On the first tee of the finely groomed Morley Field disc-golf course, five college-age kids are waiting to begin their round. With startling synchronicity, they each grab a can of Natural Light beer and shotgun it without a care about those watching.
"Yeah, that's real good," one onlooker says dryly. The stout, middle-aged man is Mark Wilson, and today he's playing a round with his pre-teen daughter.
Wilson's been a regular on the course since 1978, back when the new and poorly visited course's patrons would use trees, garbage cans and telephone poles for targets. Wilson witnessed as Morley Field grew into one of the busiest discgolf courses in the country.
Many people mistakenly call it Frisbee golf or, even worse, "frolfing," but disc golf is actually played with small, hard-plastic discs roughly two-thirds the size of a traditional (and trademarked) Frisbee. Framed around basic golf rules and courtesies, players start from the "tee," which is a 10-foot-long cement runway pointing more or less toward the "pin," a metal basket filled with hanging chains made to catch the disc. Just like golf, players attempt to make it into the pin in as few throws as possible. Because of its relatively low cost to play, it's known for attracting a younger, more laid-back crowd than its polo-shirted cousins on the golf course.
Regulars remember when the 19-hole course used to take only an hour to play. Now, with its surge of popularity, you're lucky to finish in less than two. Die-hard players say the sport is expanding at a rapid pace, bringing in a new wave of young players. However, not everyone at Morley Field is enthusiastic about the influx of new players.
While it's socially acceptable to sip beer as you play, many old-timers grumble that the newcomers take recreational drug use to a whole new level. Indeed, I heard a guy in one group declare that discing under the influence is "the only way to play."
As the newer crowd has grown in size during the last five years, Wilson says, management has stepped up its enforcement of certain rules, such as the ban on glass containers.
"They used to break glass [bottles] on the first tee over there," he says, pointing to a spot near where his daughter is waiting. "I'm glad they were able to stop that."
When asked about some of the questionable activity, Morley Field course manager and discgolf-legend Snapper Pierson responds coyly.
"We're not here to enforce morality, just regulate safety," he says.
Pierson has run the course since the beginning. He says there were problems with people sneaking onto the course at night about three years ago. He began setting the sprinklers to go off sporadically at around midnight.
"When people were getting sprayed in the face randomly, I think that was a pretty big deterrent," Pierson says.
A few days later, I meet Wilson for a round. We'd planned on it just being the two of us, but our group quickly grows to seven as Wilson greets almost every regular we run into and invites them to join. That's the norm at Morley Field.
"At first it was kind of just like going and playing pool at a bar with your friends," Scott, one of the regulars who's joined us, says, "but then you realize there are a bunch of other groups of guys out here doing the same thing you are, and it really makes you get into it a lot more."
Another player in our group, José, has brought a red cooler full of beer. But he distinguishes himself from the raucous amateurs.
"It's too bad those people have to come out here," says José, who, after playing for only seven months, has already dropped $110 for his disc bag and his 18 discs. "It's just not really what the game is about."
At least for Wilson, it's not about the competition. Despite running the course's website and being a member in the San Diego Aces, the city's most active disc-golf club, Wilson has never put much emphasis on his game. In fact, after 30 years of playing, he's still hunting for his first ace—hitting the pin in one throw—which he says is long overdue. He's even got a pool running for which hole he'll get it on. The prize is a steak dinner.
"It's a statistical impossibility for me not to have an ace by now," Wilson jokes. "If you close your eyes and throw something at an unmoving object as many times as I have, you'll definitely hit it."
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