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Disc golf takes flight in central PA

Skip Hummel pulls a disc out of the 5th hole basket as he and his team mate Derek Gordon play a round of disc golf during the Wind Wizards of Lime Bluff disc golf doubles tournament Dec. 12, 2020. DAVE KENNEDY/West Branch Life

You may have never heard of disc golf but it’s popularity has taken hold locally after spreading across the globe. “I plan on playing until I leave this earth,” said Skip Hummel from Muncy, who has played disc golf courses across the United States. “There are people still playing at the age of 80 to 90. It’s a great way to get a walk and enjoy time with friends.”

A sport with worldwide appeal, disc golf has been around for decades and has become increasingly popular in central Pennsylvania, with more disc golf courses popping up.

Unlike traditional golf, no balls or clubs are used in disc golf. Instead, a flying plastic disc (think Frisbee) is thrown at a target. Most golf discs are made of polypropylene plastic. The target itself is a disc pole hole catching device, consisting of 10 chains hanging in a parabolic shape over an upward opening basket.The sport is usually played on a course with 9 or 18 holes. Players complete a hole by throwing a disc from a tee pad or area toward a target, throwing again from where the previous throw landed, until the target is reached. Often in relation to par in traditional golf, the number of throws a player uses to reach each target is tallied and players compete to garner the lowest number of total throws.

Today, disc golf is played in about 40 countries, with the majority of courses in the United States, Canada, and Finland. There are disc golf courses on every continent, including 24 in Latin America, eight in Africa and even one in Antarctica. There are currently over 200 disc golf courses in Pennsylvania alone.

Hummel is a member of The Wind Wizards of Lime Bluff, a disc golf group from Hughesville. Formed in 2010, the group has a loyal following on Facebook, currently with 521 members and growing every day. They play on the course at Lime Bluff Recreation Park in Hughesville, which has 19 holes and was established in 2005.

A 1999 graduate of Muncy High School, Hummel enjoys kayaking, slackline, geocaching, hiking, and exploring. But most of all, he loves disc golf. His friends Larry Entz and Gene Phillips introduced him to the sport in 2003.

“We would play object golf from Gene’s house and pick objects and aim for them,” Hummel said. “They also took me with them to local courses at the time, Hickory Run State Park and Prompton Dam. I was hooked instantly.”

Originally from Exchange, PA and now living in Hughesville, Phillips joined the Army after high school. He is now retired and just enjoying life.

Phillips and Entz used to head to the practice football field in Muncy and play catch with Frisbees. When they got tired, they would take turns making up holes and playing disc golf. They thought they had invented the game.

“Larry worked for Valley Farms delivering ice cream and came home one day and said he found a real disc golf course,” Phillips recalled. “We made plans to go on Sunday because it was two hours away near Honesdale. We went there several times and found out there were a lot of courses around but none through central PA. So, we decided to get a course here.”

According to the Disc Golf Association’s website, DGA.com, modern day disc golf can be traced back to the 1960s, when the early Frisbee golf courses were “object courses,” using anything from trees, trash cans, light poles, chicken wire baskets and pipes to fire hydrants as targets.

The roots of the sport began when “Steady” Ed Headrick (1924-2002), an American toy inventor, designed the modern-day Frisbee while working for Wham-O Toys in the ’60s. Captivated by the flight and feeling of control he could master with the Frisbee, Headrick saw potential for the disc well beyond what anyone had envisioned or imagined.

Headrick coined and trademarked the term “disc golf,” after inventing and patenting the original Disc Pole Hole. Originally, he wanted to call his invention a Frisbee Pole Hole, but he ran into issues over the Frisbee trademark belonging to Wham-O, where he had served as Vice President and helped redesign the flying disc. In 1975, Headrick’s tenure at Wham-O ended.

After leaving the company, Headrick and his son, Ken Headrick, founded the first disc golf company in 1976, the DGA. The company introduced a new international sport by promoting the installation and use of disc golf courses around the world. Headrick then focused all his efforts on his new interest, releasing the term “disc golf” from trademark restrictions in order to grow the sport. Headrick eventually became known as the father of disc golf.

The DGA manufactured discs and targets and formalized the game of disc golf. The first disc golf target was Headrick’s pole hole design which basically consisted of a pole sticking out of the ground. The game evolved when Headrick invented the first disc pole hole catching device. The “Disc Pole Hole” became the equivalent to traditional golf’s hole and was installed in the first standardized target course in 1975 at Oak Grove Park in Pasadena, California. It was an instant success. By the time of his death in 2002, Headrick had designed over 200 courses.

Phillips mostly plays at Lime Bluff Recreational Park and Indian Park in Montoursville. The latter was designed by local disc golf players Thomas Smith and Ryan Nittinger. The course has a great layout for beginners and more advanced players. “It’s just like ball golf and there are tournaments all the time,” Phillips noted. “Since we put the course in, I’ve seen a lot of locals and people traveling to play the course. I used to travel just to play.”

Disc golf can be played all year long, as The Wind Wizards even play an “Ice Bowl” event in January. “That gets people out during the winter and it can’t be cancelled due to weather,” Phillips said. “All proceeds from ice bowls go to local eateries. Ours goes to the Son-Light House in Muncy.”

One of the greatest things about disc golf is that it is one of the most accessible and convenient sports to play, since it can be played on just about any terrain anywhere. Most disc golf courses are built in more natural and less manicured environments than traditional golf and require minimal maintenance. There are courses in woods, parks, and even wide open pastures. Course designers use trees, bushes, elevation changes, water hazards, and distance variation along with out-of-bounds zones, mandatory flight paths, multiple tee positions or multiple target positions to make each hole challenging.

“The beauty of disc golf is that it is as big as your imagination and creativity can make it,” Hummel noted. “I’ve played hundreds of courses around the United States and all of them are unique.”

Unlike traditional golf, disc golf is usually free to play in public parks and takes about half as long to complete a round. It is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages, gender identity and economic status.

Hummel says that disc golf has risen greatly in popularity since the pandemic hit. Before the pandemic, they were averaging five to seven people at leagues, which has now increased to 30. Their tournaments now include anywhere from 40-50 people. “The one we just hosted in June had 80 people, plus people waiting to get in,” he said. “Disc golf has exploded!”

Previous events played this year include: Lime Bluff Ice Bowl in January; BWCC Ice Bowl 2021 at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lewisberry in February; Lime Bluff Open in June; and in July the 2021 CCDGA Trilogy Challenge in Boalsburg and Coyote Hills and Thrills at Coyote Hills DGC in Carlisle.

Hummel said his plans for the sport are to continue growing it in the area and he hopes to have more courses for all skill levels. He also doesn’t plan to stop playing any time soon. Phillips shares a similar outlook on playing the sport. He declared, “I’ll play until my body says no more.”

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