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Westchester Enthusiasts Take a Flyer on a Different Type of Golf

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The sixth hole tee pad at the Leonard Park disc golf course<br >Martin Wilbur phots

Eric Bowers had been an avid golfer since shortly after he discovered the sport at 13 years old. But on a summer vacation with his wife to Lake Placid several years ago, his attention and interest was captured by a different type of golf. Near the lodge where they were staying, not far from the base of Whiteface Mountain, there was a nine-hole disc golf course.

Like many others, Bowers had never heard of disc golf. But now he is an avid player and was elected to the board of the Westchester Disc Golf Enthusiasts (WeDGE), a nonprofit organization that runs the sport’s local competitions and maintains the county’s only two disc golf courses, at Mount Kisco’s Leonard Park and FDR State Park in Yorktown.

Since WeDGE was formed in 2013, its members have also raised an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 for a variety of charitable causes and organizations, including the Yorktown-based Support Connection and various food pantries around the county.

“It’s a great activity,” Bowers said. “I’m a very competitive person. What I love about it, you can be 16 years old and there are guys who are 70 years old. You get a wide range of ages, and if you like that competitive spirit, it’s a sport (that) as long as you can throw you can be competitive for many years.”

The sport is very similar in concept to conventional golf, but instead of striking a ball with a club with the goal of it landing in a hole, participants use a set of discs or a Frisbee and try to get them into a basket. There are mostly par 3 and par 4 holes, which range from 250 to 350 feet and 450 to 700 feet, respectively, said William Newman, who designed the FDR State Park course in 2000 and is its course pro maintaining the grounds.

Some courses in locations with more land also include par 5 holes, where the distance is in excess of 700 feet from the tee box, where the player makes his or her initial throw, Newman said.

Typically, a disc golf set includes three discs made of a blend of plastics – a driver for the longer distance shots, a mid-range disc and a putter for the shortest throws. The game can also be played with a regular beach Frisbee, although generally there are distance limitations to those compared to the disc golf sets that can be bought at some area sporting goods stores.

Newman said a surge in popularity in disc golf coincided with COVID-19.

“The pandemic, it was outside and we can sort of actually keep our distance,” he said.

Today, there are more than 6,600 advanced disc golf courses in the United States, including 183 in New York State. The U.S. has about 75 percent of the world’s courses, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association. Including shorter and beginner courses, there are about 12,000 courses globally, the organization stated.

Two other countries where disc golf has the most popularity are Finland and Canada.

Both of Westchester’s courses at the two parks have 18 holes, although there are now two pin placements per hole at the FDR State Park course that provides beginners more manageable distances while allowing the more advanced players the opportunity to play a longer course, said Dr. Angelo Mascia, another WeDGE member.

For Mascia, who was an Ultimate Frisbee competitor, it was a natural progression to disc golf, especially when he learned about 20 years ago that there was a course in Leonard Park, about 10 minutes from where he grew up.

A major draw for players is the inexpensiveness of the activity for both the participants and the communities that establish courses, he said.

“You can play with a regular Frisbee,” Mascia said. “A disc golf set is as little as $15 and you can get out and play. The other thing that’s particularly attractive in this region, is that there’s no greens fees.”

Even at private courses, which are more popular in northern New England, the fee is typically only $5 to $10 a round, he said.

For local, county or state governments, it is a recreational activity that can be established with relatively few resources. A new course, provided there is enough space, could cost a community no more than $25,000, Macsia said.

Leonard Park is one of the world’s oldest disc golf courses, officially established on Aug. 1, 1977, said Dave Coats, the course pro who looks after the course, the tee boxes and the baskets. It was created the year after Ed Headrick, the father of the Frisbee, invented the sport, likely making it among the first five to 10 disc golf courses in the world.

Coats, 60, said he also was an Ultimate Frisbee competitor in high school and college. As he started slowing down, he was introduced to disc golf and quickly fell in love with it.

Aside from being fun, Coats, a certified arborist, said it is also healthy for the land. Most of the courses use the natural habitat with a minimum of disturbance.

“It has the smallest environmental impact of all the sports,” he said.

In and around Mount Kisco, there are residents who started to become familiar with disc golf after advocates for Leonard Park began objecting to the possibility of the placement of a cell tower nearby. It is believed that the approximate location would be in the vicinity of holes (or baskets) 6 or 7.

Mount Kisco resident Theresa Flora, an avid runner who often uses Leonard Park for her exercise, said the local disc golfers are a dedicated bunch.

“I’m in the park all the time and I run, and I’m like the only one out when it’s snowing or raining – except for them,” Flora said. “You see them and then they disappear into the woods.”

Mascia said that Leonard Park is more typical of Northeast courses, with ample amounts of woods that force the player to bend their throws around trees.

By contrast, at FDR Park there is greater variety, with significant woods for about the first eight holes, before entering some long, open holes, he said.

Bowers, who runs WeDGE’s winter tournaments, explained that the only feature the two Westchester courses are missing is water bodies to throw over, which can make for a more challenging experience. However, within a little more than an hour’s drive, there are 15 to 20 other courses, including Beacon Glades Disc Golf in Dutchess County, Cranbury Disc Golf Course in Norwalk, Conn. and Warwick Town Park Disc Golf Course in Orange County.

For more information on the two Westchester disc golf courses and the Westchester Disc Golf Enthusiasts, visit www.westchesterdiscgolf.com.

 

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