If you feel like you’ve done all the hikes, seen all the waterfalls, taken all the offbeat day trips, and visited all the wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the area, it’s definitely time for a new hobby.
Might we suggest disc golf?
You probably have at least heard about it, or maybe have seen folks tossing brightly colored plastic discs through the woods at your local park toward a weird-looking goal with noisy chains. That’s the one — and it’s not as weird as it sounds, mostly. And just about anyone can play.
In simple terms, disc golf is basically like a cross between Frisbee and golf, but with specialized discs in place of golf balls and clubs. But the objective is still the same: Make it from the tee to the target — in disc golf’s case, the basket — in as few plays as you can.
What’s more is it’s not exactly new. Disc golf as we know it actually dates back to the early 1970s when it emerged as an organized sport — and the first official disc golf course was established in 1975 in California, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association. Today, there are thousands of courses throughout the country.
But how exactly do you play disc golf, and where can you play it in the Philadelphia area? Here is what you need to know:
How to play disc golf
Every hole starts at a tee area from which you make your initial throw toward the basket, and some courses have multiple tee pads for different levels of difficulty. Many courses have these areas paved, turfed, mulched, or otherwise marked to define their boundaries, which you need to stay inside when throwing. Wherever your disc lands is where you take your next shot from.
Some courses also have “mandatories” or “mandos” which require you to throw your disc past a designated side of an obstacle (such as a tree or bush), and if you don’t, you’ll have to re-throw. Out-of-bounds throws — like those that go onto a roadway, into a water feature, or are lost completely — also require re-throws.
If you’re playing in a group, whoever is farthest from the basket after teeing off throws first in the rotation. Each throw counts as a stroke, or point, and whoever has the fewest strokes at the end of the current hole throws first at the next hole (you move onto the next hole after everyone gets their disc in the basket). The person with the lowest number of total strokes at the end of the game is the winner.
Of course, there are other, more complicated rules for official or tournament play, but that should get you started for a good recreational game.
How do I throw a disc?
There are few different ways to throw, but beginners should start by learning to throw “backhand.” That style of throwing looks a bit like a traditional Frisbee throw, in which you release the disc as your arm moves across your body.
Put your back, torso, and legs into it to power the throw, and shift your weight from your back foot to your front as you go. To keep the throw straight, keep the disc’s front edge flat and level in your hand. Of course, all that is easier said than done, and it can get more intricate as you gain experience — but don’t despair.
For help, ask the course locals, or head to YouTube. Brands like Discraft, Dynamic Discs, and Innova all have channels with in-depth video tutorials, as do professional players like Brodie Smith, Holly Finley, and Scott Stokely. Other great resources include JomezPro, Robbie C. Disc Golf, and Disc Golf Nerd, though the list is endless (and for great tournament coverage, check out the Philly-based Gatekeeper Media).
What gear do I need to play disc golf?
At the most basic level, you only need one disc. The discs are different from regular Frisbees: they’re made from more robust plastic, come in specific weights from about 120 to 180 grams, and have a smaller diameter to help them travel farther. There are four main types:
Putters (for short throws or putts to a basket)
Midranges (for slightly longer throws)
Fairway drivers (for even longer throws)
Distance drivers (for very long throws)
Each disc travels slightly differently, and has a specific application — but early on, it’s probably easiest to start with putters or midrange discs. Overall, those discs tend to glide straighter and are easier to control, but they won’t fly as far or as fast as the more distance-oriented models — which makes them great for learning the fundamentals.
Where can I buy disc golf gear near Philly?
There are a ton of places to order discs online. But in the Philly area, we happen to have a few disc golf-centric stores, such as D-Town Disc Golf (Doylestown), Discinsanity (Allentown), and Cosmic Disc Golf (Cherry Hill, NJ), plus some, uh, “smoke shops” — like Frolic in Exton — that carry disc golf gear. You may also be able to find them at some chains, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, REI, and Play It Again Sports. And some courses have disc sales — or even rentals — on certain days of the week.
Where can I play disc golf near Philly?
There are about 200 disc golf courses in Pennsylvania alone, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association — many of which can be found in state or municipal parks. So, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one. And, as a bonus, most are free to play.
Before you go, there are safety and etiquette tips from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, including:
Don’t throw when other players or park users are in range
Stand behind the player who is throwing until the throw is finished
Let faster-playing groups through
Don’t alter the course in any way, such as by removing bushes, tree branches, or other obstacles
With those tips in mind, you should be all set to have a great game of disc golf. Here are some regional courses to check out on your journey:
Founded in 1977 in Fairmount Park, Sedgley is one of the oldest disc golf courses in the country, and the OG course for the Philadelphia area. Here, you’ll find 27 holes winding through wooded areas and meadowlands. Holes 19-27 (the “back nine”) are on the tough side, and frequently less crowded than the first 18, so check those out if you want a real challenge. 📍 33rd and Oxford Sts.
Stafford is a can’t-miss course because of the variety of play across its 18 holes, which run the gamut from heavily wooded to wide open fields. A favorite here is hole 16, which features a basket hanging from a tree as your goal — but watch out for holes 3 and 7, which will have you shooting across small ponds, so don’t lose your disc (don’t worry, you can play around the pond if you’re worried). 📍 2201 E. Evesham Rd., Voorhees Township, NJ
Established in 2019, Alcyon is one of the newer courses in the area, but it’s a good — and challenging — 18-hole course nonetheless. Here, pretty much all the holes are heavily wooded, which, while tough, can help you build up your precision (and maybe teach you a thing or two about patience). Plus it’s a relatively hilly course, so you’re bound to get a good workout in. 📍 98 Track Ave., Pitman, NJ
Fort Washington started life as a nine-hole course almost 20 years ago, but has since been upgraded to a full 18 holes. This is a challenging, moderately woodsy course, and with two baskets per hole (one short, one long), it offers plenty of ways to play, and can still be a new experience as your skill grows. Take your time — it’s easy to lose discs in the underbrush if you go off course. 📍 500 S. Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington
This cool Camden County spot was reportedly once home to an old ball golf course, but now, the discs have taken over. Its 18 holes are good for beginners, thanks to the course’s primarily flat, mostly open layout — especially the first nine holes, which are on the shorter side. But if you want to stretch your skills, the back nine holes offer more of a challenge without being overwhelming.📍 100 Erial Rd., Sicklerville, NJ
According to the DCNR, the Tyler State Park disc golf course is considered one of the top-ranked courses in the country — and, at 36 holes, it is absolutely massive. Split into east and west portions with 18 holes apiece, this one is a particularly well-maintained course that has a good amount of wide open areas where you can let it rip, a few water holes, and plenty of wooded spots to test your skills. 📍 101 Swamp Road, Newtown
Located in Downingtown, this 18-hole course is a must-see thanks to its fun, varied layout. It starts with a couple holes out in the open, then moves through the woods for a challenge, and then along and across the east branch of the Brandywine Creek before finishing out with some holes in a more open field. Oh, and did we mention it’s only about a mile from Victory Brewing? 📍 126 Wallace Ave., Downingtown
Known among disc golfers as “Sank,” this 18-hole course is located at a Christian camp and retreat — so, unfortunately, it’s closed Memorial Day through Labor Day (call or email the camp before your visit outside that time frame). But if you go, you’ll play on a great, well-maintained course with lots of variety that’s among the best around. It costs $3 to play, which you can leave in the drop box near the first tee. 📍 68 Bertolet School Rd., Spring City
Iron Hill is the premier Delaware disc golf course, and it’s often used for national PDGA tour events and tournaments — but that doesn’t mean it’s just for the pros. Located in Iron Hill Park, this 18-hole course offers a nature-y, heavily wooded game with lots of boulders and elevation to challenge not only your skill, but also your endurance. Multiple layouts for each hole offer games suited for all levels of players. 📍 Robert L. Melson Ln, Newark, DE
Touted as Schuylkill County’s first disc golf course, this one — as the name implies — is located on the grounds of a winery, but it is free to play. At 4,500 feet and 18 holes, this one has plenty of tight, wooded areas for precise throws, and, in a unique twist, the first tee starts on the winery’s patio. The signature, though, is hole 17, which features a hanging basket in an old barn. 📍 84 Fork Mountain Rd, Auburn
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