East Tennessee is a good place to be if you’re a disc golfer.
About a dozen courses lie within 30 miles of Johnson City, including the nearest one at Winged Deer Park, 242 Carroll Creed Road.
Derek Cartozzo, the disc golf pro at Alpine Ski Center, calls Winged Deer his home course and plays there at least three times a week all year round, even during his lunch breaks.
On a dreary Saturday afternoon, Cartozzo put his disc golf bag over his shoulder and walked up the slightly muddy hill to the first tee pad at Winged Deer.
“This is a great time of year to play,” he said. “There are no weeds or leaves on the trees and the course is a lot more open.”
The brown landscape of woods in winter makes it pretty easy to spot the brightly-colored plastic discs as they whirl toward the metal baskets or pole holes. It’s also not too hard to notice the bumpy notches on the trees that serve as obstacles between the baskets. Those trunks have been smacked by discs since the course was opened in 1995.
Cartozzo carries about 20 discs with him, separated by drivers, mid-range discs and putters all of different colors, sizes and weights. He says each one flies just a little bit differently depending on the weather as well as rim size.
Not every disc golf player needs to start out carrying such a large collection and should stick with low speed discs, Cartozzo said. A three-disc set for beginners runs about $20, making it a relatively inexpensive sport to get into since most courses are either free or charge an inexpensive admission fee.
And once a newcomer has the discs, all that’s left is figuring out their preferred technique for grip and throw. The backhand and forehand grip are options, as well as the forehand, backhand and overhand throw. Learning them all is a plus since the forehand throw goes to the right and backhand takes a left- leaning path through the air.
Though practice is the best way to get better, Cartozzo also recommends watching videos online to learn the basics. Many of them playback in slow motion so learners can pick up all the right steps.
Cartozzo says disc golf is one of the fastest-growing sports in the Southeast. He helps customers of all ages pick out equipment at Alpine Ski Center, 2916 Bristol Highway, but sees a larger number of college-age participants.
“It’s great exercise, especially if you play all 18 baskets,” he said. “It’s fun and a way to hangout with friends, but it’s still competitive.”
There are also plenty of places to play locally, such as Warriors Path and Borden Park in Kingsport, as well as Steele Creek Park in Bristol and Roan Mountain, plus private courses at Harmon Hills in Fall Branch and Fossil Hill in Greene County.
The 18-hole course at Winged Deer is used by 50 to 100 golfers weekly, depending on weather conditions, and there is no cost to play.
On Sunday, the Winged Deer Park disc gold course will host a section of the 2012 Ice Bowl. Sign-up begins at 12:30 p.m. with divisions for pros, advanced amateurs and intermediate amateurs. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. For more information on the tournament, call 348-7419 or 943-7454.