June 12, 2010
Disc golf makes Senior Games debut
24 seniors compete in the sport Friday at an 18 hole course on TC3 campus
DRYDEN — Bryan Kuhns set his bag and a folding chair on the ground, then looked through the 11 discs in his bag as he prepared to play disc golf Friday.
He had 11 discs intended to be thrown different distances, just as a golfer has different clubs according to how far the ball needs to be hit. Their weights were 171 to 175 grams, they were nine inches in diameter and they were made of hard plastic.
The Niagara Falls resident took a few practice tosses from close to a metal basket, which serves as this sport’s version of a golf hole with a flag. He was ready for competition in the Empire State Senior Games, which has disc golf this year for the first time.
Twenty men and four women competed on the disc golf course on the Tompkins Cortland Community College campus.
Among them were competition director Dave Thomas, a retired physical education teacher from Rochester who fell in love with the sport in 1995, and Bill Jones, a park director in the Syracuse area who asked the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to add the sport to the Empire State Games that same year. Jones’ idea was rejected at the time.
The Senior Games was to continue today, with most athletic events held at SUNY Cortland. People age 50 and over compete in sports such as basketball, swimming, tennis, golf, track and field, shuffleboard and horseshoes.
“I read about this sport and saw it at a park in Rochester, when I was looking for physical education activities,” said Thomas, who taught in the Greece school district. “I loved it.”
He said his son, a fourth-grader at the time, became discouraged on the first hole, which was too difficult for a child. So Thomas began to design courses, keeping in mind that people of different abilities should be able to play.
“I’ve built seven courses,” Thomas said.
Playing at disc golf courses is free. The holes are about one-third the distance of golf course fairways, with 150 feet being the minimum.
“The longest I’ve seen is 900 feet, but they’re going over 1,000 feet as the disc technology improves,” Thomas said.
“I play a couple of times a week, and I compete about five or six times a summer,” said Kuhns, 51, who is a warehouse manager. He said there are many courses in Western New York, and Dryden was the farthest he would drive to compete.
He planned to play in doubles competition Friday with another Niagara Falls resident, Mark Pyrczak, 54, a thermal engineer.
“We compete in the intermediate level, which is people age 16 and up, along with Bryan’s son Vinny, and we do OK,” Pyrczak said. “I had my right hip replaced, so I took a break and now I’m getting back into shape.”
The disc golfers said the sport has a professional level, although it is difficult to make a living at it. Some pros make money by having their names on discs.
Innova is a major disc maker, which helped to sponsor Friday’s competition, giving each person a disc.
TC3 agreed to host the competition. The course begins and ends at the main building, with holes situated around the land between campus and Route 13, then back behind the athletic fields.
Alfred Okaru, the college’s recreation director, got the 18-hole course ready.
As the golfers began launching their discs at the first hole, the sun was shining, there was no wind and they could hear birds and frogs.
The first hole at TC3 is next to a water hazard — a pond — so some golfers sank their discs in the water on the first attempt to reach the ground near the basket.
They could retrieve discs by wading in or using a retrieval device, a metal rectangle attached to a line, which could be dragged over a disc lying flat on the pond’s bottom.
Discs start at $20 apiece in price, depending on the manufacturer.
Dryden resident Mark Sutton, competing in the 50-54 age division, said he just began playing in May. A cyclist who takes part in time trials at Greek Peak all summer, he said disc golf looked like fun “but it’s a lot harder than it looks.”
“What I like about this and cycling is, you can do it anytime,” Sutton said. He said, “Wow, look at that” as the early groups teed off, sending discs curving against the sky and close to the basket.
The four women had not played before. All of them came to the Senior Games to play other sports.
“I never heard of this until I saw it in the materials we get before the Senior Games,” said Toni Kimber of Endwell, who also competed in shuffleboard in the 55-59 age group.
Lillian Braxton of Harlem, a competitor in swimming and badminton, said the same thing. The other two women who tried disc golf were Barbara Gabel of Conklin and Jean Purdy of Liverpool (80-84 age division). Braxton and Gabel compete in the 70-74 age division.
Purdy said she used to compete in swimming and tennis but has a bad shoulder. Besides table tennis and bridge, she saw disc golf as something she could still do.
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