A “Round” of Golf

story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri

It’s Sunday morning at Dennison Park in Corning, and the Twenty Percenters disc golf league are gathering. Shoulder bags are packed full of colorful discs, teams of four assemble for a shotgun start, and their weekly round of disc golf begins. It sounds simple – throw your disc into a metal basket. But then they start, and it’s not so simple at all.

Disc golf is a growing sport. The ultimate goal is to get your disc in an elevated metal basket located at each hole, in the fewest number of throws. It’s fun, it’s inexpensive, and can be enjoyed by both young and old.

I recently chatted with Hank Foss, the driving force behind the Twenty Percenters league and the Dennison Park disc golf course – one of the older courses in the Finger Lakes region.

“I always enjoyed throwing the traditional Frisbee, whether in a game with friends or at targets in the back yard,” he told me, and when he moved to Corning and met Paul Thomas, they found that they had a similar interest in Frisbee and decided to give disc golf a try. But there was a learning curve. “At first we blamed the discs,” he laughed. “They just weren’t working.”

But then they attended their first disc golf tournaments, one in New Jersey and then at Ellison Park in Rochester. “That was all it took, watching two tournaments, and we were hooked.”

Throwing the golf discs takes a completely different technique than throwing a traditional Frisbee. Getting some advice from the experienced players at the tournaments helped Hank’s technique and increased his desire for a course in Corning.

80 percent skill / 20 percent luck

Back in 1992, Hank approached the town of Corning about developing a disc golf course in Dennison Park. They started with nine holes, with Hank and Paul as the course designers. Ten years and numerous fundraisers later, the league was able to add five more. The city provided the final four and the 18-hole course was complete.

The Twenty-Percenters play year-round. “Even in winter, a handful of players show up every week” says Hank. They have doubles on Wednesday nights, or on Saturdays when the evenings are too dark. “We occasionally travel to other disc golf courses for a round of golf, to give us some variety” says Hank.

The Twenty Percenters’ premier tournament is held each spring at the disc golf course at Hickory Hill Campground in Bath. This two-day event attracts players from all over. The league’s Ice Bowl tournament, now in its 17th year, is held in January as a fundraiser for the food bank. “With fewer park visitors around, we have plenty of room in the winter for this event,” explains Hank.

If new players want to join, they just have to show up at Sunday league. They need to play two times to establish their handicap.

I showed up one Sunday morning to watch a round, and the players patiently explained the ins and outs of the game to me. Like the more familiar game of “ball golf,” they start each hole at the tee – in this case, a concrete slab.

Also like ball golf, there are drivers, mid-range, putters – in other words, discs in an amazing number of styles and colors. Drivers are made for distance, and are thin and sleek, while a putter, for shorter distances, will have a thicker edge. Keeping score is easy with the phone app UDisc, which also keeps personal stats for the players. Or, you can always use the old-fashioned way with a pencil and paper scorecard.

The players must make their way around obstacles. “See that branch? It has grown and is now hanging down in the way,” explained one of the players named Thom. “But we can’t touch it. Only the course designers, or town maintenance, can modify anything on the course.”

As with every sport, there are rules, course boundaries, and proper disc-golf etiquette. Since the Dennison course is in a public park, some of the guidelines are specific to this location. Roads and parking lots are out of bounds; sidewalks are not. Be careful when throwing a disc where non-golfers may be walking unaware that they are in your path. New players can check with an experienced player for clarification on the guidelines for each hole.

A course near you

There are plenty of other disc golf courses in the Finger Lakes region, and each one is different. While Dennison Park is mostly level and through a manicured public park, others are located on some pretty unique terrain. In my travels through the region, I checked out a few other courses.

The 18-hole Spartan course is located at the family-owned Apple Farm on Route 444 in Victor. It winds through the beautiful farmlands and orchard on the Bahai family’s private land. The course is hilly and lovely, and far enough from the parking lot that you will want to rent a golf cart. Yes, they’re available, and let’s be honest – they add to the fun of making your way up and down the hills and around the trees.

Last fall, a second 18-hole course was added.

Sadly, a recent fire destroyed the farm stand and the disc golf shop in front. Plans for rebuilding are underway with some uncertainty about when or if the shop will return. It remains an ideal disc-golf, with a choice of two courses in one location.

At Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Brewery on Route 14 between Geneva and Watkins Glen, a nine-hole course will take you through farmland, between silos and along hops growing tall. “A couple of our employees were really into the sport, and thought it would be fun to have a course here,” says co-owner Chris Hansen. “They designed it, and we opened a few years ago.”

Players bring their own discs or can buy one there to get started. “And they can stop by our tasting room when done” say Chris. Enjoying a local ale after a round of golf is a winning combination.

There are many first class 18-hole and nine-hole courses throughout or region, including the Panther Highlands in Dryden, once a stop on the National Disc Golf Championship Tour; and the lakeside course at Emerson Park in Auburn. And because of its growing popularity, sporting goods stores have begun carrying discs, notes fingerlakes.com. “The Ithaca Outdoor Store, for instance, offers a quirky selection of inexpensive, hard-to-find discs that are a blast to try out.”

For some, disc golf is a highly skilled sport. For the most serious players, membership is available in the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), with professional leagues, sanctioned tournaments, player rankings, and more. But no matter the skill level, disc golf is fun, inexpensive, and appropriate for any age.

For information on rules, course locations and more
The Twenty-Percenters:
Professional Disc Golf Association
Game description, rules, course locations can be found here.

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