Soon, some of you upperclassmen will leave to travel abroad. It’s a great time. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and the people you share the world with. It won’t all be roses and blissful drunken nights “” it’s only natural to miss some parts of home that cannot translate into another culture. It may be a significant other, or your family. Maybe you’ll miss Whataburger, English or the ability to walk around your home freely, with only boxers and no shame cast from your host parents. Everyone longs for that special something that only home has.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a decent amount of time abroad in the past year. During the fall semester of 2015 I lived in Beijing, and this past summer I spent two months in Buenos Aires. I lit up whenever my friends and I discussed my special something in Beijing, and I still remember enjoying this special something the morning preceding my afternoon flight to Argentina at the end of May. You see, my special something is disc golf.
It’s a cultish game. Cultish because those who experience it fully feel they have finally discovered a pure love. A relationship, which, if treated patiently and gently, yet studiously and with a level of sacrifice that is not insignificant, is an endless reward. True freedom, of course, cannot be achieved without true sacrifice. As one author notes, “The truth will set you free. But not until it has its way with you.” The best disc hurlers have been through the most painful fires””they’ve short armed key approach shots; lost beloved discs to the deep, dark and unforgiving forest; watched with hardly-contained horror as a beginning friend, unaware of the difference between Innova and Discraft, sinks a 25 footer on the first putt of their life. Yet in the end, these past trials are made mute. Glory waits with open arms, overjoyed you have made it to the promised land. Become a true disc golfer. I’m not there yet, but I know if I stay the path I will find it.
It’s cultish because those who don’t know it find it sort of odd. Not odd like the number seven, or your eccentric but loveable Aunt Kelli. Odd like the kid who doesn’t like tacos. Nonsensical. Misguided. Do you understand that in the real world people like you should no longer exist? There’s NFL to be watched, and classes to be aced. Pickup soccer on the IM fields and resumes to be polished. It follows then that those who stick with disc golf through the confused double-takes (you mean Ultimate Frisbee?), and frustrated looks from elderly couples taking their evening stroll, are of a particularly abnormal variety.
And we trek on. I returned from Argentina on a Saturday evening in late July. The summer heat in south Texas is legendary, and generally speaking, one spends as little time as possible outside between noon and 1800 hours. The older I’ve gotten, the more I abide by this norm when I return home during the warmest season. But my love had been missed “” Buenos Aires didn’t even have outdoor basketball courts (that’s not true, they had basketball courts; however, they’d been transformed into makeshift soccer grounds), much less disc golf parks. So that Monday, me and my brother Russell packed up our sizeable collection of discs, and drove thirty minutes out to West Guth park, stopping along the way at Valero to purchase an oversized bag of sunflower seeds and Powerade.
West Guth is comparatively a large park, with wide, open spaces, red tees that mark the regulated course and blue tees that mark “ladies’ tees.” Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a lady play disc golf unless she’s with a dude who is either loved very much by this girl, or trying to get creative with an early-on date. Anyways, the “ladies tees” are mostly used by small children or newcomers to the game. On our way to the first tee, Russell and I are stopped by a bearded fellow with a backwards Yankees hat. He asks if we know the course, him being from out of town and never having heard of West Guth until he checked UDisc earlier today.
Awkwardly, because we’re socially goofy when unsuspectingly engaged in conversation, we inform him that yes, we do know the course. Less goofy disc golfers would’ve immediately invited a lone, itinerant disc golfer to accompany them, but we didn’t. We stood stiffly, waiting for him to make the inevitable next conversational move.
“Y’all mind if I chuck with y’all?”
“For sure man, let’s do it,” I reply, relieved.
The next two hours are spent under the sweltering Corpus Christi sun, pale skin steadily baking, teeth steadily chewing, shit steadily shot.
The bearded dude is from Odessa, a 30-ish year old salesman named Houston. He’s shorter and somewhat chubby, to the naked eye not nearly as athletic as my brother and me. But he’s a true disc golfer. He, carrying twice as many discs as us, of beautiful makes and models. He’s got a stereo built in to his backpack, playing easy, alternative rock. He chain smokes Marlboro Lights, and towards the middle of the course offers us some ganja (we politely decline).
West Guth is quite the hike, and shade is sparse, meaning golfers with booming arms don’t have to worry about throwing through the trees, but more technical players with mediocre arm strength do, indeed, have to put mustard on their drives.
The course is notoriously windy, however, and over-mustared drives are more likely to succumb to bursts of rising wind, leaving the disc literally hung out to dry and probably taking a swift and painful nose dive fifty feet sooner than you’d originally hoped. You need a smooth, seasoned motion to execute a quality distant drive in these conditions. Houston is very good at this.
Russell and I are solid players, ever improving. In many ways, we are striving towards Houston’s current level. Throughout the hike, he throws out unsolicited but much appreciated and keenly listened to advice on getting extra yardage in your throw, banging home long putts and beating the heat (despite his girth and hairy face, he hardly sweats, and doesn’t show much fatigue compared to us.) On the back nine, I lose a driver in an impressive tree (sometimes I wonder if the park creators and disc-crafting corporations are in cahoots, putting tiny but powerful magnets in the discs and strategically placing magnets in select trees, increasing discnappings by seemingly harmless trees and also increasing demand for discs). We search for the lost disc.
Houston doesn’t appear restless; it is clear he has lost his fair share of discs and wants nothing more than to prevent this discing tragedy from befalling a fellow chucker. When Russell tells him the two of us are brothers, he smiles for the only time that day. “I used to play with my brother too, man. Those were the days.”
We finish the last hole, the three of us not cognizant of our final score totals, those numbers lost in the mess of narrowed focus, pure enjoyment and heat. Houston had the best score, handily, but somehow that didn’t matter. Although conversation usually flows organically once ex-stranger disc golfers take the course, a conventional goodbye seems forced. You know you’ll never see them again, and you know that’s not significant, the course was fun while it lasted.
I manage a weak-willed, “Thanks for teaching us a thing or two.” (Immediately I question my upbringing. A thing or two?)
Houston grunts. “I’m not sure I taught y’all anything really.”
And that’s it.
Unrefined humility is rare, but it’s one of the interesting parts of the disc golf culture. The sport brings it out its participants, whether or not they realize it. Houston doesn’t pressure himself to dramatically improve each time he plays; I’m not determined to out-putt Russell or die trying, etc. There’s something special to it. My own high school experience with basketball and baseball, and the sense the audience receives from athletes at all levels, is that playing the game is about victory “” joy at the expense of your opponent’s dismay. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that mindset in healthy doses. In many ways it’s built into our goal-achievement culture. But there’s something special about a game not preoccupied with competition with others, but union with others in a quest for self-improvement, pure enjoyment and, well “¦ fun.