Disc golf

Disc golfers convene in Nichols Park, July 14

Seasoned and newbie disc golfers convene by the Nichols Park tennis courts every Wednesday night from 5:30pm-8:30pm, throwing frisbees (called discs in the sport) into a basket from various distances. They are part of the newly founded non-profit Hyde Park Disc Golf’s (HPDG) regular Summer Putting Series, and they are working to bring the sport to the community.

The game is just like golf, except instead of hitting balls, players throw discs, and instead of holes, there are baskets attached to poles. The baskets have metal chains that interrupt the flight of the discs. As with golf irons, discs vary in weight and shape, with “putter” discs being used for short distances and heavier “driver” discs being used for longer throws. There are many more casual versions of the game that consist simply of throwing discs into the basket and tallying points in various ways.

Co-founder Tommy Inglis began HPDG in March 2020, when he and his friend Kasey Klipsch bought a disc golf basket and started playing in Nichols Park.

“When we were playing, a guy passing by asked if we met here regularly. We said, ‘Yeah, well we can.’ So we started doing that and started advertising our meetings on Facebook,” Inglis said. “It got to the point where so many people were gathering that we were going to exceed park district rules on gathering.”

The group regularly left their basket and discs out so that visitors to the park could try their hand at the game. Passerby frequently joined their Wednesday night gatherings, gradually resulting in a community of about 30 local players who now meet regularly.

Inglis said he’s made several new friends through the project, “Something that doesn’t happen too often when you’re over 30.”

In December 2020 the Nichols Park Advisory Council voted to put in a disc golf basket permanently. From here, the group expanded its relationship with public parks, hosting numerous meetups and disc golf events in and around Hyde Park.

Though there are 7,000 disc golf courses around the United States — including several in the Chicago suburbs — Inglis said that there are none in the city. He added that HPDG’s baskets, while not laid out into a complete 18 basket course, are the first permanent disc golf installations in the city itself.

He said, “We learned that Chicago doesn’t have any public disc golf facilities. There’s a private course at IIT (the Illinois Institute of Technology), but other than that there’s no disc golf in Chicago. There’s disc golf scholarships, there’s professional opportunities — but the biggest factor for anyone beginning to play is proximity to a course. So we want to build more.”

“I don’t think people in Chicago have really known what disc golf is,” said Inglis. “Most people we talk to join off the street and have never played before. Our games are really our main form of outreach.”

HPDG keeps baskets that the public can use near the children’s playground in Burnham Park, at the Jackson Park Driving Range and in the southeast corner of Jackson Park.

HPDG also received a Professional Disc Golf Association Diversity and Outreach Grant this year, some of which they have already spent on various outreach events. They passed out 250 discs on the Fourth of July, held an event on Children’s Day in Jackson Park’s Garden of the Phoenix and will host a game on Aug. 3 as part of the University of Chicago Police Department’s annual Night Out.

The discs HPDG distributes during its event display QR codes that link to web pages explaining how the game is played.

Inglis said that Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry has significantly helped HPDG navigate the park district system and gain support for their efforts.

On Saturday, July 17, the group will host a workday in Jackson Park, near Marquette and Cornell avenues, where they will be clearing out weeds in order to make room for a nine-hole temporary disc golf course.

Inglis said, “That park used to be really nice but it’s been kind of abandoned. There’s a lot of prostitution that goes on there now. The hope is that by clearing that out and putting a course in, it will be a more friendly space.”

The course will be on display during the weeklong “Chicago Disc Golf Exposition,” featuring Chicago’s first disc golf tournament, “The South Side Glide,” on Aug. 14. Children’s activities will take place at various locations throughout the week.

Those interested in playing with HPDG can message Inglis and Klipsch on their Facebook page, facebook.com/hydeparkdiscgolf, email them at hydeparkdiscgolf@gmail.com or simply drop by their Wednesday meetings near the Nichols Park tennis courts, 1305 E. 54th St., from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“It only takes a couple minutes to learn, but it provides a lifetime of challenges,” Inglis said. “And it really is accessible. You see kids playing. You see senior citizens. You can be serious about it or not. It’s something for everybody to play.”

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