Disc golf is starting to catch on

Fallow Enman, of Leominster, prepares to throw an over-hand shot toward the basket during the disc golf Women’s Open Championship hosted by Hawks

Fallow Enman, of Leominster, prepares to throw an over-hand shot toward the basket during the disc golf Women's Open Championship hosted by Hawks Nest Disc Golf in Ayer recently. PORTER

DEVENS -- Getting in a round of golf used to mean several hours spent on a hilly course, often leading to fits of frustration in the woods or areas that more closely resemble a beach than a fairway.

Hitting a tiny ball hundreds of yards with a metal club isn't as easy as it sounds, especially for anyone new to the game. And that's not even taking into account the cost, with a set of clubs easily costing hundreds of dollars and a round on a respectable course putting a dent in the wallet as well.

Still, it's always been a good way to get outside and get some fresh air and exercise.

But another option is now catching on and doing so in a big way.

Laura Castanon, of Boston, throws a disc during the disc golf Women’s Open Championship hosted by Hawks Nest Disc Golf in Ayer recently. SUN/JEFF

Laura Castanon, of Boston, throws a disc during the disc golf Women's Open Championship hosted by Hawks Nest Disc Golf in Ayer recently. SUN/JEFF PORTER

Disc golf takes the same basic premise of traditional golf -- putting a projectile into a target area in as few shots as possible -- but eliminates the high costs and sharp learning curve to potentially make a day out on a course a bit less frustrating, especially for beginners.

"Chances are you've thrown a Frisbee at some point in your life. It might not have been a great throw, but you have the basic concept," said Chris Collette, owner of Hawk's Nest Disc Golf store in Ayer. "With traditional golf, you have to learn an entirely new set of skills. In disc golf, you're just working on throwing a disc properly and it's pretty easy to catch onto."

In disc golf, players attempt to navigate a disc along the length of a hole, much like one would a golf ball on a regular golf course.

There are long-distance driver discs, mid-range discs and even putters, used for accuracy once a player nears the net that serves as a hole's target.

While the discs used in competition are similar to the every day Frisbee toys that many are familiar with, there are differences. The plastic discs used in golf are often weighted and have differing rim depth and width depending on their function.

In disc golf, there's no limit to how many discs a player can carry through a round, unlike traditional golf. Collette says he often carries up to 25, with a dozen or so getting regular use.

"You can pick up a simple, low-end disc for $10 to try it out," Collette said. "And a starter set of a driver, a mid-range disc and a putter can go for as little as $30. It's quite a difference from picking up a set of golf clubs."

Like many area course, Hawk's Nest has seen a boom in disc golfers over the past few years. Collette says his weekly league at Devens' pair of 18-hole courses -- the Hill and the General -- averages around 74 players, whereas most courses will average 20 to 35 players in a league.

And nationally, numbers are on the rise as well. In 2016, the Professional DIsc Golf Association reported 35,662 members, which doesn't account for casual players. That's up from 30,454 in 2015 and 24,443 the year before.

There is a course at Muldoon Park in Pelham, N.H., that also attracts a large number of players on a daily basis.

"We've got a large community of disc golfers here," Collette said. "There are about 40 courses in the state and over 5,000 in the country. And it's very easy to get into. Even when you're first starting, it's not an unpleasant experience.

"By the end of a round or two, a beginner might be shooting a six or seven on a hole that a pro is shooting a three or four. It's not the same gap you see if you put a beginner on a traditional golf course with a pro."

Collette says that in addition to being fairly easy to learn, a major reason for the growth of the sport is how affordable playing 18 holes is after the purchase of a disc or two. Most courses -- "probably 95 percent of them," Collette says -- are built into parks and other land funded for public use, allowing for players to test out the sport with no fees. Even courses that do charge are relatively inexpensive, with most pay-to-play facilities usually in the neighborhood of $20 for a full day.

"Courses are popping up everywhere," Collette said. "There's a nine-hole course in Burlington, Coggshall Park in Fitchburg has 18 holes and there's an 18-hole course in Newton Park in Worcester. It's pretty easy to find a place to play."

And in Devens, players are coming out in droves for the town's course. Collette says the average tournament hosted by the Hawk's Nest brings in 72 players, most of which are male. But the participation gap is beginning to close a bit, as 30 women registered for last week's third annual Devens Women's Open Championship at the HIll course. The event is part of the New England Women's Disc Golf series.

"It's a sport for everyone," Collette said. "And seeing the way it's growing, especially here, is pretty great."

Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter @n_mallard.