A new spin on an old game

It's Sunday afternoon and a wall of grey clouds has collected over the Mount McIntyre ski trails. But the ominous weather has not prevented Al Fozard and Dave Griffiths from heading to the forest for one of their favourite recreational activities: disc golf.

It’s Sunday afternoon and a wall of grey clouds has collected over the Mount McIntyre ski trails.

But the ominous weather has not prevented Al Fozard and Dave Griffiths from heading to the forest for one of their favourite recreational activities: disc golf.

As the name implies, disc golf shares a few similarities with its better-known cousin. Players throw Frisbee-like discs at 18 consecutive targets, and try to hit those targets in as few shots as possible. These “holes” are large, steel-basket-like structures.

Fozard and Griffiths have been playing the sport, in one form or another, for three decades.

“We thought we invented the game back in 1979,” says Griffiths. “We started out aiming at trees and other natural and manmade objects in downtown Whitehorse. Then we had a friend visit us from Pender Island, (BC,) and he told us there was a course on the island as well as others in Canada and the States.”

From that point on, Griffiths and Fozard began thinking about making their own course.

Their plan took a huge step forward in 1985, when Whitehorse granted them the use of some land behind Takhini as part an “adopt-a park” program with the city.

“We were allowed to construct targets and build a course as long as we kept the land in good shape, ” says Griffiths.

“We built a bench and a shelter and Dave (Griffiths) had a beautiful sign made with all the holes on it,” adds Fozard.

Listening to them, it is clear that they invested a lot of themselves in the Takhini course, and disc golf seemed to be on the rise as a result.

The good times didn’t last.

“People started to vandalize it,” says Fozard, “We thought we had created something that would be embraced by a lot of people, but instead the course was damaged. We got discouraged.”

Disc golf dwindled away to almost nothing in the Yukon, but now it’s back in a big way.

“When we first set up the disc-golf course in Takhini, there were maybe 12 of us that would play,” says Griffiths, “Now I’d say there is 30 to 40 hardcore players who are out every week, and maybe 150 people who play occasionally.”

According to Griffiths and Fozard there are a few reasons for this resurgence.

The first is the emergence of another Frisbee-related sport, Ultimate.

“About 10 years ago, people started playing Ultimate on the soccer pitch behind Takhini (Elementary) School. They discovered the disc-golf course and began maintaining it,” says Fozard.

Second, the children of the original players began to pick up the sport, including Fozard’s own son, Chris.

This creates an interesting intergenerational dynamic among the players.

“It seems that there is a dedicated group of players in their 20s and a dedicated group of players in their 50s,” says Fozard.

“Now all we have to do is fill in the ages around those two groups,” says Griffiths.

Third, the game itself is an easy sell.

“It’s good exercise and people seem to take to it, especially the young,” says Fozard.

Of course much like regular golf, disc golf has its frustrations (an errant shot can leave you stumbling through the bushes looking for your disc), but according to Griffiths there are also moments of sublime beauty.

“When you throw the perfect shot you know it the moment it’s out of your hand, and you can feel it throughout your body,” he says.

Despite its newfound popularity, Yukon’s disc golf revival has recently faced its biggest challenge.

As land development encroached upon the Takhini course it became obvious that a new venue would have to be built.

When it was decided the Mount McIntyre ski trails were the perfect location for the course, the plan began to take shape.

Fozard was overwhelmed by the support for the project.

“We got a lot of support from Castle Rock enterprises, who gave us materials, and the city of Whitehorse was very helpful,” he says. “Also, there were lots of volunteers who came out and worked really hard on three consecutive weekends to build it.”

Two weeks previously the course became functional and it has already been well used.

During their game on this particular Sunday, Griffith and Fozard encounter a group of beginners testing out the sport. And a couple was walking their dog. The couple seems curious.

“I’ll have to give (disc-golf) a try,” says the man before walking on.

Once the scores are counted, Griffiths is declared the winner of this round. But one gets the feeling the winner’s jacket will be passed back and forth a few more times before the end of the season.

“Hey, Al, what happened to the guy who kicked my ass a few days ago?” he says.

Peter Jickling is a

Whitehorse-based freelance writer.

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