How the cheapest, undercover, world-class sport is surviving coronavirus
By Melanie Peck
In the rolling hills above Sun Valley the views are extraordinary; to the south, the chutes at Mt. Rose ski area, to the west, Peavine Peak, and in every direction rock outcrops dot the sage-covered landscape. Nestled in the area’s regional park, which itself is a hidden gem, is Lizard Peak Disc Golf Course, a 27-hole, championship course replete with a pitch and putt area for beginners or practice.
It’s windy at the beginning of summer, which “adds a level of frustration to the game,” says Skot Meyer, who’s been the president of the Reno Disc Golf Association off and on since 2011.
But wind shouldn’t be a deterrent to playing.
“If you’re a tournament player, you should be out in the wind,” Meyer says, noting that varying environmental conditions are just part of the fun of the game. Disc golf, he adds, is a sport for all levels of players, all ages, and all genders. “It’s multigenerational. The whole family can play together.” The game is also open to all economic levels, unlike pricey ball golf, as disc golfers call regular golf.
“You can play with ten dollars,” says Maximus Meyer, Skot’s 19-year-old son, who is a full-time touring pro when the pandemic isn’t shutting down events. The cost of just one disc lets you play, as it typically costs nothing, or little, to play the courses. In Reno, the courses, which are on county land, are paid for, built and maintained by volunteers from the disc golf club.
There are three top-notch courses in the Truckee Meadows. In addition to Lizard Peak at Sun Valley Regional Park, there is The Ranch, an 18-hole course above Rancho San Rafael Park, and The Wedge, a 9-hole course off Wedge Parkway at South Valleys Regional Park.
Beginners take note: The Wedge is “a very good course for beginners,” according to Ashlee Conley, RDGA board member and a 3rd place world champion in the advanced ladies’ masters division, a title she holds among numerous others. “Not a lot of hiking. Easy to find the holes.”
A combination of frisbee, basketball, and golf, players send a frisbee-like disc sailing toward a hoop-like chain basket and cover a multi-basket course during play, like in golf.
Players tee off toward a target—the chain basket, which they also call the hole—and try to make their shot in as few strokes, or throws, as possible. Each consecutive throw must be made from the location where the previous throw landed.
As players progress down the fairway, they thrill at birdies and despair if they shank their disc into a tree. Like golf, the joys and frustrations of playing are what make disc golf exciting.
In northern Nevada, the sagebrush, thin air, and wind can complicate the game, but also make it a challenging and fun competition.
Like golf, the game is played outdoors, which can be “stunning,” according to Conley. “There are beautiful courses in this area,” she says, not just in Reno, but in Dayton, Carson City, at Stampede Reservoir, South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village, Truckee, and Donner Lake, to name a few.
“What’s really, really cool about disc golf,” she adds, “is that you get some awesome exercise.”
Skot Meyer notes that disc golf is a great way to lose weight and get and stay in shape. “The health benefits are amazing.” He knows of two Vietnam veterans, both 70 to 80 pounds overweight, one with a drinking dependency. Both started playing disc golf and both lost all the weight, and the one stopped drinking.
He also knows an older gentleman with arthritis who started playing pitch and putt with his 4-year-old grandson. Because he was having fun and focusing on something other than his pain, he evolved into a tournament player who now has an active lifestyle.
During the coronavirus stay-at-home order that followed Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Declaration of Emergency on March 12, people kept going to the courses, says Skot Meyer.
At first, the RDGA tried to enforce social distancing rules. The organization posted signs and sent out missives via Facebook imploring players to keep groups to a maximum of four, to avoid touching baskets, and not to touch anyone else’s disc. The game can be played safely since it is outdoors and not difficult to socially distance.
“When there’s no health consideration,” Skot Meyer says, “it’s considerate of other people to be in groups of four or less, but there’s no rule about that.” But after the pandemic hit some people ignored course courtesies and the health guidelines, which Meyer said should’ve been easy to follow.
But some refused to cooperate. Bad player behavior “puts a strain on our [the disc golf association’s] relationship with the county,” he says, noting that while the county provides the land; the club pays for the equipment, builds the courses, and does the maintenance work and upkeep. This level of volunteer work is what makes Reno’s disc golf courses free to the public, he emphasizes.
“They deliberately ignored those requests,” Skot Meyer says. Bands of “bros” in numbers as many as 10 to a hole clogged the courses, causing players to accumulate behind them, and, in short, ruined the enjoyable outdoor activity for everyone. As a result, RDGA volunteers, in cooperation and coordination with Washoe County, took down the baskets. Washoe County, in partnership with RDGA, stored the equipment.
The RDGA is currently working with the county on building a new course and planning others. “Even though we have great community support, blatantly risky behavior harms our ability to make progress on new courses,” Skot Meyer says.
Now, in mid-summer, the baskets are back up, and the club is sponsoring socially distanced doubles and tag rounds (where players compete to win the lowest numbered tag), putting clinics and more.
Mike Mack, of Virginia City, an avid player who considers himself “addicted,” kept on playing during the quarantine, but abided by the social distancing rules. “They can’t stop us,” he says, lightheartedly, adding that “it’s a safe, fun game to play as long as you adhere to social distancing guidelines, which are pretty easy since the game is played outdoors.”
Mack explains that the sport’s popularity has been growing since he began playing some seven years ago. In 2015, he joined the Professional Disc Golf Association (pdga.com) and was given the number #70493. The PDGA has given out successive numbers to its members since its inception in 1976. The last number given out at this writing is #142968, double the number of players since Mack joined.
It’s no coincidence that disc golf is often referred to as “Frisbee golf.” In 1966, “Steady” Ed Headrick, invented the Frisbee while an employee at Wham-O. In 1975, he invented the Disc Golf Pole Hole, as essential to disc golf as the hoop is to basketball. Considered the Father of Disc Golf, Headrick’s Professional Disc Golf Association number is #001.
Mack moved to Nevada two years ago from California, and the first place he sought out was a disc golf course. “It’s a great place to meet people.” Conley would agree. She met her husband at the Bijou course at Lake Tahoe.
For more information, find the Reno Disc Golf Association on Facebook under the Reno Disc Golfers page or renodisc.com; or look for the Professional Disc Golf Association, pdga.com, where you can search for courses all over the world.