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DISC FEVER.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

DEXTER - A thick grove of spindly trees stood between disc golfer Bruce Sisson and the hole.

Nonplussed, Sisson grabbed his red disc between thumb and forefingers and flung it toward the ground just to the right of the trees. It rolled along on edge for about 75 feet before slowing and suddenly veering left, rolling toward the hole and setting up a "putt" for par.

"Nice cut-roller shot," said Tom Embree, Sisson's playing partner and fellow member of the Eugene Disc Golf Club.

With more than 50 years of playing between them, Sisson and Embree are veterans of a game that is rapidly heating up in popularity nationally.

The growth rate for disc golf - also commonly referred to as Frisbee golf, after the original flying plastic disc - is huge, said Sisson, a real estate broker and long-time treasurer of the Eugene club. "It's been growing 10 to 12 percent a year for the past 10 years."

Embree, an auto mechanic, learned to play on the country's very first disc golf course - built in a park in Pasadena, Calif., by the late Ed Headrick, the inventor who patented Wham-O's designs for the modern frisbee and the father of disc golf.

That first course was erected in the mid-1970s.

Thirty-some years later, there are more than 1,300 disc golf courses in the United States and Canada, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), the game's governing body. Plus, the game has spread internationally to Mexico and at least 20 other countries.

The Eugene Disc Golf Club, with about 150 players on its membership roles, is part of that growth. Members put in several thousand hours of volunteer labor to help build a course at Dexter State Park, 11 miles east of Goshen on Highway 58.

Opened in 2001, the heavily-wooded and challenging Dexter course is "the best course in Oregon," declared Joe Shader of Albany as he and three friends piled out of a car Friday evening. They "drove past three other courses to get here," Shader said.

Disc golf is played just like traditional golf - or "ball golf," as the saucer tossers refer to it.

Instead of using a ball and clubs, players throw a flying disc, or Frisbee. The goal is to complete a hole in the fewest number of "strokes," or throws.

Players begin by standing on a designated tee and throwing a disc toward an elevated target, On regulation courses that target is a "Pole Hole," a basket mounted about waist-high on a pole. Chains suspended from a metal ring atop the pole run down into the basket. Hit by a flying disc, the chains usually absorb the impact with a melodic "ching," allowing the disc to drop into the basket.

As in ball golf, disc golfers must play their next shot from where the previous one landed. They even use a "mini" disk to mark that spot, much like a golfer would use a ball marker on a green.

If the lie is unplayable, they can assess themselves a one-stroke penalty and take relief no more than five meters away, no closer to the hole.

Both golf games provide similar sources of satisfaction - making an extremely long putt, or booming out a long drive that soars toward the distant green.

"The thing that's really radically different," said Sisson, "is what the wind will do to a disc - especially a head wind. It will make a disc that will normally fly really flat veer off to the side."

Originally played with just a standard Frisbee, disc golf has evolved to the point where skilled players often carry more than a dozen discs, each with different flight characteristics - dictated by its size and weight, the shape of its leading edge, and flexibility.

Some stiff, sharp-edged discs are made specifically to cut into a head wind. But they are much less "forgiving" of an imperfect release angle, Embree said.

All told, there are nearly 250 different disc "molds" on the market, Sisson said.

The game can be played with a single ordinary flying disc, but anyone who is even remotely serious about learning the game needs at least three different discs - a "driver," designed for maximum distance, a mid-range disc and a "putter," designed for maximum stability of flight over 40 or 50 feet. Putters also tend to be made of "softer" plastic, to minimize chances of ricocheting off the chains and away from the basket.

Disc golf "holes" vary widely in length and setting, but every hole is a par 3, meaning a skilled player should be able to hole-out in three tosses.

The first disc golf course in Eugene was installed at Westmorland Park. Situated mostly in wide-open grassy areas, "It's a good place for beginners to learn," Embree said.

The Dexter Course, on the other hand, may be "the most difficult in the state," Sisson said. Some of its "fairways" are as narrow as a hotel hallway. And shots that veer off into the brush can be difficult to find.

"Why do you think I use bright orange discs?" Embree chortled while searching for one shot.

A lost disc could cost more than a sleeve of the best golf balls. But, generally speaking, disc golf is much less expensive than its traditional cousin. Most courses are free, and played on a first-come basis.

There are now 37 disc golf courses in Oregon, according to the PDGA. And more are on the horizon. The Eugene Disc Golf Club has an application pending with the State Parks Department to construct a course on the Lynx Hollow parcel, south of Creswell.

Kees Ruurs, park manager for the Southern Willamette Management Unit, said the Parks Department is happy with how the Dexter Park Disc Golf Course has worked out.

"It's very nice. It's heavily used. It's well used. And we're very pleased with it," he said.

In addition to the 18-hole course, with opening and finishing holes that provide scenic views of sailboats maneuvering on Dexter Lake, the facility includes an information kiosk stocked with free course maps/scorecards and a practice putting basket.

No fee is charged to use Dexter State Park, but Ruurs said "we are going to be installing a donation box" to collect money that will be used "to further enhance and maintain the golf course."

Meanwhile, the State Parks Department has already approved adding the sixth course on state park property, at Rooster Rock State Park in the Columbia Gorge.

Park managers all around the country are discovering that disc golf is an inexpensive way to "build up their recreation base," Sisson said. "For less than the cost of a single tennis court, they can put in an entire 18-hole course and get a whole lot of people playing."

Sisson and Embree, who both plan to compete - in different divisions - at the PDGA's World Championships in Iowa next month, would like to see disc golf continue to grow in popularity.

"That's the only way it will become what I want it to be," Sisson said. "and that's like the PGA, eventually."

- Additional details about the Eugene Disc Golf Club are available on the club's Web site: www.edgc.odsa.com.

DISC SPEAK

Terms you're likely to hear at the 19th hole as players review their round of disc golf:

Backhand drive: A powerful, accurate shot that puts a premium on maximizing distance while maintaining control. The disc is pulled across the chest in a long, explosive motion. Similar to a backhand motion in tennis.

Hyzer: An arcing shot that falls in the opposite direction from the throwing arm. For a right-handed player, a backhand hyzer shot fades to the left. Similar to a "draw" for a ball golfer.

Anhyzer: A shot that falls in the same direction as the player's throwing arm. For a right-handed player, a backhand anhyzer shot cuts to the right. Similar to a "fade" in ball golf.

Roller: A roller is created by intentionally causing the disc to roll along the ground to advance. Useful for passing beneath overhanging tree branches.

Thumber: A throw where the thumb is placed on the inside edge of the disc to propel its flight. Often used to throw a roller.

Pancake: An overhand shot thrown with considerably less power. The result is a 90-degree rotation from vertical. The disc generally lands face down and slides. Similar to a "flop" shot in ball golf.

Player Rating: A number the Professional Disc Golf Association uses to indicate an individual player's skill level. Similar to the handicap index in ball golf. A rating of 1000 indicates a "scratch" golfer and 10 rating points equals one throw.

- Professional Disc Golf Association

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A large tree protects the first hole at Dexter State Park's disc golf course. lay.e6.discgolf.0701
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Recreation; If you understand Hyzers, thumbers, pancakes and rollers, you're speaking the language of disc golf
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:1468
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