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group playing disc golf

Courtesy of Hyde Park Disc Golf

Jump putts, meathooks and tree love: Get to know the growing sport of disc golf

If you’ve walked through your local park recently and seen people throwing what looks like brightly colored plastic plates at big baskets with chains on them, they just might be playing disc golf, a sport that has grown in popularity in recent years.

The sport shares many of the same rules as golf: Players throw a disc, pick it up where it lands and throw again. The goal is to make it inside what’s called a basket or target in as few throws as possible. If the disc hits the chains, it goes in the basket, as the chains slow down the momentum of the disc and help it drop into the metal basket underneath. Players then count their strokes and move onto the next hole.

Disc golf courses tend to be about nine to 18 holes, varying in length. Chicago currently has two courses within city limits, according to UDisc, a resource for disc golf players, and six other locations with baskets set up for winter league events. That number will likely increase soon, as the Hyde Park Disc Golf organization has received a grant to bring the sport to six additional parks in the city.

The Diversity and Outreach Grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association gives each selected park a basket, training and 30 discs stamped with Hyde Park Disc Golf labels.

Hyde Park Disc Golf plans to choose two parks per region in the city — south, west and north — and is looking for parks with field houses and active youth programming.

This is the second year the organization has received the grant; last year, the funds were used to invest in starting youth disc golf programs.

Tom Inglis, president of Hyde Park Disc Golf, recently told WBEZ’s Reset that the organization started when he and a friend wanted an escape from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everything was closed, so we bought a basket, brought it out to the park and just were playing around and, you know, a couple other parents walked by and were like, ‘Oh, you guys do disc golf?’ ”

Before long, they had a group meeting up to play in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Because of COVID-19 safety rules at the time, groups were capped at six people, so Inglis and his fellow players left their basket in the park for others to use.

Right now, the group’s focus is on introducing kids to the sport and starting more youth programs, which include professional opportunities and tournaments at the regional, national and international levels, Inglis said.

“Without disc golf facilities in Chicago, these kids can never take advantage of those opportunities,” he said. “The three founders [of Hyde Park Disc Golf] … we’re all parents and like, that’s when we kind of realized that the kids of Chicago are missing out on those opportunities unless stuff is done.”

The group does outreach by attending community events, handing out discs and teaching people how to play.

Every Tuesday, Hyde Park Disc Golf holds a league that anyone is allowed to join regardless of experience.

“We started out with five people on a random Tuesday,” said Walter Rzecznik, an officer who helps organize leagues in Hyde Park Disc Golf. “Through the course of the league, we’ve seen over 75 individual players since we started. People that have just picked up a disc for the first time, people that really just got started with the sport.”

Inglis’s organization isn’t the only one trying to make the sport a bigger deal in Chicago.

Last year, Disc Golf Chicago held an exposition that included daily events, including clinics, mini-games and the city’s first-ever disc golf tournament, according to a blog article by UDisc. Top professional players, such as five-time world champion Paul McBeth, made appearances at the event. Hyde Park Disc Golf was also part of the event.

Coming up, Hyde Park Disc Golf will hold its Jackson Park Space Race on Oct. 1. Registration is open now.

What disc golf terms should I know?

Circle One: any area within 10 meters of the basket. Any throw from this area is considered a putt.

Putt: Any throw from within 10 meters or less, as measured from the back of the marker to the base of the hole.

Jump Putt: when a disc golfer jumps as they release the putter.

Meat Hook: when a disc curves very far to the left or right based on how a player throws. For example, a right-handed, back-handed thrower’s disk will more than likely fade to the right.

See more terms you should know here.

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