Disc golf is a walk on the wild side of sports

Anna Carter of Kingston tosses for a basket at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds disc golf course Wednesday.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Anna Carter of Kingston tosses for a basket at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds disc golf course Wednesday.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

BREMERTON — Paul Wright knows a little something about how to throw a disc.

On Aug. 3, the 53-year-old Bremerton resident won first place in the Advanced Grandmaster amateur division at the Professional Disc Golf Association’s World Championships in Kansas City, Mo.

“It’s really a fun atmosphere,” Wright said of the week-long tournament. “We had thunderstorms, we had hot, muggy weather and we had wind. It was a great test.”

Wright credits his ability to master the tough, technical aspects of the championship courses to years spent practicing on the hilly, tree-filled courses of Kitsap.

“We develop good technical players that come out of this area,” Wright said. “We have good courses to help develop good players. We incorporate all the different types of shots.”

The first public disc golf course to pop up in Kitsap was the 18-hole spread at Bremerton’s NAD Park, which opened in 2004. Shortly after, another 18-holer went in at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Silverdale, followed by a 10-hole course at Port Orchard’s Van Zee Park. The latest local public course to be installed is hidden behind a big yellow farm house on Poulsbo’s Big Valley Road. The 18-hole spread is tucked deep in the woods at the Fredericksen Wilderness Park about 0.4 mile north of Bond Road. It takes some walking to find the first tee, which lies at the top of a long trail, but traipsing around in the woods is part of the fun of the sport.

“We open up a really beautiful environment to a lot more people for healthy activities,” Wright said.

Disc golf, for the uninitiated, is much like regular golf in that the goal is to shoot an object into a hole from long distance in the fewest number of tries possible. In the case of disc golf, the golfer begins by throwing from a designated tee area, toward a basket. Many disc golf courses, especially those in Kitsap County, include natural obstacles that make each throw a challenge.

In addition to being a high-caliber player, Wright is also the president of the West Sound Disc Golf Association , a group that has helped install and maintain Kitsap’s courses, while introducing new players to the fast-growing sport.

In recent years, “the amount of disc golf players in this area has grown exponentially,” said Sam Huff, treasurer for the WSDGA. “All walks of life play. My 5-year-old son plays.”

New players and courses often mean the clearing of new trails, but courses use existing paths as well. Wright says the environmental impacts of the sport are low.

“We’ve tried to design it so the foot traffic is not destructive,” Wright said. “We feel like what we’re doing is enhancing the natural resource that’s already out there.”

Players don’t have to be a member of any organization before they start throwing, but WSDGA membership does help golfers stay connected, and fees go toward maintaining local courses.

“The main benefit to joining is it keeps you in touch with the sport,” Wright said. “It gives you an opportunity to give back to the sport, and it gives you some input as to the future of the sport in the area.”

This weekend, some local golfers will participate in a PDGA-approved tournament at the SeaTac Disc Golf Course. As the sport grows, more tournaments become available.

“Between Washington, Oregon and Idaho, you can just about play a tournament every weekend during the summer,” Huff said.

Disc golf has taken Wright all over the country, and he hopes to see the sport continue to grow in the Northwest the way it has elsewhere.

“It’s incredible, the maturity of the sport in the Midwest compared to where it is here,” Wright said. “Over there, the parks are begging them to put in courses. Here, we have to beg the parks. It’s a little different, but we’ll get there.”

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