What’s the deal with disc golf? Learn about the sport taking over Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

What’s the deal with disc golf? Learn about the sport taking over Pittsburgh

Despite living less than 20 minutes from the Schenley Park disc golf course all her life, Sarah Carr never played there. And it’s not like she hated the sport — she would play disc golf while visiting friends in Oregon. Then in late 2021, she finally played at Schenley and fell in love.

“I'd say I play casually, but as I become more experienced I find myself making more conscious choices about the discs I'm choosing for each throw depending on the course conditions for each shot,” Carr tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “I have become more competitive with myself as I've gained experience and find myself training — working on putting practice, developing greater distance drives, and finding favorite discs that can give the best performance for my skill set.”

Her personal interest in the sport has led 3 Rivers Outdoor Co. — an independently-owned shop in Regent Square for which she serves as the events and social media manager — to produce disc golf events.

And it’s not just 3ROC that has become more invested in disc golf.

Because COVID-19 made indoor sports unsafe, outdoor sports gained traction during the pandemic locally and around the country, and players haven’t dropped their newfound hobbies now that the spread of the virus has calmed. In the Pittsburgh area, disc golf in particular has seen a bump from people who got into the sport during the pandemic.

Participation in outdoor recreation has seen massive growth following the start of the pandemic. The amount of Americans ages six and older participating in outdoor recreation activities increased 6.9% since the start of the pandemic, according to a 2022 Outdoor Industry Association report. The industry boasted $67.8 billion in revenue from brick-and-mortar stores this year, and its growth has outpaced the overall economy, according to Forbes’ reporting of IBISWorld data.

Disc golf works much like conventional golf but with specifically designed frisbees instead of a club and ball. Players take turns getting their frisbee progressively closer to a basket, which takes the place of a “hole.”

Locations and events for disc golf in the Pittsburgh area have expanded in recent years. Carr points to the new Oak Hollow course in Irwin, and the expansion of the Monroeville Park East course from nine to 18 baskets as examples of the local scene’s growth.

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy partnered with 3ROC and the Pittsburgh Innovation District to present Final Fridays Disc Golf Party at Schenley Park, which, on the last Friday each month, takes participants through a classic disc golf course and concludes with a celebration in Schenley Plaza. The Conservancy sees it as “a way to build upon the sport's popularity and create a sense of community for all who enjoy playing,” according to Shawn Fertitta, the organization’s director of visitor experience.

Disc golf has had an organized presence in the Pittsburgh area for decades. Pittsburgh Flying Disc, which runs Professional Disc Golf Association-sanctioned tournaments, has been around since 1981, according to Dale Miller, the association's communications director. Tournaments, which have sign-ups online, can be joined by anyone and are separated into men’s and women’s divisions with several age categories, ranging from 10 and younger to 60 and older. Typically, tournaments take place on one day, with 18 holes in the morning and 18 in the afternoon, with a lunch break in between.

Miller has noticed a significant increase of local interest in the sport.

“Any given weekend, you will find our courses teeming with [disc golf players], and backups on our more popular courses are not uncommon,” Miller tells City Paper. “The events that we and others host in the area fill up fast — if you want to ensure a spot, you need to set an alarm!”

Miller attributes disc golf’s appeal to players being able to choose how much time, competitiveness, and money they would like to invest in it.

“If you just want to go to our local park with your buddies and have a nice time throwing some plastic around the woods, you can do that. If you want to dedicate your time and effort into getting better, practice every aspect of the game, hone all of your skills to be the best you can be, and [represent] your… country as a professional disc golfer on the Disc Golf Pro Tour, you can,” Miller says. “And if you want to do anything in the middle, that’s also open to you.”

Pittsburgh Flying Disc organizes several leagues. The Schenley Park Disc Golf League has weekly tournaments played from April through September. Players compete for points that accumulate at the end of the season, when top players win prizes, according to Andy Flemm, director of the league and treasurer of Pittsburgh Flying Disc. Players tend to be men in their 20s and 30s, but Flem says participation by women has grown in recent years.

At 3ROC, Carr says she sees customers “surprised” and “excited” to find discs for the sport.

“It is fun to watch people flipping through the crates of assorted discs at the front of the shop and compare notes about favorite courses and experiences,” Carr says. “These interactions have become more and more common as the word gets out that 3ROC has discs and I am always excited to talk disc golf!”

Like Miller, Carr emphasizes the accessible nature of the sport. Some of her friends have “hundreds of discs,” but those simply looking for a fun outdoor hobby will find it in disc golf,

“I always say that disc golf is like a hike with an activity,” Carr says. “It's something that anyone can pick up a disc or two — almost everyone starts out by borrowing a disc from a friend — and have some fun regardless of how great or badly they're playing.”

The 2024 Olympickle Games
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The 2024 Olympickle Games

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