Despite a strong spring wind threatening his accuracy, John Ricker deftly places his shot within three yards of the pin. Cheers erupt from his fellow golfers in acknowledgement of the difficult shot as Ricker pulls his putter out of his bag to finish off the hole.
Although that may sound like a typical day on the course, Ricker is not your typical golfer.
Carefully, Ricker launches his putter toward the chain link-covered basket, where the disc settles in with a satisfying “clink-clank,” giving him a birdie.
Ricker is a disc golfer.
“After the first few holes of playing I knew right away that disc golf was going to be a passion of mine,” says Ricker, who started playing three years ago. “I have not missed many weekends playing and have made some lifetime friends.”
While its origins are unclear, disc golf first gained popularity in the 1970s, and is often mislabeled as “hippie golf,” or “Frisbee golf.” It was started as an alternative to the costly requirements and elitist attitude that seem to permeate traditional golf courses.
Originally played with Wham-O Frisbees and Hula-Hoops, the sport has evolved to incorporate discs designed for every situation, and courses can be found at parks across the country.
Disc golf formally came to Las Vegas in 1978 when nine baskets were installed at Sunset Park. The Valley is now home to six disc golf courses, with three more being planned.
“The popularity is on the rise. The Las Vegas Disc Golf Club has more than doubled in membership in the last four years,” club director Matt Alexander says. “We are seeing an increase of people of all ages and genders, although the biggest percentage of growth is still men from 18 to 40.”
Serious golfers typically carry a bag with 20 to 30 discs, including a variety of drivers, putters and mid-range discs, and most have go-to discs for clutch situations.
After watching Ricker send a disc clanging off of a metal pole, Alexander winces. “Our discs are used like a typical golf ball, except when we ding ours or lose them, it hurts so much more,” Alexander says. “They’re like trophies. I can guarantee that you go to the home of any serious disc golfer and you’ll find [a disc] hanging on the wall.”
Players such as Ricker are so enthusiastic about their sport that they’re often happy to donate a disc to a new player. “If giving a few discs away will help get people into a sport we feel passionately about, we’re happy to do it,” he says. Although some top-of-the-line discs can cost up to $100, a beginner set of discs can be purchased for around $20.
“I was officially hooked when I played my first organized tournament,” Alexander says. “There is something about tournaments, the fact that there are several hundred people gathered together with the same love of the game that I have, knowing all I will be doing for a couple of days is golfing. The general vibe, it can’t be explained.”
As Las Vegans search for cheaper forms of fun in the sun, disc golf is sure to gain in popularity as most courses are free to play.
“The LVDGC has been working diligently with county and city officials to see more courses being installed at the parks throughout the city with the hopes of getting another premier course in Southern Nevada,” Alexander says. “I would love to see the continued growth we have enjoyed over the last few years.”