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Early on in the pandemic, I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to join her and her husband for a round of something called disc golf. At the time, I was only vaguely aware that golfing with Frisbees was a thing; admittedly, the idea of tossing specialized flying saucers at a chain-link target sounded a little silly. But, given how isolated my life had become when that invite dinged on my phone, I think I would’ve said yes to just about anything that provided me with an excuse to leave my tiny, one-bedroom apartment in south Denver.
For that first round, and several thereafter, we played a short par-3 course in Arvada called Johnny Roberts. My friends gave me a few used discs and a couple of basic throwing tips, and I did my best not to hurl every shot into the creek snaking through the course or at an unsuspecting group playing another hole. I didn’t care that I wasn’t any good. I was more than happy to be outside, socializing in a relatively coronavirus-safe environment.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. Thousands of people have turned to this niche hobby to ease some of the tension of our new COVID-19 world. During the past two years, growth of the sport has exploded; disc golf manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the demand. I began playing pretty regularly that first summer, and eventually, I did start to care about not sucking. I binged disc golf tips videos on YouTube. I built up my own collection of discs and took them to an open field near my apartment a few times a week to practice. I was hooked.
Last year, I even drove eight hours to Utah to watch the PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships, where I witnessed what is probably now the most famous shot in the sport: James Conrad, a soft-spoken dude who looks as if he’s familiar with Phish’s extended catalog, threw a shot in from 252 feet on the final hole to force a playoff with one of disc golf’s all-time greats. (Conrad would go on to win.) It was like the equivalent of someone holing out from the fairway on 18 at Augusta to force a playoff with Tiger Woods. I happened to be standing about 40 feet from the basket when Conrad’s shot rattled in.
So much has changed in the world recently, not the least of which for me is that I’ve moved four times in the past two and a half years. During that stretch, disc golf has been one of the few constants in my life. Those early outings with my friends were a kind of lifeline at a time when I needed it most, and the hobby is still a positive outlet for me today. No matter where I am, there’s always a course nearby and almost certainly a community made up of at least some people who found the sport at a similar time in life as me.