The group lined up ahead of us, three twenty-something men fit enough to be college basketball players but outfitted in String Cheese Incident shirts, short beards and beanies, look very serious about their game.
Each has at least two discs, the tallest of them carrying a bag full of the smaller-than-a-Frisbee hard, somewhat heavy plastic discs the game centers around.
They line up behind the tee, a patch of that plastic grass you find on small town grandmother’s front porches, and the first of the bunch drops his extra disc, gets a firm grip on the one in his hand, and with a throw at least worthy of high school track and field discus, sends the flying saucer skyward down the fairway toward a “basket”. The Frisbee (though I don’t dare refer to it as such to these pros, the correct term is “disc golf” in these parts) bald eagles through the air, replacing it’s similarly named sports golf ball. The target, a metal basket with the hole number written in black letters on a yellow ring around the top—chains hanging down into the entire contraption to help stop the disc when the last throw smooths in—waits patiently some two hundred feet away. His aim was great, but the power behind the throw proved a bit too little and the plastic circle skips once off of the grass ten feet or so shy of the basket, regains flight for a moment, then lands on it’s side and rolls in a donut pattern around the metal cage to come to a final resting position at just under the basket. He shakes his head a little and his partners go in turn after him, the first one landing wide right and beyond the hole, the second, having carefully chosen just the right disc for this hole from his bag of twenty or so, puts exactly the right precision, power and adjustment for wind to land his hole-in-one style directly into the chains. They all cheer, the other two reach down to the ground to grab their secondary discs, and they move up the field.
This particular course, nestled in and around Black Mountain Recreation Park some 17 miles East of Asheville, begins almost on top of an adjacent soccer field where middle schoolers are practicing. It follows a walking trail sending retired dog walkers and jogging moms alike into and out of the forest behind, where picnic tables and squirrels spend their days dodging wayward flying discs and watching the Swannanoa River meander slowly through it all.
It doesn’t take long for the group ahead of us to finish the hole, the other two guys one under par each, and move onto #2. I’m here with my oldest son, Tristan, who’s 10, and a neighbor girl he’s met in the area, also 10. Tristan has played Frolf, as we call it, several times before, albeit not professionally, and it’s the little girl’s first time. Where the fellows ahead of us finished the hole in only a few minutes, I wait while Tristan and his friend take 3, 4, eventually 7 throws total to make their way into the basket. By the time we tee up for hole #2, the guys ahead of us are disappeared into the forest like Merry Men.
Hole number two is shorter, maybe only 150′ or so, but it’s got obstacles. The river, really more of the size of a creek at this point in it’s journey, sits over a cliff to the right, small enough to rescue a wayward disc from but deep enough to ensure your jeans will be soaked up to your knees at least. A large tree growing likely increasingly more frustrated day after day at being pegged broadside by a weighty piece of chucked airborne plastic on a regular basis, hangs from the edge of the riverbank, directly in our line of sight to the basket. Where the real players out here today—the hippie jocks making par or better everytime—come at least two discs deep, one for the fairway and another for a putter, we only have one disc each, and judging from the last hole, I picture the newly purchased sporting equipment one by one performing submarine reenactments as we all fail to make the gap across the river bend and safely to the fairway. Tristan’s little friend goes first, and though it’s her that I would have surely voted most likely to get wet today, she takes the safe route around the left side of the tree, hitting a limb but avoiding any more amphibious pursuits. I send mine careening wobbly curveball style over the river and through the woods to land close enough to the green for my satisfaction, though still fifteen feet or so away from sinking it. Tristan lines up, cocks the disc back in his arm, and runs full speed ahead, letting it go at the last moment as he leaps into the air like a broken toy ballerina flung from a young boy’s slingshot. His flying plastic disc? Direct hit, battleship sunk. He laughs a little and shrugs his shoulders, “Oh well, I guess I’m getting wet.”
As he’s wading hip deep into a particularly bad spot to have landed, a couple of thirty something local guys head out of the woods. Eyes red and 22 ounce bottles of beer tucked away in brown paper bags in their hands, they point and smile at Tristan, still fishing, and look at me as they pass. “That hole’ll get you every time, eh?”
As we continue through the course, no further river incidents occurring, we pass more groups like this: younger guys having a few beers in the sunshine of another gorgeous Western North Carolina day. But there’s also a group of three college age girls wearing Montreat sweatshirts—a nearby Presbyterian university—and a grandfather playing with his tween-age grandson. Older, more experienced guys play the back 9 where obstacles are exchanged for distance. A mustached gentleman carrying a large backpack plays on his own, his rather large mutt of a dog walking alongside him the entire time. Another dad and his young daughters and teenage son are all out enjoying their various skill levels together.
We’re only playing through to hole 9, and the entire experience takes us about an hour. The guys who’d begun just in front of us probably finished it in only 35 or 40 minutes. As we’re nearing the final hole, it quickly proves to be the best, and it instantly reminds me more of miniature golf than the full fledged golfing experience frolf was modeled after.
The tee rests between two hemlock trees, the river curving just behind us, where a few teenage boys are playing in the rocky beach of the riverside. From the tee, the hole lay about 150′ away, but it’s no straight shot. A player has three options: send your disc up and over a bridge where a walking trail rises about ten feet over the course, hoping you don’t hit a wayward biker darting down the path; take the safe route, boring as it is, and try and coast underneath the bridge and land to the left of the hole but not so far left that you end up in the thicket or worse yet, another river expedition; or take the most difficult and clearly most enjoyable route for the course’s designer, send your disc perfectly and directly through a 3′ in diameter drainage tube, spiraled, black and maybe fifteen feet long. From the tee, you can see the basket through the tube, but as much as all three of us tried our best to send it perfectly through and out the other side, I suspect even the pros would find themselves occasionally shimmying into that tube to rescue a disc who’s aim didn’t quite meet the precision requirements. Tristan’s lands up on the bridge, skidding to a hault as it smacks into the side of a guard rail. His friend’s ends up rolling underneath it all and coming to a full stop surprisingly close to the target. I miss the tube by a few feet the first time but my lay gives me another chance, to which I finally and truly mess up gloriously and get my Frisbee stuck halfway through.
The kids are more than willing to climb in after it for me. They emerge victorious, my boy with the rescued disc in hand, and we finish off the hole. Tristan asks us what our scores are. “Uh, I don’t know,” we reply practically in unison.
And as the abundance of cargo shorts and hemp necklaces seems to lend itself to, so is the idea of disc golf in general: spend the day outside doing something everyone from little Timmy to Uncle Merv can pull off, have fun, maybe get a little wet, and if you can’t quite recall your score at the end of the game, well no one’s going to blame you for trying.
Make a Day of It!
From Hole 9, take Oaks Trail (the foot bridge that leads over the creek) East half a mile to town. Continue on Vance Ave for about 3/4 of a mile, then left onto Black Mountain Avenue and you’ll be in downtown Black Mountain.
Killer local egg & sausage breakfast sandwiches at Louise’s Kitchen (115 Black Mountain Ave.) Get a sandwich and a beer at the Dark City Deli (122 Cherry Street) and tour Cherry Street, full of boutique tourist trap type shops, the General Store and of course, ice cream. Pizza for dinner? Try Fresh Pizza (100 S Ridgeway Ave) for artisan style wood fired pizza made with all local and mostly organic ingredients. Lake Tomahawk has a great playground and gorgeous views, and check out the dog park behind Bi-Lo if pooch needs a little company.