Disc golf flying high
Having grown up in Myrtle Beach in a golfing family that had him swinging a club at age 6, Mount Pleasant's Craig Wrenn all but snickered five years ago when he saw a friend holding a magazine for disc golfers.
"I said, 'I can't believe you read that silly magazine,' " Wrenn recalled.
But the friend lured Wrenn into playing a round of disc golf, and now there's no getting him off the course.
"It's a major passion. I practice three or four times a week, play 150 to 200 rounds a year on 14 or 15 courses in the Southeast," said Wrenn, who owns Sweet Olive Garden Gifts in the I'On development.
"It's so affordable," as compared to "ball golf," Wrenn explained. "I love the camaraderie, and everyone who plays is friends at the end of the day."
Wrenn won the advanced masters division at the Summer Sling disc golf tournament June 12-13 at Johns Island's Trophy Lakes, one of the three local 18-hole public disc golf courses. Other courses are at North Charleston's Park Circle and West Ashley Park off Mary Alder Avenue. Some smaller "practice" disc golf facilities can be found elsewhere. "I'd love to have one in Mount Pleasant," Wrenn said, adding that he and friends have been advocating for one for some time.
Disc golf is rapidly gaining popularity, and courses made especially for it can be found in all 50 states, advocates say.
Summer Sling tournament Director Kevin Johnson said 51 men and women from numerous states, including a few professional disc golfers, competed in the two-day event. Michael Johansen, a pro who won last year's Summer Sling, had the best overall score again this year, finishing 24 under par for the four rounds; and Blaine Kinkel of North Charleston, one of the world's highest-rated players, was second.
Johansen, whose been playing the disc game for 12 years, said he earned $10,000 last year as a pro. "It's like a good part-time job," he said.
Disc golf grew out of traditional golf and still bears many similarities, said Johnson, a disc golfer himself for five years. In both golf incarnations, players compete on fairways and greens while trying to avoid hazards. In disc golf, the "holes" are elevated wire and chain contraptions commonly referred to as "baskets."
The player who gets through the course in the fewest shots wins in regular golf, and the player with the fewest tosses wins in disc golf. "The two games are very similar, and the objective is the same," Johnson said.
At Trophy Lakes, the longest distance from "tee pad" to the basket is 620 feet. That's not a problem for some professionals. "They can crank it," Johnson said of the pros' long-distance prowess.
Like Wrenn, many who have fallen for disc golf said they were brought to it by friends. Ralph Pitt of Columbia said he has played disc golf since 1999 and has played 12 tournaments this year. Traditional and disc golf players both must rise to a number of mental challenges to succeed, he said. "You know what to do, and you know you can do it, but it's a mental challenge to do it and stay focused," Pitt explained.
Like ball golf, he said, disc golf can be enjoyed by people of all ages and sizes. "You don't have to be big and strong to play it," he said.
David Floyd of Columbia was introduced to the sport by a friend, "but it took me a couple of months before I took it seriously," he said.
Disc golfers don't have to carry around a large, heavy bag stuffed with golf clubs of various sizes and weights, or pay a caddy to haul the bag around. But serious disc golfers tote backpacks stuffed with about 20 colorful discs, each manufactured for use in different situations on the course.
Golf discs are about 8.5 inches in diameter, smaller than the popular "Frisbees" seen at picnics, and cost $10 to $20. Discs differ slightly in weight and rim width, making them either "long-range drivers," "midrange" discs or "putt and approach" platters. Depending on need, the golfer selects the disc geared toward long- or short-distance flight, curving left or right, flying straight or even rolling along the ground.
"Depending on the wind, water, other hazards and trees, you choose the disc you need," said Bobby George of Birmingham, Ala. "You are shot shaping, just like in regular golf."
Quite a few competitors saw their discs splash into the lakes at the Summer Sling, forcing the tosser to take the same penalty "strokes" that a ball golfer would be charged for sending a ball into the drink.