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Discovering golf

Steve Benson

Lining up for a drive, David Lee scans the fairway with focused eyes as he methodically rotates his hand back and forth. Nobody talks as he explodes out of his stance and – with impeccable form – snaps his disc hundreds of feet through the trees.As if it has eyes, it weaves through a stretch of pines before disappearing around a bend. The sound of crackling dry branches indicates where it landed, just a few feet from the pin.”Nice shot, dad,” says Lee’s 14-year-old daughter, Kristara, as her twin brother, Stetson, prepares for his drive.Lee and his children are part of a growing group of disc golfers who practice and play regularly. They carry bags containing more than a dozen discs, which are specifically designed for driving, midrange shots and putting. And many, including the Lees, compete in tournaments around the country.With the sport’s popularity soaring and prize money at the professional level increasing – top finishers earn up to $1,000 – disc golf is no longer just an excuse to wander the woods while puffing funny cigarettes. It’s a serious passion.Serious funLee, from Carbondale, started disc golfing in 1985, when discs were big, light and difficult to control.”They’d get caught in the wind and take you all the way off the course,” Lee remembered.Over the years the size of the discs was reduced and the weight increased to enhance performance.”It’s a cool feeling to control shots,” said Lee, a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association. “Once you get that feel for flying, then you’re hooked.”Lee plays three or four times a week, mostly at the 18-hole Colorado Mountain College course near Glenwood Springs, which was designed by local pro T.J. Lawrence. While he competes in the over-40 amateur division, Lee aspires to one day go pro.”I’m gradually working up to it. You have to have some skills developed before you can compete at that level,” he said. “We’ll see how I do this year – there are a lot of players better than me.”But local disc golfers, like Dave Gordon of Carbondale, think Lee’s skills are phenomenal.”He’s fabulous, he’s out of this world,” said Gordon, who started disc golfing in California in the 1970s, where and when the sport got started. “He’s a great shot and a nice guy.”So far, Lee’s having a good season. Earlier this summer, he placed second in the Aspen Mountain Kiss the Sky tournament and won another in Montrose – his first victory ever.And while he dreams of moving up to the elite level of disc golfers, it isn’t his main objective.”It’s all fun,” he said. “If you get too serious, it isn’t fun.”Lee claims he’s never had a bad day of disc golfing, and that includes the time it landed him in the emergency room. While competing in a tournament in Palisade, one of Lee’s shots landed him in the “rough,” a thicket of olive trees. On his ensuing shot, he followed through a little too strongly and lost a battle with a stubborn branch.”It went in [to my arm] about an inch,” he laughed.”He has it on display in the garage,” his daughter added.Future champions?As the father of teenage twins, Lee’s true passion for the sport isn’t driven by notoriety or money.”It’s a great family sport,” he said. “We’ve been to a lot of tournaments in a lot of different states.”Most teenagers are looking for ways to get away from their parents, but there’s something refreshing about Stetson and Kristara, who seem to genuinely enjoy golfing with their dad. Following good drives, or lengthy putts to finish a hole, they give each other high-fives.”He’s really good. He’s been doing this a long time,” Stetson said. “And it’s a good thing to do in your free time. It keeps you in shape, and it doesn’t cost any money.”Most of the 1,200-plus disc golf courses in the United States are free. Others charge a minimal fee, usually about $3.The discs themselves have evolved considerably since the days when Frisbee owned the market. But modern-day discs are still relatively cheap – especially in comparison to golf clubs – at no more than $30.The twins have been golfing for about six years, and they’re getting pretty good – both have been invited to the Professional Disc Golf Association Junior World Championships twice.”The day is there when they’re going to be beating me consistently,” Lee said. “It’s exciting to see them getting better and better.”But for now, their main competition is each other. Earlier this summer, they shared the top score in a junior tournament in Eagle and were forced to face each other in a head-to-head playoff, with Stetson coming out on top.But Kristara has knocked off her brother more than once, and she knows that her skills can carry her far in a sport currently dominated by men.”I’d like to eventually become the world champion,” she said. “But that’s a long ways away.”Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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