It's easy to see why disc golf is growing in popularity, especially among those over 50. Its rules are simple, and it's easy on joints and muscles, inexpensive and promotes social connections.
Players throw a disc at a target called a disc golf basket on a course with either nine or 18 holes. The winner is the person with the lowest number of total throws.
Last year, 50 million rounds of disc golf were played worldwide. That's more than 140,000 disc golf rounds per day, or nearly 100 started every minute, according to the Disc Golf Growth Report by UDisc, an app for disc golfers.
The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) signed up more than 26,000 new members last year and saw a 27 percent jump in older membership — those age 50 and over — alone.
Nancy Wright believes she knows why.
"You're exercising but it's not strenuous on the joints because you get to rest” throughout the game, says the 76-year-old from Bancroft, Michigan. “At the same time you've got birdcalls, frogs chirping, mushrooms and flowers to look at, blooming plants. It's a walk through nature, but you've got a goal."
Disc golf is not Frisbee
Though the first specialized disc golf course was designed in 1975 by Ed Headrick, the man who invented the Frisbee, the discs used in disc golf are smaller and more dense than Frisbees.
In fact, it's best to avoid using the term Frisbee altogether when it comes to the sport. Not only is it a trademark for another product, it can be offensive to some disc golf lovers.
Disc golf is accessible, with free, walk-up-and-play courses usually found at public parks, schools and camps. Breweries and wineries are starting to get in on the action, too: The 18-hole Whale Rock Disc Golf Course in Templeton, California, for instance, is “nestled near the tasting room facility” at Castoro Cellars Winery, according to its website.
Disc golf also is inexpensive. A single disc, which is really all that's needed to begin, costs less than $15. Starter kits with three or more discs — including a driver, mid-range and putter — typically range from $25 to $50.
A Spotlight on Older Players
Recognizing a large population of potential players who are 50-plus, the PDGA established a Senior Committee in 2009 to educate a more mature generation about the sport and encourage participation.
"It's not something you have to give up as you get older,” says 68-year-old PDGA Senior Committee Chairman Bill Griffith.
For example, a 90-year-old woman who competed in two National Senior Games Association tournaments has a disc golf course on her ranch in New Mexico, Griffith notes.
"You slow down, you don't throw as far, but you can still play at a competitive level,” he says.
Griffith speaks from personal experience. Even though he has arthritis in both hips, one of which has been replaced, he continues to play. He knows the other hip will need replacing eventually, but his doctor has said that he has been able to hold off on that procedure by keeping active.
One of the reasons he enjoys disc golf is that he never scored par while playing regular golf for 25 years — but he was shooting par within three years after taking up disc golf.
'A challenge without being stuffy'
Wright fell in love with the sport 12 years ago after she was introduced to it at her son-in-law's birthday party.
"I was hooked,” she recalls. “It's a challenge without being stuffy. Regular golf has lots of rules and regulations, and you have to set tee times and it costs a bunch of money. Disc golf is none of that."
Wright now participates in a women's league and has won multiple disc golf competitions both as an amateur and as a pro with the PDGA. She calls disc golf her “second-favorite subject in the whole world.” (Downhill skiing comes first.)
The camaraderie doesn't hurt, either.
Wright, who plays four or five times a week, mostly with people in their 20s to 40s, says others have been “incredibly accepting” despite the age difference.
Playing with people his own age has its benefits as well, according to Griffith.
"When you're older, you talk about your latest operation, or ask, ‘Do you have an extra Advil in your bag to get through the round?'” he says, laughing. “It's nice that we can relate to each other."
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who covers mental health, education and human-interest stories for several national publications. A former reporter for several daily newspapers, her work has also appeared in People, USA Today and Education Week. She is the author of the children's book M Is for Mindful.