Disc golf has become an increasingly popular activity among students at Southern Arkansas University. A Mulerider Disc Golf Team has been established, and an 18-hole course has been created on the campus.
Members of the team include Ethan Bolick, a senior math major from Maud, Texas; Nicole Penny, a junior exercise science major from Hooks, Texas; Ethan Edwards, a senior criminal science major, also from Hooks; Abbie Morrow, a sophomore criminal justice major from Prescott, Arkansas; and Jeremy Hunter, a senior marketing and supply chain management major from Pattonville, Texas.
“The team has been an amazing surprise,” said Dr. Andy Peeks, team sponsor. “I am humbled by how well they are doing. Their progress has been so swift. In practically no time, they have become the largest disc golf team in the state and among the largest in the nation.”
The team boasts 16 male players and eight females, said Bolick, who serves as team captain. The women’s team was established only within the past month, said Peeks.
“The first year, we just started playing, we didn’t really broadcast it that much,” he said of the team’s origins and the beginnings of disc golf on campus. “Some band people knew we were playing, and their friends found out, and it grew by word of mouth.”
Hunter’s brother, Christian, a former SAU student, had set up 11 “baskets” around campus, forming the basis of the SAU course. “We used those baskets when I got here,” Jeremy Hunter said. “We made new holes as we went along.”
Sarah Adcox, director of the Mulerider Activity Center (MAC), said Dr. Donna Allen, vice president for student affairs, first contacted her last spring about a disc golf team forming. “They wanted a new course,” she said. “I had been in charge of intramural sports on campus since 2011, and at that point, there was no disc golf at SAU. I had a student, Christian Hunter, who was really interested, and he and I ordered about six baskets that were portable and served the purpose, but we knew we would need an actual course.”
Hunter had already played in several tournaments by the time he arrived at SAU, and Bolick said the team is practicing now to qualify for a conference tournament in Russellville, Arkansas, on Nov. 11. The team hit the course recently to practice despite unusually high winds, leading to much discussion about how to properly throw in tailwinds, headwinds and crosswinds. The game is played exactly the same as golf, with each four-man team, or “card,” teeing-off in front of the Greek Theatre and winding their way across campus to each hole.
Obstacles include trees, shrubbery, and the duck pond, which can lead to players getting wet if they have to wade in to retrieve errant discs. “The holes loop around behind the pond and the intramural area. It can take about two hours to play,” Bolick said.
“Putting is the most challenging thing,” Edwards said. “Putting is anything within 40-50 feet of the hole. It’s a mind game – the mental aspect is like 90 percent of disc golf.”
The most challenging holes, according to the group, are three, seven and 13. “Hole three has two trees and is 150 feet down the fairway,” Bolick said. “You throw it between the trees, or it goes into the trees. You have to add a stroke or go to a drop zone. Hole seven plays alongside the tennis courts. It measures off 432 feet, and is challenging because of the ‘ceiling’ the trees on the right side of the fairway create. Hole 13, you throw directly across the duck pond. You can easily go into the water. It’s frustrating, because you get wet and still have other holes to play.”
Players have to consider the dynamics of the discs themselves. Discs have a smaller diameter than the typical Frisbee, and most holes are par three. “Every disc flies a little differently,” Hunter said. “Some go right more than others. One flies straighter, the other flies straighter but to the left. I might not throw the same discs tomorrow that I threw today.”
Bolick said student participation has increased over the past few months. “There are a lot more people out there,” he said. “I would say that 40 to 50 people are out there every week. Last year there were only a few of us who were interested in tournaments.”
Morrow said it “costs nothing” to start playing disc golf, which is good for students who need cheap or free entertainment. “I got into it because it’s a good way of being with people,” she said. “It’s something we can all do together.”
Penny agreed that disc golf is “a way for us to get outside and do stuff – you’re not cooped up in your room. It is nice to play with everyone. It’s so diverse.”
Hunter said the game is “totally interchangeable with golf. You have friends who help you learn it. We started recreationally and it picked up as we went.”
“Anybody who wants to can play,” Adcox said. “It’s competitive, but it’s still an individual sport. A lot of universities now have disc golf teams and we certainly needed to keep up with what others are doing, and this has proven very popular. We see folks out on the course on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are now seeing them out on the weekend, too. I hope it catches on. You don’t have to join the team to play.”
She said discs are available for checkout at the MAC. “Just produce your student ID and fill out a little bit of paperwork,” she said. “We look at this as a stress-reliever. Get out, get some exercise, meet some people, don’t think about class for a while – those are all great things.”
Administration has been “very supportive” of the formation of disc golf on campus, she said. “I met with Dr. Trey Berry about it, and we rode around campus in a golf cart, looking at areas for the course. He and Dr. Allen purchased the team shirts. They are 100-percent supportive of everything we have done.”
“When I was approached with the idea about starting the team as a campus club, I initially thought it might be a fun local activity for our students and community,” Peeks said. “I knew from personal experience that playing disc golf was a lot of fun, and I soon learned that there was unrecognized interest in the sport among the younger generation. I really like exploring new ideas like this, so agreeing to be their sponsor was just chasing a curiosity for me. I had no idea that the initial team members would be so incredibly motivated and responsible. Their success is completely their own … I didn’t do any of the work. These students are fantastic.”
“I attended the recent match between our team and the team from Central Baptist College,” Peeks said. “They really did a terrific job designing the course! All of the holes are unique and very challenging. We were very fortunate to have Dr. Berry’s eager interest and support with the creation of this course. There are very few colleges with a real disc golf course like ours.”
He credited Allen and the Mulerider Activities Center for playing “vital roles in the implementation of our course. There’s no way to thank them enough for all they have done for the disc golf team.”