Whole Body

Whole in One

Disc golf in Ninigret Park is relaxing, outdoorsy, and basically free

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A “disc” is a plastic saucer, smooth and thin, with tapered edges, like a discus. If you throw it correctly, the disc slices through the air at alarming speeds, slipping between branches and landing gracefully in a patch of grass. After flinging the disc a few times, the coup de grace is a final toss into a wire basket, perched on a pole and festooned with chains. All you need to play disc golf is a single disc, available at various sporting goods stores for $15 to $20. The investment is long-term; each disc is nearly indestructible and could last generations.

In a past life, I was obsessed with disc golf. After a five-year hiatus, I arrived in Rhode Island with a renewed hunger for hurling saucers through the woods. When I heard about a disc golf course in Ninigret Park, I waited impatiently for my next day off, when I could drive down to Charlestown and give it a whirl.

From a distance, disc golf looks no more athletic than regular golf. You throw, you walk, you pick up your disc, and you throw again. The “tee” is a patch of concrete or a chunk of railroad tie, and little maps guide the trajectory of your “drive.” The game is simple and slow, and players don’t even need to catch the objects they lob.

But for me – and other enthusiasts – disc golf is a full-body experience, especially on a humid, 95-degree day in the coastal woods. Eighteen “holes” adds up to a lot of hiking, mostly along rugged trails. I crisscrossed the meadows and copses, following signs from basket to platform. Once a disc hits the air, it’s easy to lose, and I spent untold minutes rooting through dense brambles. My clothes were soaked in sweat, and I chugged from my Nalgene bottle.

The real magic of disc golf is how it blends with a regular park. The Ninigret Disc Golf Club has existed since 1996, but players leave a modest footprint. If you’re not looking for metal baskets, you might never even notice them. Hikers passed, cyclists pedaled by, and hordes of children splashed in the nearby pond. We barely crossed paths, but there was the occasional “Good afternoon” and “Hot out, isn’t it?” Except for the rules and terminology, disc golf is nothing like regular golf, which thrives on sprawling exclusivity. Disc golf costs next to nothing, and it blissfully coexists with every other parkgoer. Playing a round is basically just a nature walk with a final score.

By the time I reached my car, I was drenched in perspiration and dotted with dead gnats. My arm ached from use, and even my contact lenses had fogged up. But I felt sublime, as if I’d stepped out of a hot yoga class. Disc golf is great in pairs and groups, where you can gossip and cavort; yet it’s also a luxury to escape the hubbub – scrambling through the woods, silently assessing distance and velocity. When the car stereo automatically came to life, I realized how much I’d relished the quiet, and I already started scheming my next trip back.

Ninigret Park
5 Park Lane, Charlestown