This is cool article about two Hall of Famers and where Illinois Disc Golf was in 1996.
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Tee Time For Frisbees
Disc Must Be The Place For Some Offbeat Fun
September 01, 1996|By Marj McCabe. Special to the Tribune.
So you're good enough at throwing a Frisbee that an agile dog can intercept it in midair. But what about hitting a target that doesn't reach out and grab it?
That's the essence of disc golf. And disc golf courses--and the pros of the sport--can be found in the southwest suburbs, if you know where to look.
In disc golf, the "hole," or target, is a metal basket that looks somewhat like the crow's nest of a ship, suspended on a pole with a ring of chain links hanging above it, 23 inches above the ground. As in ball golf, players start at a marked tee area and work their way to the hole, which is usually 150 to 400 feet away.
Once near the target, many players will use their sport's version of a putter (a disc that is designed for short and accurate flight). On the last throw, the disc can be aimed at the hanging chains, which direct the disc into the basket.
There are 17 disc golf courses in the Chicago area. Ten are 9-hole courses, and seven are 18-hole courses. Of these playing venues, five are within the south and southwest suburbs, and Gary Lewis is the pro at four of them, in and around his hometown of Joliet.
"I think the sport's here to stay," he said with enthusiasm. "It'll just take time to get really big. Disc golf is still in the recreational area--and that's where I work."
Lewis started playing disc golf in 1980. "I had trouble playing softball because of problems with my knees," Lewis said. "I was looking for something else to do. I saw disc golf, and my first reaction was, `Wow. What's this?' " Lewis began playing competitively that year.
As pro, Lewis helps keep the course, and its equipment, maintained. He also stays as visible as he can. "I try to spend time in the parks and answer questions," he said. "Most of the people out there know who I am."
Lewis said he encourages people to play the sport of disc golf. But his primary goal? "I try to keep the courses in the ground and get new ones in." He's hoping to locate another 18-hole course in Joliet right now, "maybe this fall."
He's one of an elite group (only 20 U.S. members), called the Disc Golf Course Designers, which is trying to establish disc golf courses in undeveloped park land across the country. Much of Lewis' work involves persuading area park districts to dedicate room for the courses. "It takes acreage," he pointed out.
That acreage is worth it to Frank Stec, superintendent of parks for the Joliet Park District. "It's a good sport," he said. "(Disc golf players) are a good bunch of people, and the sport brings more people to the parks."
Stec estimates that between 10 and 25 people daily come out to play disc golf at West Park in Joliet, an 18-hole course with pro tees for tournament play that covers about 15 acres.
In scoping out a playing area, Lewis noted, "It has to be safe and not too long--playable. I put it to the test. Can we do right and left curve shots here? Is there water nearby?"
Courses with 18 holes usually occupy 10 to 20 acres, Stec said. That space will accommodate playing distances of 200 to 400 feet per hole.
But the biggest criterion for the newest disc golf course designs?
"They have to be recreation-oriented," said the designer. "The course has to be for beginners."
The advice Lewis gives beginners--and anyone interested in trying out the sport of disc golf--is to locate a park district that supports a disc golf course. Then go out and play. The courses are free and open to the public. "Just grab any old Frisbee to start. I played with a regular dog disc for a year," Lewis said.
According to Becky Powell, administrator of the Professional Disc Golf Association in Weatherford, Texas, the sport's discs have various designs and purposes. "A putter," she said, "has a more rounded edge, like a Frisbee, while a driver has an edge with a sharper slope to make it fly greater distances."
Lewis, when not working his full-time construction job, spends much of his time on the Joliet course in West Park, where disc golfers might stop him to pick up some expert pointers. Lewis may concentrate on the recreational player now, but competitive disc golf was his game until 1993. "I have knee problems and I'm 46 years old. I just decided I wasn't sure if I could continue at the competitive level," he admitted.
Before that time, Lewis was consistently one of the top disc golf players in the Midwest. "I've been (ranked) second in Illinois four times," said Lewis. "And the Midwest Golf Club (in Hinsdale, now defunct) named me player of the year in 1984."
Lewis played in the World Disc Golf Championships nine times. The tourney, held Aug. 6 to 10 in South Bend, Ind., featured another local pro, Brian Cummings of Munster, Ind. Before going in, Cummings felt prepared. "I've had a real good year this year," he said confidently.
He had won six tournaments this year, all at the Masters level (open to players age 35 and above). Cummings is no stranger to top competition. "I've played in eight world championships, and in '91, I got sixth in the Worlds as a Master," he said.
Cummings took up disc golf in 1979, after playing a lot of Frisbee in college and at the beach. He was attracted to the sport because it offered competition without sports injuries.
"In high school, I was a wrestler and played football. I was looking for something to do that involved less bodily injury," he said. "I had a friend who encouraged me to play disc golf. I got hooked immediately."
Before this year's big event, Cummings felt he was in top form and noted, "People say that I'm playing well. I can honestly say I can probably be in the top 10."
Well, not quite, though he did place 25th out of 80 Masters.
"These are all the hot shots from all over the country and the world--Sweden, Canada, Japan," Cummings said.
In the World Championships, each player played eight rounds of 18 holes. Cummings had a total of 406 strokes for these eight rounds; the winner "shot" a 381. There's no handicapping in disc golf, Powell said, and par is 3 shots per hole (54 total).
"Everyone should be shooting under par at this level of play," Powell said. "Pros are shooting at least 4 or 5 under par for 18 holes." Cummings' best round in the Worlds was 8 under par.
Away from the hot shots, Cummings works as pro for the course at Sergeant Means Park in Olympia Fields (he also has the job at Indiana courses), in addition to his full-time job running a disc jockey business. "I'm the liaison," he said. "I keep people informed from the professional to the amateur side of the sport."
He said he also works closely with the park district. "I work with the department . . . to keep them encouraged about the game and maintain the course."
Mary Colmar, director of parks and recreation for Olympia Fields, saw the appeal of designating 12 of the 20 acres at Sergeant Means Park for an 18-hole disc golf course. "We felt it could appeal to a portion of our population that's hard to serve," Colmar said.
She explained that many patrons between high school age and 30 aren't atttracted by team sports such as softball. When asked how the course is being used, Colmar said, "It seems there's always someone using it. Even last year when it was 100 degrees, people were out there during lunch hour playing."
Although Cummings puts in the labor it takes to paint tees and maintain the equipment, he said he often sees players picking up trash and taking it off the course themselves. "There's a New Age attitude in this sport," he said proudly.
Cummings also feels that there's a special niche for disc golf in the recreational sporting world.
"I see people using it who don't have a lot of money or a lot of time. I think the future of disc golf is in a slot like that," he said. "What other sport can you have fun at where you can get a round in after work and still make it home in time for dinner?"
WHERE TO FIND THE DISC LINKS
Brian Cummings and Gary Lewis act as pros and contacts for the following area disc golf courses:
Sergeant Means Park, Western Avenue and 207th Street, Olympia Fields. Contact: Brian Cummings, 219-836-8240.
Community Park, near the Interstate Highway 55 frontage road and Canal Road, Channahon; West Park, Meadow and Midland Avenues, Joliet; Haine's Wayside Park, Cedar Road and Haines Avenue, New Lenox; Shorewood Park, U.S. Highway 52 and Illinois Highway 59, Shorewood. Contact: Gary Lewis, 815-725-8964.