Friday, February 15, 2013

Where the Frisbee Landed

The Carillon's stairway up to a tee

Post No. 2: Designing and naming  
(Read Post No. 1 here.)

The concept of Frisbee-golf came to us from a friend of Stew’s who worked with him at Sam Miller’s, a popular restaurant/night club in a part of Richmond’s downtown called Shockoe Slip. The friend, who was called “Muh,” was from California.

In 1976 Larry worked the night shift. He and I were both 28. Stew, who was probably 22, was a student/bartender and I managed a movie theater. So we three had lots of time available in the afternoon to devote to improving our skills at the game. As we walked the loop around Shield's Lake, occasionally we made changes to improve the course. That basically meant moving a tee or changing the target object. Different styles of throwing were tested.

At one time the same site had served Richmonders as a giant swimming pool with diving boards. The public swimming era had ended abruptly some 20 years before this time, so we had the area to ourselves on many of those afternoons spent developing our customs. Larry kept a little notebook in which he recorded all the scores. He also made notes about the weather and any other noteworthy occurrences or oddities.

The Frisbees we used then all floated, so when they landed in the water, we easily fished them back out with a hook and line. As we were using a public space we were careful not to be intrusive on picnicking families. Our courses have never been marked in any way, so when we leave the park it hasn't been changed ... expect for the trash we find and pick up. 

It’s likely we started calling the first course The Lake in 1977, once we started playing our second nine-hole course in another part of Byrd Park. The second course was close to The Carillon, so that’s what we called the second nine. Like the first course we configured it with four par threes, four par fours and one par five.

By this time we had about a dozen guys playing regularly. At this point we were only throwing discs made by Wham-O, like the All American model and a couple of others even smaller. We didn’t allow any discs heavier than 115 grams. One point of that restriction was to distance ourselves from other groups we’d seen playing the game. From our vantage point we saw them as being too serious about Frisbee-golf.

Essentially, the initial trips to the park to throw Frisbees at trees were just impromptu jaunts, something to do while we smoked pot and laughed at whatever seemed funny.

Yes, in those early days, marijuana smoking was associated with the game which was being played by outdoorsy hippies. Of course that changed long ago. Like, decades. Now I can say with confidence aplenty that few, if any, modern disc golfers anywhere smoke weed while they pursue their happiness slinging plastic discs at targets.

Early on, our group decided to make up and follow our own rules for the game. We had become aware there was a national governing body that was seeking to regulate disc golf and we wanted no part of such a thing. So our rules were and they remain a little quirky.

Early on, we also outlawed gambling money on the game, which was probably one of our best decisions. That rule still stands.

When we organized and set up our first tournament, it was an invitational affair in the spring of 1978. We rented the picnic shelter at Shields Lake from the parks department and threw a party with lots of food and a (discreetly hidden) keg of beer. Maybe 50 people attended and half of them played the 27 holes of that singles tournament. That meant playing nine at The Carillon and 18 at The Lake.

Larry won, Stew came in second and I placed third. No doubt Larry was pleased with that victory but our group was much more concerned with who held the course records than who was the reigning singles champ. That all came later. That first tournament was much more of a party than it was an athletic competition.

However, the name of our group came from that first tournament. For the event I had drawn up a handbill-style invitation and had also made a scoreboard out of cardboard that mimicked the scoreboards for ball golf tournaments. To stretch the association further, I wrote Greater Richmond Frizbee-Golf Association at the top of the scoreboard in Magic Marker ink.

That same weekend the professional ball golfers on tour were playing a tournament called The Greater Greensboro Open. So I was mocking that televised event, hoping for cheap laughs. At the time there was no intention on my part to name the group with that gesture.

Actually, no one in particular called our group by that name, or its acronym, until a second group of friends with a new nine-hole course in Libby Hill Park sought to establish a rivalry with us.

Over the summer of 1978, by trial and error our burgeoning group designed what we intended to be our most challenging set of nine links at Maymont, a park (with a creek and some wild animals) adjacent to Byrd Park. Again, the par was set at 33, but the new course had more hills and was a good deal longer.

Consequently, the use of 133-gram Super Pros became accepted. Thus we unwittingly signed onto the bandwagon pursuit of power and distance that has driven the game's equipment evolution ever since.

Super Pros were used in the second GRFGA singles tournament, which was won by Jack in the fall of 1978. The 27 holes played in that championship incorporated all three of the group's courses. This established the tradition of playing the 27-hole singles tournament twice a year, which is still observed.

These were still hippie times and the GRFGA's members were not particularly interested in being missionaries to spread their game/pastime to the masses.

-- Photo and words by F.T. Rea

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