee and the basket, “the odds of a hole-in-one are much greater.” —