10 Country: Mike's New Golf - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Mike's New Golf

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October 14, 2008

Dougherty Co. - Almost every Saturday morning throughout the year, three family members get together to play golf at The Parks of Chehaw. They walk past a diagram of the course's 18 holes.  The first hole is a slight dog leg to the right with huge pine trees that almost block its view from the tee. 

Something looks strange, uncharacteristic for traditional golf. The first clue: The course diagram shows distances in feet instead of yards. The second clue: players don't have golf clubs in their bags even though they speak traditional, ball-golf language.

What's going on?

"It's disc golf," says Mike Griner, an avid sportsman who started playing the game about two years ago.

Mikes steps to the tee of hole one, a par three, where a metal basket with chains sits 272 feet away, with trees that make his throw tricky. He analyzes it much like a traditional golfer would.

"It's downhill, breaks to the left. So, I want something (disc) that fades out at the end of its flight."

His bag holds 26 colorful Frisbee-looking discs and he selects a driver, as he calls it.

"There're probably more variables in this when you're trying to determine what disc to throw," says Mike.

He steps up to the tee and throws.  The disc flies straight and gently curves left, goes behind a tree, near the basket. A good shot.

Mike makes it look simple, but looks are deceiving. He played tennis for about 20 years, as well as ball golf.  An injury to his right knee prompted him to consider another form of exercise.  While watching TV one day, he saw a program about disc golf and became immediately interested. His business travel takes him throughout Georgia and he always carries his bag of discs.

"It's a great stress reliever after a hard day to go and find a disc golf course and play a round," says Mike.

He finds more and more disc golf courses in the state.  At one time he traveled about an hour one-way from his home to a course in Cordele, but no longer.  He designed the new course at The Parks at Chehaw in Albany, a much shorter drive.

The Professional Disc Golf Association, (www.pdga.com), says at least 2,748 courses exist in the US, with more than two million playing the sport. The Association saw more than a 300% growth in tour prize money since 1998, now reaching $1,774,800.

"There's something magical about throwing a disc and watching it fly and do what it is you want it to do," says Mike as he walks to take his second shot.

Disc golf got it start in the 1970s when Frisbees were so popular.  Contests, called "round-abouts," had seven events, one was disc golf. The late Ed Hedrick created the basket-type hole that players aimed for.  The sport took flight with his invention.

Mike picked-up his disc, put it in his bag and selected a putter, a special disc for close-in shots.

"I aim for the top of the chains," says Mike referring to a fountain of chains that stop the disc's flight so it drops into the basket, or hole.

He birdied the hole, one-shot under par.

"It's a little bit more physical than ball golf," says Mike.

No golf cart, all walking. Players walk a little over a mile playing Chehaw's course.

"Great exercise for anybody," says Mike as the three-some gets ready to play the second hole.

This hole is a par four, 317 feet, a dog-leg right with low hanging tree branches and a stiff crosswind. Mike must think like an aeronautical engineer to get the disc under the limbs within close proximity to the basket he can barely see.

Strings of moss on trees show a gusty wind, but coming from the same direction. 

Mike picks his driver, studies the shot and throws like an Olympic discus thrower.  It lands just outside the trees with a straight throw to the basket. His father and father-in-law drive and they get good shots.

Mike throws again and the basket chains rattle; another birdie. He makes disc golf look so easy.

Chains rattle in the distance as other golfers hit the basket.  Near the third hole, a two-some with eight year-old Garrett Glover and his grandfather, Phil Franklin, play the eighth hole. Garrett threw the disc like a seasoned professional with a proud grandfather looking on. When asked what he liked about the game, Garrett said, "To be with my grandfather."

The third hole looked impossible to the untrained player.  About six feet of space between rows of grown pine trees, four on the left side of the basket and five on the right side.  How could anyone get a disc to fly through such an obstacle course that gets narrower near the basket?

Mike studied the hole carefully, removed a driver disc from his bag and threw it, but he didn't try to make it fly between the trees. He approached the basket from outside the trees, and then putted to the basket; par for the hole.

Mike's father-in-law, Dave Walters, credits disc golf and his family with a medical miracle.

"I lost my ability to walk at one time and then was on a cane. Due to disc golf and through the help of my family I was able to get back up, play disc golf and loving every second of it," says Dave, as he makes par on the third hole.

The group gets more out of disc golf than throwing a disc to see it they can rattle chains.

Mike father, Don Griner, took up the sport 18-months ago. Like Mike, he played ball golf.

"It's easier for me to get into this game mentally and physically as opposed to ball golf which is mentally strenuous to me," says Don.

The sport is much easier on the pocketbook.  Mike says a player can start with one disc that costs about $15 and The Parks at Chehaw charge $2 admission, a rather inexpensive form of exercise, where less is more.