Just off of Tyvola and South Tryon, you can find a golf course whose name is greeted with respect and reverence by top players around the world. Travel further north to the Beatties Ford Road area for a course that is thought of as one of the best in the world and hosted one of the game’s greatest players at a world championship round in 2012. Finally, take a 30-minute drive south from the center of the city to step foot on the home of the sport’s most prestigious title, held annually on a picturesque course for 17 straight years.
No, we’re not talking about Augusta, Las Vegas or Orlando, we’re talking about Charlotte. And we’re not talking about traditional golf, we’re talking about “disc” golf.
And Charlotte is the Mecca of disc golf.
Indeed, Charlotte, NC is the home to one of the most active and passionate disc golf communities in the country, anchored by a dense concentration of courses ranging from beginner-friendly to world championship caliber.
Fueled by an accessibility that denies no one on the basis of age, gender, color, affluence or creed, plus a rise in professional marquee name players, disc golf has become one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.
In the past 20 years, Charlotte has become one of the world’s destination cities for this exciting new sport thanks to the hard work of a small group of committed individuals, a productive working relationship with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, and close proximity to one of the game’s biggest manufacturers.
What is disc golf?
Disc golf was invented in the mid 1970’s in southern California as another in a long line of competitions related to various disc skills like freestyle and ultimate. The young sport grew slowly, incubated on many college campuses, until the last 20-30 years. Thanks to exponential advances in disc technology, as well as a similarly prolific increase in PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association), membership, disc golf has become one of the country’s fastest growing sports.
Between 2006 and 2015, membership in the PDGA saw a 269 percent increase in active memberships, along with a 48 percent increase in disc golf courses from 2008-2013. This rise in popularity has also paralleled a growth on the sport’s professional end, with names like Ken Climo, Paul McBeth and Paige Pierce becoming the Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Sheryl Swoopes of their game.
Functionally, disc golf is same sport as traditional golf with the main difference being a substitution of plastic discs and metal baskets for the traditional clubs and dimpled balls. A disc (smaller, heavier, and more aerodynamic than a traditional beach frisbee) is thrown in a manner of the player’s choice from a tee box—backhand, forehand, and overhand being the most common.
The goal, just as in traditional golf, is to hole out (or throw the disc into the basket) in as few throws (strokes) as possible. Everything else, from the shaping of different shots, to the consideration of the elements, to the burning mental anguish when you miss an easy putt is as real as anything you’ve ever felt on the links.
Almost all of the disc golf courses in Charlotte are free to play, as they’re located in public parks. The only thing required to play is a couple of discs, which can be found at a variety of locations for $5-$20 each. Plus, absolutely anyone (seriously, anyone) can play, whether young or old, male or female, CEO or student. Most courses are measured in feet instead of yards, and depending on the distance, can generally be completed in less than 2-3 hours as compared to 4-5 hours for traditional golf.
What makes Charlotte the Mecca of disc golf?
Charlotte’s history with disc golf began in the late 1980’s when the 18-hole course at Reedy Creek Park was built in the University area. The city steadily gained traction in the sport with the additions of Kilborne (1996), Hornets Nest (1996), and Renaissance Gold (1998). However, it wasn’t until Charlotte was selected to host the 2012 World Championships that disc golf caught fire in the Queen City. Seven new courses appeared in the three years leading up to the tournament, and today there are 30 courses of 18 holes or more within a 25 mile radius of Uptown with several private courses in the area as well.
“Membership has grown from just double digits to more than 450 members last year,” said Jim Banbury, president of the Charlotte Disc Golf Club. “Ten years ago the club offered two weekly leagues and maybe a dozen or so other events a year. Today there are leagues every day of the week and the CDGC will host more than 350 events [in 2017].”
For Charlotte to become the disc golf center that it is, a few key factors had to be in place. First, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation has over 21,000 square acres for use, a relatively large amount of land to carve a variety of fairways and greens. Park and Rec has also been instrumental in working with the disc golf community in building courses.
“Disc golf in Mecklenburg County would not be the mega-location in the country if not for our relationship with the Charlotte [Disc Golf] Club and all their members,” said Park and Rec Director Jim Garges. “They help us design, build, and maintain the courses. The golfers themselves keep an eye on our parks and are strong advocates for the value of these important public spaces.”
Within the disc golf community, relentlessly dedicated volunteers invested their time and effort into long hours in the woods, clearing fairways with chainsaws and beat-up pickup trucks, pouring concrete tee pads, and working diligently with Park and Rec to make it all happen. Like Garges said, the maintenance and cleanliness of the courses are the responsibility of the players, making it a truly communal effort.
Finally, Charlotte benefits from having Innova Discs, the largest disc manufacturer and brand name in the sport, anchoring its east coast headquarters just a few minutes down I-77 in Rock Hill. Innova has invested heavily in Charlotte, working with the disc golf community to provide baskets, discs, tournaments, events, and even player sponsorship. Rock Hill is also the site of the annual US Disc Golf Championships (disc golf’s version of The Masters), bringing the biggest names in the sport through Charlotte every fall.
How you can play…
Playing disc golf in Charlotte couldn’t be easier. No matter where you live in the Queen City, a disc golf course is probably not far from you. Good courses for beginners include Renske, Reedy Creek, Eager Beaver, and Bailey Road. Some of the best pro-level courses include Renaissance, R.L. Smith, Hornets Nest, Nevin, and Bradford. All of the courses located on public parks are free to play, so you just need a couple of discs (no more than 2-3 for beginners).
You can find new discs from $8-$20 depending on the quality of the plastic, and used for as little as $5 or less. There are several places to find discs, but your best bets are Another Round Disc Golf in NoDa, the only store in the city catering exclusively to disc golf, and Play It Again Sports on Pineville-Matthews Rd., which has a great selection of used discs.
If you enjoy playing, consider joining the Charlotte Disc Golf Club. For just $25, you get a year’s membership and your money goes to the maintenance and cleaning of area courses. You can also join the Charlotte Area Disc Golf Facebook group, where you can connect with players and events around the city. Finally, a year’s membership to the PDGA is just $50. Anyone can join, regardless of skill level, plus you get your own unique membership number.
“I can’t think of a sport that’s easier, more fun, and cheaper to get into than disc golf.” Banbury said. “Used discs are just a few bucks and there are many leagues and courses in Charlotte for newer players.”
To experience why the Queen City is known throughout the world as the mecca of disc golf, all you need to do is pick a course, get some discs, grab a few friends, and enjoy a beautiful day in Charlotte’s gorgeous parks!
Andy Goh is the co-host of Final Round Radio, a popular disc golf podcast recorded in Charlotte.