Popularity of disc golf soars in Ottawa

By Emilie Tobin

Remember the “Summer of George” Seinfeld episode where George tells Jerry he is going to play frolf? For many people, this was the first time they had ever heard of the sport which combines ultimate Frisbee and golf.

Since then, frolf, or disc golf as it is properly called, has become more than a Seinfeld joke; it is now played by almost three million people in North America.

So what exactly is disc golf? Like golf it is played on a nine- or 18-hole course. Instead of hitting a ball into a hole, players throw a disc into a large metal basket.

The same natural obstacles found in golf such as trees, water holes and wind apply to disc golf. And the common golf scream of “fore” can be heard on the course when a disc flies erratically.

Disc golf is growing in Ottawa, and now Daredevil Discs, a Centretown-based company which produces Ultimate discs, is launching a line of discs made specifically for disc golf.

When the product goes on the market in May, coinciding with the beginning of the disc golf season, owners Wah Phung-Lu and Mike Seaby will become the only Canadian manufacturers of discs for disc golf.

“The U.S. dominates with products and there is nothing Canadian,” says Seaby. “We want to supply Canadian players with a Canadian product.”

Although the discs won’t be available for a few months, Phung-Lu says he’s already received offers to buy the new product. “I was testing them at the Jacques-Cartier course and I was approached by someone who offered me $40 for the disc,” he says.

Various discs are used for different types of shots and Daredevil will produce them all. There are driving, mid-range and putting discs, each with a specific design.

Launched in 2002, Daredevil Discs was born out of frustration with U.S. disc manufacturers. “We thought we could do a better job and we did,” says Phung-Lu. The company grew into a successful enterprise and its discs were used at the Ultimate World Championships.

Both Phung-Lu and Seaby are graduates of the Carleton University School of Industrial Design. This adds a unique element to their company, as it has its own design department and custom designs peoples’ discs.

Seaby says the move to golf disc production was “a natural progression” and something they have been developing for the last two years.

Ultimate and disc golf discs are similar in weight, but the latter are smaller and made of more durable plastic. “The plastic type is different because you’re always hitting trees,” says Seaby.

The new discs have been tested by members of the Ottawa disc golf community and the results have been mostly positive. “I liked them a lot; they feel nice and throw nice,” says Don Lane, a player since the mid-1980s. “They used good quality plastic. It is something reliable that is going to last.”

The Ottawa Disc Golf Club says there has been a 15 to 20 per cent growth in club membership since it started in 1998. “It has become more popular because it is an edgy new sport that is fun and active,” says Lane, who is also a member of the executive for the Disc Golf Club.

“It’s the same game without the constraints of golf,” says Rob Morland, owner of The Ultimate Disc Golf Store, who says disc golf is attractive because it is virtually free and can be played from “ages 4 to 94.”

Morland also says there are two reasons for the rise in popularity of the sport in Ottawa. “The organization of our (Ottawa’s) disc club is far superior than any other in Canada,” he says. “We have a solid group of volunteers who promote the sport.”

The availability and inexpensiveness of disc golf is the second reason. Wormald says people can come into his store and sign out a disc for free, simply to try out the sport for an afternoon.

Also, “there are no green fees or tee time bookings in disc golf,” says Lane.

Both Lane and Wormald think the production of golf discs by Daredevil is a great move. “I think it is great to have something made in Canada, in Ottawa,” says Lane.

Adds Wormald: “The Canadian product element is fantastic.”

Daredevil products are sold at other sports stores such as Tommy and Lefebvre and Source for Sports. The discs will cost between $15 and $20.