On Friday, a gusty afternoon in the expanse of Taipei’s Huazhong Bridge Sports Park (台北市華中橋運動公園) on the banks of the Xindian River (新店溪), there were an unusually large number of people throwing Frisbee-like discs at metal baskets. They were preparing for the Disc Golf Asian Open, the final rounds of which take place today.
Participating is an international field that includes Japan’s top player Manabu Kajiyama and current world champion Dave Feldberg.
At the tee, Feldberg showed off his powerful drives to an appreciative audience, with throws measuring over 150m. He had with him a bag containing a wide variety of discs for different kinds of shots. The hole begins with a “driver” disc and a huge windup to get the disc down the fairway, then moving forward to the lie, this is switched for a “putter,” a disc of slightly different design, with which he makes a carefully judged toss to approach the “hole,” a metal basket with a structure of chains above it to catch the disc.
Feldberg makes his pick for each shot from nearly 20 discs neatly arrayed in his golf bag. The design and balance of each is slightly different, with drivers weighted to break to right or left, and rims designed for different holds.
Back at a rest area at Hole 18, Feldberg holds an impromptu master class for other competitors, demonstrating the action and grip that have made him the best disc golfer in the world.
Feldberg picked up the sport in 1997 after shattering his foot playing college soccer. He turned pro in 2000 and now divides his time between competition and promoting the disc golf.
In Taiwan, he is playing a slightly different game from the one he is used to in the US, which goes some way to reducing his advantage both in power and experience. Here and in Japan 150g discs are the standard, whereas in the US the game is played with discs weighing up to 180g, which require more power, but are easier to handle in the wind.
For this reason, despite the windy conditions on Friday, Kuan Chen (陳冠宏), the executive director of the Taiwan Disc Golf Association (台灣飛盤高爾夫聯盟) hoped for stronger gusts during competition, which would be an advantage to local competitors more familiar with the lighter discs.
According to Chen, Taiwan has around 50 competition level players of the sport, and though there is an active tournament circuit, exposure to top players like Feldberg is limited. Feldberg attributes this primarily to the different class of discs used, which discourages US and European players from venturing into Asia. “After competing with the 150[g] discs, it hurts your game for a month or so after you get back,” he said.
Chen and the Taiwan Disc Golf Association are pushing to establish regular monthly competitions at locations including Lungmen Park (龍門公園) in the Northeast Coast Scenic Area (東北角風景區) and the Dahan Bridge River Park (大漢橋段河濱公園) in Banciao City (板橋市).
Jeff Kennedy, a competitor from Las Vegas, Nevada, who normally plays in the seniors division in the US, extolled the accessibility of disc golf. “When you’re in high school, you have your buddies to go and play softball, football, basketball with. But you need 10 people and up. When you get older and stuff, it’s harder to get that many people together. [With disc golf], you call up a buddy or two and say you’ll meet them at the park for a couple of hours,” he said.