BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – People have been throwing Wham-o’s ‘Frisbees’ around since the 1960s.
They started out throwing them to each other. Then they began tossing them to their dogs. And eventually they targetted inanimate objects like trees, poles and bushes.
And a new sport was born. Welcome to the evolution of ‘Frisbee Golf’ or “Frolf’, now known affectionately as disc golf.
Over the past 50 years, disc golf has enjoyed periodic growth spurts throughout the world. Now it has fluttered into the Lebanon County sports conscious.
“Most people don’t know about it,” said Mike Dunkle, the father of local disc golf and the designer of Lebanon County’s only disc golf course. “But disc golf has grown a lot. It’s called the fastest growing sport in the country. Hopefully more courses will be built at more parks in the County.”
Dunkle’s passion, vision and creation is the Jackson Township Recreation Park’s Disc Golf Course, located between Creamery Street and Fairlane Avenue in Myerstown. Situated on 22 acres and employing the Tulpehocken Creek, the old Union Canal and numerous trees as hazards, the 18-hole, 6,271-feet Jackson Township Disc Golf Course plays to a par of 54, or three ‘strokes’ per hole.
The course opened in November and is home to about 30 regulars, including a Wednesday night league that Dunkle helps run. Aside from the discs – a bag of which can run up to $200 for hard-core players – the course is free to play.
“Somebody told the township about it,” said Dunkle of a disc-golf course he built in the backyard of his home in the Wheatland Manor development in Jackson Township. “But I actually pursued it (Jackson Disc Golf Course) a little bit. It just went from there. They (the township) were very good about it.
“You always want to find a new place to put a course,” Dunkle continued. “It’s not an easy, but a technical course. The streams make it unique. The streams come into play on 11 of the 18 holes.”
From the Jackson Township perspective, it was a great way to utilize land that had been under-used prior.
“All this land was their park,” explained Dunkle. “Except for walking and for dogs, they really had no use for it. They looked at it as an opportunity to utilize it for a greater purpose. You couldn’t really put fields (baseball, softball) here. They’re (the township) very happy, because they can’t believe how much use it’s getting.
“When you’re doing the actual designing you do a lot of walking around,” Dunkle added. “Standing at different places and envisioning where you can put the baskets (holes). You have to think for both left-handers and right-handers. You have to have some holes go left-to-right, and you have to have some holes go right-to-left. And you’ve got to incorporate boundaries, streams and trees.”
Disc golf is very similar to the traditional kind played with a little white ball, except there are no clubs used. But with ‘drivers’, ‘middle range’ and ‘putters’, each specifically designed distance disc is thrown from different stages on each hole.
There are tee boxes or ‘launching pads’ at the start of each hole and the goal is to land your disc in a chain-link basket or hole in as few throws as possible. Players keep track of their results and the low score wins.
Not unlike traditional golf, the more accomplished players sometimes shoot under par.
“The key to scoring well is putting,” said Dunkle. “You want to drive it close to the basket and put well. Reading the green is just playing the wind. It’s fun, but people take it serious. You’ll hear some swearing. We keep stats. We have league averages.
“The goals are the same as for golfers,” added Dunkle. “You want to better yourself. You want to better your score. Plus you’re going to be out walking around so it’s good exercise. You probably get more exercise playing disc golf (than the traditional kind) because we don’t use carts.”
It may be that disc golf has just taken a bit longer to seep into the Lebanon County sports culture.
From 2000 to 2008, the number of disc golf courses world-wide doubled in number. Of the approximate 3,100 current courses in the world, 700 were built this summer.
The Pocono resort region is home to about 50 disc golf courses, while Lancaster County hosts three of them. The closest disc golf facility to Jackson Township Recreation Park is an Akron, PA course.
But according to Dunkle, plans have been approved for the ‘construction’ of a disc golf at South Hills Park in Lebanon, the building of which will commence in the spring of 2013. While plans for a disc golf course at Coleman Memorial Park in Lebanon were recently nixed, other Lebanon County parks like Union Canal and Memorial Lake park at Fort Indiantown Gap would provide the perfect venues for others.
“A lot of these guys used to play sports,” Dunkle said. “But your don’t really have to be athletic to play disc golf. Anybody can do it.”