Disc Golf takes on Southwest

By Brian Canova

Normally relegated to wooded areas, UMass Disc Golf broke the mold Thursday night and brought the game to Southwest’s concrete jungle, lugging a portable basket under the lights as the club mapped its course.

In disc golf, courses are laid out like traditional golf courses. Golfers toss hard rubber discs, about eight to nine inches in diameter, towards baskets that act as the “hole.” Chains hang from the top of the baskets, creating metal netting that breaks the disc’s flight, after which the disc drops into the encircling basket.

Sophomore Mike Valerio said since trying the sport at night earlier this month in a variation he calls “Urban Disc Golf,” he’s found a way to play the sport he loves while raising the team’s presence on campus.

“It’s something to do on any night. You can make a hole anywhere,” Valerio said. “You still even have all the trees and obstacles to throw around. It’s cool because you’re in a populated area.”

The 11 players met outside Washington Residence Hall, as they have started to on Thursday nights. They began the course at the foot of the building, weaving through Berkshire and Hampden Dining Halls, through the basketball courts to the weeping willow tree at the western edge of the Southwest beach. From there, they wrapped around Moore and Pierpont Halls and returned back to Washington.

Chartered as a registered student organization last fall, UMass Disc Golf has found fast success. The team held tryouts in September, and with 12 players, founded three teams.

In September, they travelled to Pennsylvania for the Eastern Regional Disc Golf Championship, winning that tournament over East Tennessee State University, Pennsylvania State University, Skidmore College and Messiah College disc golf teams to qualify for the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship at the Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex in South Carolina.

Valerio said he wasn’t surprised to win the tournament.

“We were pretty much like, ‘We’re going to go out and kill it.’ That was our mentality. As our first year as a competitive organization we wanted to win,” Valerio said.

Senior Nicholas Gross, of West Tisbury, said he hopes the team’s success will raise the organization’s profile on campus and encourage more students to join the team.

“It will show a lot of people what disc golf is and that it is on the UMass campus,” said Gross, who competed last year on the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) tour.

While the UMass Disc Golf team only formally organized last year, it is not the first to introduce the sport to the Amherst campus.

For years students have thrown discs in the woods between Sylvan and Orchard Hill Residential Areas, marking trees with spray paint to signify holes and planting baskets on crudely created and short-lived courses.

More recently, plans have been proposed for an official Orchard Hill Disc Golf Course by UMass graduate Brian Giggey, who has designed courses elsewhere in New England.

But for now senior Evan Ralph, a member of the UMass Disc Golf team, is content with the impromptu urban disc golf meet-ups on Thursday nights, between weekly trips to courses in Northampton and Holyoke.

“Urban disc golf is an alternative to anyone who loves to play but can’t make it to a course,” Ralph said. “If you’re a student at UMass and you don’t have a car, then making it to Holyoke or Northampton is not easy.”

Gross said, “It was not your average round of disc golf.”

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected]