HUESTON WOODS — Disc golf is one of the hottest recreational sports currently spanning the world. Similar to golf, it uses far less equipment and less space when compared to “ball golf.” Just as in regular golf, a person can play alone or in teams. A participant uses a specially designed throwing disc to throw down fairways in order to place a disc into a chain basket.
The differences in the playing area is that some courses include trees inside the fairways, whereas in ball golf it’s open. The sport was formulated in the 1970s and is officially regulated by the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA.)
Hueston Woods hosts a disc golf course, run by Randall “Hank” Rodrick. He started playing in 1979 at Brewer Creek in Webster, Iowa. His daughter started playing at five, and is noted for being the youngest person in the world who has played the game for 37 years.
The course is called Sweet Tees, and is located next to the Hueston Woods Lodge. Sweet Tees is a family business — their goal over the last 10 years was to build a course, Rodrick said. This course is designed for amateurs, but pros love it, because there’s no other course like it. According to the PDGA website, Rodrick’s course is ranked nationally in the top ten most popular courses.
“When I initially started, the honeysuckle here was intense — it’s destroying our forests everywhere,” said Rodrick. “It was so bad, we couldn’t even GPS the area, so we used yarn and a compass to mark a straight line into the woods to place the fairways. I was able to use color coded yarn to mark the areas and not intrude into other areas. By hand, taking out honeysuckle, it’s taken seven years.”
There is a video called “Hueston Woods Superhero, Parts 1 and 2”which shows the concrete tees, each 5’x10’. Rodrick was paid $2,500 initially and received another $1,200 — he used this money for equipment and gained another $1,500 to clear out honeysuckle.
Innova, the largest disc golf manufacturers of supplies, will place 36 paths, 18 baskets and they will draw your signs out for $23,000. Rodrick has cleared 27 holes, and each hole has four fairway configurations at Hueston Woods. The pins then move each Saturday evening.
“This means that participants never play the same pin placement and we did this to gain national attention,” Rodrick said. The course is designed as three individual nine-hole loops. “The guests and resort clients will always have access to a course even when we have tournaments here. Nobody has ever done this before because when all other courses would close down the course when there’s a tournament going on.”
This facility will help tens of thousands of veterans who suffer PTSD, according to Rodrick. Many of these brave men and women use disc golf to help with their troubles and to piece their lives back together. Many of the currently operational disc golf courses in America host fundraisers for veterans, and Rodrick hopes to do the same in the immediate future.
“In addition, we are going to run a ‘Huestons Woods 100,’” he said. “Any other course would put say, 60 adults and say 12 juniors in a tournament. By doing that, the teams with the juniors would have a very slow play because they don’t play the game as quickly as the adults. So what we will do is put all the juniors on a seven-hole loop and play at a pace equal to the adults but with fewer holes.
“We want to put a mix of 100 people on the course in a tournament,” he added. “Each group will have lunch at the same time and play at the same time. Nothing has ever been done like this before. So when you play here, it’s nothing more than skill versus distance.”
People come from Richmond, Columbus — and some of the top players in the world come to Hueston woods because it is well-reviewed in the disc golf world, according to Rodrick.
Rodrick noted, the State of Ohio has not offered any help to fund Sweet Tees, nor have the counties. But there are three entities who have helped bring this disc course together: Scott Fletcher, dubbed “Mr Protocol” is the new Department of Natural Resources representative in the area. Tom Arven and Scott Brothers are directors at the Hueston Woods Lodge and Resort. They paid for the baskets and tees, while Rodrick did the “muscle” work.
In addition, there’s Brandon Rome who is Rodrick’s chief consultant.
“Disc golf is more of a family-oriented sport,” Rodrick said. “This is one of the few that is more participant than spectator sport. A grandfather who’s in his sixties or older, can play this game with his 10-year-old grandson, as a classic example. The kid at that age can do this on his own and have fun outdoors with his grandparents. It’s low impact, low maintenance, and not expensive.
“Ball golf can costs thousands and thousands of dollars to play. When you look at a tennis court or a basketball court, those surfaces are only being used by a few people at a given time. But with disc golf, you can get an incredible amount of use by a large amount of people. In addition, you get to be outdoors and be on your feet. The walking and the way you throw the discs is a free exercise. You don’t just use your arm to throw, you use your entire body from your feet up when you learn to throw correctly. Everything is generated from the lower body on up.
“And you are outdoors,” Rodrick said. “I got a quote from a Planet Fitness instructor who said to me, ‘Disc golf is Free 99.’ That’s what it costs to play disc golf.”
The playing area in Hueston Woods has its own benefits. According to Rodrick, the density of the canopy in Hueston Woods is a benefit — “you have plenty of shade and it reduces the humidity. Most courses are flat and open.”
Rodrick and the course have helped others in the area learn the sport.
“Fairfield just won back-to-back high school championships,” he said, “and they came to me for advice and played here to improve their skills. Those kids were dedicated to the sport, that’s where the future of this sport lies: the kids. Not only are high school tournaments held, but there is also a college level national tournament held in Augusta, Georgia.
“The sport is in the World Games and is reaching to become an Olympic sports. It’s way beyond participation over spectating. It’s growing eight times as much as any other sport today. It’s a poor man’s sport and it’s good,” Rodrick said.
The average costs for a set of discs with gear can cost less than $30. Most kits come with a driver, a mid-distance, and a putter. The discs used are not similar to those playing in Ultimate or in backyard Frisbee, according to Rodrick.
“It’s free to play here, as it is everywhere except for two places in the country. All it takes is purchasing a couple of discs and coming out to play. We here only charge a fee for night golf and that’s just to replace batteries for the flashlights. It’s just to oversee the course and for batteries, there’s no profit here.
“I am about the equalateral triangle — the wider the base, the higher the apex,” Rodrick said. “A novice with a good price and good discs here will play in a tournaments that may charge $35 in a flat rate with a full package. The whole idea is to come out and have fun while getting the most bang for your buck.”
“The best way is to buy discs within your playing level,” he went on. “Too many people buy the ‘Boss’ discs online that are designed for 800-foot throws, but most courses in America, the distances are not that far,” he said. “It can be inexpensive if you get the right discs or else it’s trial and error. At the novice level, we try to have fun — we will offer players packages which include meals, discs and such. The pros play for cash, but here it’s primarily novice and for fun.”
A disc golfer named “Pluto” from Norwalk, said, “It’s a lot of fun, always fun to play in a state park. A friend introduced me to the game 30 years ago and I’ve been in it ever since. I think the best thing that could happen for disc golf to be more popular than it is, is for it to be introduced in the schools and in physical education programs. It’s utilized very little, I don’t know why they don’t introduce more Frisbee throwing games. If they do, then by the time kids are adults, they already have the skills and the lifelong ability to throw Frisbees and play disc golf.”
There’s a saying in disc golf: “In ball golf, the trees line up the fairway. In disc golf, the trees are the fairway.”
Contact Rodrick at Sweetteesdiscgolf.com or 513-858-3472.
Reach Oliver at 937-683-4062 or at Twitter @osanders_RH