Pandemic spurs growth in disc golf

The Gainesville Chain Hawks Disc Golf Club hosts a tournament this Saturday at Northside Park. It’s BYOP―bring your own partner.

Chris Clark, former chairman of the club, said 80 people have already registered. The tournament is relaxed, allowing players to buy mulligans (redos) before the tournament.

The money earned will fund the Chain Hawk Open, a big annual tournament the club hosts. Players travel from Michigan, Texas and Tennessee to participate.

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Clark said they’ve expanded the Chain Hawk Open to three days, two courses and 220 players.

“WIthin 24 hours, I fully expect the tournament to be full,” Clark said.

Last weekend, the High Springs Sandspurs held a 44-person disc golf tournament, along with a pre-tournament for players who didn’t get into the main event.

Gary Blanton started the club in May 2020 after the city of High Springs installed its nine-hole course, which is now lighted. He mirrored the Chain Hawks club and started tournaments that didn’t require a drive to Gainesville.

After a year, the club has 255 members on its Facebook page and hosts a random doubles event on Mondays. It also sponsors players for tournaments.

He said the sport is growing, personally evidenced by the parks getting more and more crowded. Before COVID-19, Blanton said you could go play a round and not see anyone, but now players are showing up seven days a week.

Disc golf hole in wooded area

“There’s always somebody at the parks, it seems like,” Blanton said.

COVID-19 caused a large influx of disc golf players, but Clark points to another factor that started the surge, especially locally.

A few months before the pandemic hit, Brodie Smith switched from an ultimate frisbee pro to disc golf.

Smith is a four-time ultimate frisbee national champion and a 2010 UF graduate. He participated in the TV show “The Amazing Race” in 2016 and has amassed a huge following on social media, including more than 2 million YouTube subscribers.

Gainesville harbors a large ultimate frisbee contingent that knows Smith well, and Clark said that Smith’s transition sparked a change in them. But that spark fully ignited once socially distancing became the norm—because disc golf allows players to spread out over a nine- or 18-hole course.

“You can keep as much distance as you like between people,” Clark said.

And players drive, putt and hammer their own discs instead of using a single frisbee. So while ultimate frisbee stopped, disc golf surged in Gainesville.

“We’ve done a lot of things to promote the sport over the years and now it’s really caught up to us,” Clark said.

The growth benefits the larger community as well, he said. The Chain Hawks Open attracts visitors who stay in the city for three days, and the club’s reputation causes a lot of people to come.

“We have a great reputation,” said Clark, who admitted he is biased. “We might be the best disc golf club in the state.”

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