Disc Golf at French Creek State Park
By Cindy Ross
“You have to snap your whole body,” Skeeter instructs me as I clutch the red plastic disk in my hand and get ready to throw. “It’s the snap of the wrist and the whip of the arm combined,” and he shows me how to get into position at the tee. “Stop your hand abruptly and it forces your hand to snap. You can hear the snap sometimes, like a bone breaking.”
My eyes widen. It’s been awhile since I threw a Frisbee at the beach and this high tech plastic disk that I clutch in my hand bears little resemblance to the childhood toy. I’m aiming at a goal, 354 feet down the fairway through the pretty hardwood forest, Hopewell Lake by my side. This is Hole #2 at the “Pleasure Mountain Disc Golf Course” at French Creek State Park, with a par of 3, as are all of the 18 holes.
I’m shooting “sidearm” or with two fingers, and backhand, the most accurate, common and powerful thrust, and I’m using a “low profile” disk (driver) which is designed to project outwards and not waste your energy.
Still, I do not have my shooting arm in shape, nor my technique down, and my disk sails into the woods, far from the “alleyway-” the opening that leads to the chain link goalie. I’m happy it’s January and the leaves aren’t on the trees. I can see where to aim better and have fewer obstacles to interfere with my disk’s flight.
Skeeter throws his purple disk like a natural and he yells to it, “Sit down! Now that’s my girl!” as it nearly rolls past the goal. He is able to throw a disk at 310 feet (with a tailwind!) The world record is 712 feet. “That’s “a big arm,” he informs us!
Skeeter was president of Pennsylvania’s Disk Golf Association and was one of the founding members of the local disk golf club, the Stonersville Dead Dogs. He has come out to the course in the state park today to give my family and I expert lessons.
The Stonersville Dead Dogs originated in a pet cemetery on Boyertown Road (Rt 562) amongst tombstones bearing the names of “Patches,” “Skippy,” “Chief” and “Mugs.” They were guys were loved to throw Frisbees as kids and wanted to take the sport to a new level- form a club to play Disk Golf, which was all the rage in California and the Southwest.
When their buddy, the pet cemetery owner, came home from the service, a group of 7 friends gathered in the cemetery amongst the plots and trees and meadows to play “Frisbee.” They hung up makeshift targets- ribbons hanging in the trees, tires on ropes and took the slogan, “Dead Dogs Don’t Bark,” as their motto.
Disk Golf is played much like conventional golf. There are 18 holes and you use “drivers” and “putters” to get you to the hole. The different disks are made of varying types of materials. Some are slipperier; others more resistant to getting beat up (Those “hair lips” of frayed plastic really interfere with the flight!” Skeeter tells us). The holes at French Creek range from 200-400 feet and most holes here are “aceable.”
Skeeter has gotten lots of holes-in-one and got the first “Two Holes in One in a Row” in the world. There are 24 chains hanging down in a curved design on the goal. You have to hit it at “the sweet spot,” in the “meat” of the chains, on the right side of the post. With your disk turning in a clockwise position, it will pull itself right into the hole; especially if you are using a softer putter that absorbs the shock and doesn’t kick it back out.
I’m hoping for a “hole in 6” as I struggle out of the forest. “Look for the “windows,” Skeeter helps me. “There are openings in the treeline that gives you a hole to shoot through.”
“No matter how long you play the game, you still hit trees. If you play a course enough, you get to know all the trees,” Skeeter laughs. He is out here 2-3 times a week playing. Some of the guys play every day and have just incorporated it into their schedule. They come from all walks of life, are all different ages. They play in all types of weather and after the first snow, they really come out in force. That’s when you can see the best through the woods. They play at night using glow-in-the-dark discs and they play in wet weather, for some disks let you grip better. Just nice people with a passion for the sport who love to be outdoors, in the woods, throwing disks. The camaraderie is huge.
French Creek has an interim type of course which is great for families. We are happy the course is not rated any more difficult for now, my husband, Todd shoots his disk into the creek alongside Hole # 6 and is “waterbound.” You have to get a stick, stand on a rock and retrieve it, starting once again to throw where the disk left the dry ground.
The Dead Dogs built all the bridges on the course, as well as steps, tees, and holes. It used to be backbreaking work, wheel-barrowing thousands of pounds of stones through the woods to make the courses. Lots of people and local businesses donated money towards creating the courses. Some have plaques with their name on top of the holes. It takes about $500 to build each hole and the Stonersville Dead Dogs do all the maintenance with the park being very cooperative and supportive of the entire endeavor.
Hole #6 has a big factor that is difficult to control…a large tree smacks in the middle of the course. This is a “mandatory dog leg”, (as are two other holes on the course). This means you have to throw your disk around the tree in a curved throw. Skeeter shows my son, Bryce, how to do “dip” his body by putting pressure on his front foot and release it at an angle. “You’ve got a nice little snap,” he compliments my son, and the pencils in a 2 on the scorecard with a big smile. Both he and his sister have done extremely well in the course and love it.
There are 67 ranked Disc Golf Course in PA and many more unranked. There are dozens and dozens of clubs. French Creek is rated #26.
Well, French Creek’s disk golf course certainly struck a chord with my children, who are leaving with four brightly colored disks under their arms and detailed plans in their hands for dad to make a course of our own back home.