Disc-go in-fern?-nooooo!: A first timer’s experience disc golfing at Morley Field

A stock photo of disc golf
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Columnist Ryan Bradford discovers the surprising joy of disc golfing


The morning is a stranger. I can’t remember the last time I woke up before the sunrise. There’s dew on the car windshield. Birds chirp, but it’s difficult to find comfort in their harmonies.

I guess this is the life of a disc golfer.

I’ve never played disc golf, but you know how it goes: a weekly Zoom happy hour with your brother-in-law Lewis and The Sarge — husband to one of your wife’s best friends and disc golf aficionado (and why do we call him The Sarge? Because, well, he’s The Sarge) — eventually leads to drunken talk about disc golf, and before you know it they’re on their way to play disc golf with you.

Before these Zoom conversations, I’d never had an inclination to play disc golf. In fact, at the age of 36, I’ve pretty much given up on wanting to try new things, especially if they require physical exertion. I’ve come to terms with the idea that I’ll never be great at sports, so why not just focus on the sports that I can at least be mediocre at: running, biking, and shooting hoops. Plus, disc golf seems like it’d require a whole lifestyle change, and I’ve already changed my lifestyle this year by becoming a sweatpants guy.

The Sarge has scheduled our tee time for 7:40 a.m. Let me repeat this: 7:40 a — and I cannot stress this enough — m. Has this always been a time? This early wake-up does not bode well for the lax routine I’ve developed during the pandemic. 7:40 is about five hours earlier than I usually brush my teeth most days. It doesn’t help that my stomach is churning from the sriracha pizza I ate the night before. Perhaps if it wasn’t so early, I could reflect on the ways that the pandemic has turned me into a disgusting slob.

Lewis and The Sarge have already warmed up by the time I arrive at Morley Field Disc Golf Course. The Sarge leads us back to his car and hands me a bag filled with about 10 discs from his personal collection. Having grown up with a Frisbee, the arsenal is intimidating. What do these all do?

“This is your putter,” The Sarge says, pulling a dark blue disc from my bag and foisting it into my hand. He points me toward a practice basket. Instead of holes like in regular golf, disc golfers aim for baskets that look a little bit like inverted beehives made of chains. Vaguely Hellraiser-esque.

“Stagger your feet, bring the disc straight across your chest, aim to the right, and try to force your wrist down when you throw. People tend to flick up when they release,” The Sarge says. “Just do that and it’ll fly where you want it to.”

Before this moment, I could’ve sworn that I knew how to throw a Frisbee, but keeping the order of instructions straight is confusing. How should my feet be? Aim to my what? Arm should go where?

Robotically, I wind up and then send the putter sailing far over the basket.

“Perfect,” The Sarge says.

When it’s our group’s turn to tee off, I pay close attention to The Sarge’s form. He winds back, takes a step forward and launches it about 300 feet. I don’t think I’ve seen an object fly so far or so gracefully, not even a real life bird.

“Wowww,” I say, elongating the word like a child who’s just seen a dump truck.

“That was garbage!” The Sarge yells, unsatisfied with his drive.

I’m up next. I step up to the tee line and again try to throw in accordance with The Sarge’s instructions. I grunt when the disc leaves my hand. It’s a sound like hwut. I watch as the disc flies high, wobbles in the wind, turns vertical, and hits a tree branch.

Lewis throws a solid first drive. He’s a natural athlete but he’s also British, so even if he sucked, he’d suck charmingly. I sigh. Looks like I’ll be the worst of our group today.

Every hole at Morley Field is a par three. It takes more than double that to finally get my disc into the first basket.

We move to the next hole. Despite my lack of talent, I can’t deny how beautiful this course is, and the morning sun shimmering off the dewy grass makes me consider that this whole a.m. thing isn’t so bad after all. Plus, disc golf seems like a very good COVID activity, which is a very obvious statement that I regretfully say aloud.

It’s the fourth or fifth hole when I finally start to get the hang of it. Lewis and I are throwing 100-plus-footers and The Sarge encourages us by yelling expletives. Every time my disc strikes the chain links on the basket, my heart flutters. The sound is better than sleigh bells on a roof.

And then somehow, I make par.

The Sarge cheers. Lewis cheers. We’re all cheering and swearing. I decide that I love disc golf. Disc golf is the best thing in the world. Perhaps I’m not too old to learn a new sport, I think, and this realization feels great. The first thing I plan to do when I get home is order my own set of discs. Good ones — the kind that’ll make The Sarge proud.

I’m bursting with pride when I step up to tee off on the next hole. The world goes silent. This is my moment. I step forward, do a little celebratory skip, and then launch my disc way off target, right patch of foliage less than 40 feet away.