This stock photo shows a man playing disc golf.
ALTON — Visitors to Rock Spring Park soon will find the sky filled with multicolored flying saucers gliding through the air in search of a landing spot.
These are not UFOs, but the flying discs thrown by players at the annual Rock Spring Memorial disc golf tournament Saturday, May 21.
“It’s providing disc golf to the community, but it’s also revitalizing Rock Spring Park,” Jeff Ligon, who helped design the course and organize the tournament, said. “There was nothing really going on there besides bad things and vandalism, and now with the disc golf course in there I think it’s really helped stop some of that and bring the park back.”
The tournament began in 2009 and happens each year around this time. The Southern Illinois Chain Bangers, a local disc golf club, organizes the event.
Disc golf resembles traditional golf. Players begin a hole from a tee pad and attempt to throw the disc into a basket in the least amount of throws. Players use various discs for different distances, like golfers use different clubs, and take penalties on their score for throwing their disc out of bound and other violations.
One of the sport’s main draws is the discs are relatively inexpensive, costing $10 to $30. It is free to play on most disc golf courses.
The Alton area has its own disc golf club, the Alton Chain Bangers, which started last year and has more than 30 members.
“We’ve done a couple smaller events, but we just got started,” John Lynn, a member of the Chain Bangers, said. “We’re trying to get a little bit more money in the club and maybe get some inventory and things like that so we can run tournaments.”
The Chain Bangers represent only a fraction of the disc golf community in St. Louis, one of the largest in the nation. The St. Louis Disc Golf Club, the River City Flyers, has more than 500 members, providing credence to the claim that disc golf is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports.
“St. Louis is a hotbed for disc golf,” Lynn, of Rosewood Heights, said. “More and more people are starting to commit their lives to playing disc golf and nothing else.”
A history of discs
Disc golf has been around for decades, but there is some disagreement about how the sport began.
The Professional Disc Golf Association’s website says the earliest account of people playing disc golf comes from Canada in 1926, with schoolchildren playing the game with tin lids. Numerous other stories of the first disc golfers exist, however, so not everyone believes this tale.
Although the sport’s precise origins are unclear, most agree the modern version began in 1976 when Ed Headrick, known as the father of disc golf, established the Disc Golf Association, according to the association’s website.
That same year, Headrick and a group of disc golf players formed the association “to help oversee and guide the rapid growth of the sport,” according to the PDGA’s website. Since then, the PDGA has grown to more than 24,000 members.
Lynn, who began playing disc golf regularly in 2008, said the exhilaration he gets from playing the sport keep his enthusiasm for the game high.
“Being able to hit certain shots and holes and watching your disc fly, the feeling that you get is unlike anything else,” he said. “When you’re throwing these discs and you see yourself throwing them 400 feet or making a hole in one, that keeps you coming back.”
Ligon, who began playing the sport in 1979, also said there are several benefits to disc golf.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “You get outdoors and you get a lot of exercise from walking. It’s very picturesque in a lot of these parks, and you meet a lot of nice people playing the sport.”
The Rock Spring Memorial begins at 10 a.m. at Rock Spring Park and is open to anyone. Registration costs $20 to $50 depending on the division people play in, which workers at the tournament can help potential players decide. It is free for spectators. The winners of the amateur tournament will receive vouchers for free merchandise.
For information, visit pdga.com.
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