ALTON - Disc golf is a take on a couple of original games that has players spinning into action, fitness and fun.
Sometimes referred to as the "sport of the future," its popularity continues to grow, prompting the construction of a local disc golf course at Rock Spring Park. The act of throwing a Frisbee-like disc is challenging, yet is a task that can be taken on by those of all ages and skill levels.
Jay Lipe of Godfrey, an avid disc golf player and organizer of an upcoming disc golf tournament at the Rock Spring course, says the social nature of the game also is a big plus.
"I've played all over the country, and for some reason, you never seem to meet someone on the course that isn't friendly and there to have fun," Lipe said. "And the physical exercise of walking the course and throwing the disc makes it a ‘hidden' gym in the city."
Throw in a little mental conditioning and strategizing - and what more could you ask for?
Another plus is that disc golf is a fairly economical sport to play. After investing in initial discs (some people may have up to three - one for driving, one for mid-range and a putter), you're basically done. Lipe says discs can be purchased from about $8 to $20 each. There are no greens fees for everyday play at Rock Spring (or most courses, for that matter). The upcoming tournament does have a $10 entry fee, with profits going directly back into the final development aspects of the course. Lipe said the goal is to someday double the current 18-hole format and make it a 36-hole course.
Mike Drake, executive director of Alton Parks and Recreation Department, said the agency became involved after being approached by a group of disc golf players keen on the idea of having a local course available on a rolling, scenic terrain, such as in the park.
"It has really been a good thing," Drake said. "It's very nice to see the park itself come back to life. It sort of put it back on the map. Many players have told me it's the nicest course in the area."
The impetus for the Alton course began when a couple of disc golfers, husband and wife Mark and Kelly Eberlin, began playing at a course in Collinsville. They began talking about the need for more courses when they became friends with fellow disc golfers and members of the Southern Illinois Chain Gang disc golf team, led by Jeff Ligon and Bo Toebe. Ligon and Toebe ended up producing, designing and building the Rock Spring course, along with input from Mike Bemis, who died earlier this year.
The grand opening of the course will be May 9, the same day as the tournament, held on Bemis' birthday in his honor, with the first shot being thrown by his twin brother, Geoff.
"It has ended up being about a $10,000 course, funded partially by Alton Parks and Recreation and private sources," Lipe said. "We've had a lot of support and many volunteers who worked to make it happen."
The Rock Spring course is described as a great grass course with good use of risk and reward terrain, particularly on the front nine.
How is disc golf played exactly? It's played a lot like traditional golf, but players use a "Frisbee-like" disc instead of clubs and a golf ball. Although its true gain in popularity seems to have come about in more recent years, disc golf actually was formalized as a sport in the 1970s. As in traditional golf, the object is to complete each hole in a nine- or 18-hole round with the fewest number of strokes (or throws). The disc is thrown from a tee box area toward a target, progressing down the fairway with consecutive throws until the hole is complete (just like golf swings that move you along).
Because disc golf transcends age, fitness levels and physical abilities, it's a fitness sport that can be played for a lifetime. There are specific rules, but they are very easy to learn, Lipe said. The sport is governed by the Professional Disc Golf Association, currently with more than 16,000 members. The PDGA sanctions competitive events for men and women of every skill level from novice to professional. Permanent disc golf courses now can be found around the world and throughout the United States.
According to the PDGA, the ideal location combines wooded and open terrains, and a variety of topographical change.
Lipe said he knows of at least 100 players in the immediate area, and the number continues to grow.
"Once someone plays on this course, they're hooked," Lipe said. "I see them come back day after day."
According to the PDGA, the first known instance of anyone playing golf with a flying disc occurred in 1926 in Vancouver, British Columbia, when a group of students played a game of what they called "Tin Lid Golf" on a course on their school grounds. Other similar accounts indicate "spurts" of a similar sport, but they all fizzled out until the mid-1970s, when Ed Headrick pushed the idea of disc golf, a sport he formalized about the same time the world was embracing the "Frisbee-throwing" craze.
Since then, it has done nothing but grow exponentially with the formation of Headrick's Disc Golf Association, considered the modern founding organization of the sport, championships, disc opens, tournaments, construction of courses and organized play.
The upcoming May 9 tournament at Rock Spring Park is sponsored by many local businesses and individuals, including the Alton Fraternal Order of Eagles, Gentelin's On Broadway, Cobra Kai Entertainment of Alton (for graphic design on tournament Frisbee and posters), Gateway Disc Sports and the Southern Illinois Chain Gang Disc Golf Club of Collinsville.
For those interested in participating in the tournament, registration begins at 9:30 a.m., with the official opening throw at 10:30 a.m.; the tourney lasts until sunset. Discs can be purchased the day of the event. A picnic-style barbecue will be available at the park, with water stations located along the fairway. An "after party" will be held immediately following the tournament at Big Muddy Pub in Alton, where various awards will be given. Ancient Chinese Secret will headline the entertainment for the evening, which also will include Jason Scroggins, Patrick Read, Jake Weber, Phat Finger and Tungsten Groove. Evening festivities will include a dinner catered by Big Muddy Pub.
For more information about disc golf, visit http://www.pdga.com. For more information on the May 9 tournament at Rock Spring Park, call Lipe at (618) 567-6785.