On any given day, a Fairfield University student can look out of the windows of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library and see a group of people throwing a disc into an unusual-looking chain basket.
Many have wondered to themselves, “What could they be doing?”
The answer: they are playing disc golf.
Disc golf is a sport entirely separate from ultimate frisbee, which some may know as more closely related to a sport like American football, where the goal is to complete a series of passes to get into the end zone.
Disc golf, on the other hand, is much more similar to the sport of golf. The disc that players use is best described as both a club and a ball, keeping with the golf analogy. With certain clubs designated for longer shots (drivers) and shorter distances (putters) and everywhere in between, the sport is very similar to the actual game of golf.
Although one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the world today according to UDisc.com, disc golf at Fairfield University dates back to the 1990s, when Fairfield University associate professor of chemistry Kraig Steffen, Ph. D. helped design the course from scratch. In 1998, Steffen worked to install the first disc golf course, which featured 12 holes on the southern side of campus.
While creating the course, Steffen had a vision that it would be unique. “The course was designed to be a little bit of an anecdote to the normal New England course, which is a wooded pass,” he stated. “Many of the courses in New England are of that type, so I wanted a more open course, but [which] still had the elevation changes.”
As time passed, however, the University’s plans eventually evolved, which saw some buildings spring up where holes previously stood. Steffen’s goal while designing the course was to maintain the openness of the course, so that any player can see the next hole with relative ease.
“And so, it was designed to be reasonably, inherently safe, but also to blend in with the campus, in a way that if you didn’t know we had a disc golf course, you wouldn’t even notice it,” Steffen said.
One key aspect of the course is that it is open to the public, even during the times of COVID-19. Disc golf is an entirely outdoor sport, just like regular golf, which allows for lots of social distancing. Anyone is allowed to play the holes of the course on campus, with the expectation that they are following all COVID-19 rules in place at the time. Although vaccination is not mandated for students, Steffen’s expectation is that all players on the course are vaccinated for the safety of students living on campus.
As Fairfield University’s campus begins to open back up, there is one major idea on the mind of both Steffen and Ryan Peterson ‘22, who has assisted Steffen in his work to keep the course operating successfully. That idea is hosting tournaments, which would invite many professional players, like Peterson, to Fairfield’s course for a day filled with disc golf.
Although tournaments became a reality eight years ago, they have ultimately paused due to COVID-19. Both Dr. Steffen and Peterson echoed that these are bound to return.
In order to expose more of Fairfield’s students to the world of disc golf, they have stepped into the spotlight of demonstrations and clinics.
“Going forward, we’re working with [program coordinator of competitive sports] Ethan Godfrey in trying to get more clinics running. That way, students can learn the basics and start playing,” Dr. Steffen mentioned. As an added benefit, the RecPlex currently offers discs that students can use at the course.
A great site that is recommended to all students using the course’s facilities is UDisc, which is a website that allows players to track their own scores. With the site, course maps are offered with pictures and details on each hole that describes the amount of shots for par and other important information. On Fairfield’s course, each hole is marked as a par three, except for two that are a par four.
With UDisc’s site, there is an additional area where players can leave reviews on the course. This way, the community is able to come together and chat about their experiences, which also allows newcomers a chance to become accustomed with the course itself. “People come from out of town or far away, they’ll play the course and they’ll put up some comments like,” ‘I loved this hole,’ ‘I hated this hole’ or ‘My disc is in the lake if you want to fish it out’,” Steffen joked.
With any course, there exists a unique set of rules drafted by the Professional Disc Golf Association that helps with scoring. Since disc golf is a self-scored and self-officiated game just like golf, there are a bunch of elements that make the game unique.
Looking towards the future, Peterson mentioned that they are looking to make some improvements to the course to improve playability. “We’re trying to upgrade to the newest model of baskets,” Peterson mentioned. Another key idea for the two was improved tee pads, which would better highlight where each hole begins.
Although it may not be very noticeable to any one student walking around campus, the course is surely one of the most interesting and unique perks to campus life that offers outdoor recreation and simply a great time.
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