Dillon Park teemed with activity Saturday, and most groups were there for the same reason.
Easier to see flying than traditional golf balls, discs of neon green, pink, yellow, blue and other varieties whizzed around, ending in clattering chains when the throw was successful, interspersed with brushing grass, rustled tree branches and the occasional tree trunk thump when the wind picked up mid-fly.
Participants competed in 22-hole rounds during the ninth-annual Sumter Showdown Disc Golf Tournament in an event that marked the largest field yet as 99 players came from Sumter and across a two-hour region as far as Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Charlotte and Augusta.
"The sport of disc golf has exploded in popularity over the last year. As a sport with low barriers to entry that fits with social distancing guidelines, many people picked up golf discs for the first time over the last year. When we posted the tournament online this year, 80 spots filled up in less than 24 hours. We went back and opened another 20, and they were snapped up immediately as well," said Hobe Scholz, tournament director.
According to U-Disc, a scoring and tracking app for disc golf, about 1,300 rounds were recorded at Dillon Park in 2020, but Scholz said he thinks that only accounts for about 20% of actual rounds played when considering people who use the course and not the app.
He said with now three courses in Sumter - a small, family friendly nine-hole course at Hidden/Lindley Park near USC Sumter that was installed in fall 2019 and a nine-hole course at Shaw Air Force Base - and with local retailer Simpson Hardware and Sports now selling discs and accessories again for the first time in more than three years, people are continuing to fall in love with disc golf.
The players on Saturday were mostly men, but a handful of women competed, one even lugging a wagon that held both her caddy bag and her child.
Tournament organizers said the speed at which Saturday's competition filled up is not an isolated event.
"There are more players than ever, and many of the players that intended to compete more last year are looking to make up for lost time," said Kelly Melton, Sumter City Disc Golf Club president and a longtime player who placed first in a field of six Amateur Masters 50+ players with an 8-under. "You may see a player who normally competes in three or four tournaments per year signing up for as many as eight."
Disc golf does not cost as much to get into or play regularly. Starter packs of discs can be found for about $20, and most courses are free to play. For park districts and recreation managers, courses can be created on existing land and require minimal maintenance, with the only equipment needed being the metal bucket stands with chains that represent the hole with which discs must make contact.
The county installed concrete tee pads at Dillon Park. Through club member donations and Vista Roofing of Irmo, the Sumter club raised enough money for new professional-quality baskets, and the old baskets will be used to develop a new course at Live Oak Park on U.S. 15., Scholz said.
Saturday's winners were Cody Taplin (Open, 18-under), Jeff Maimone (Pro Masters 40+, 10-under), Matthew Miles (Advanced, 11-under), Amy Gilbert (Advanced Women, 18-over), Tracy Stephens (Amateur Masters 40+, 2-under), Kelly Melton (Amateur Masters 50+, 8-under), Don Wall (Amateur Masters 60+, 10-over), Dalton Mundy (Intermediate, 1-under), Patrick McKinney (Recreational, 4-over), Katie Caputo (Recreational Women, 67-over), Ryne Cassidy (Novice, 15-over) and Drew Hamilton (Junior Under 18, 3-under).
To search for courses, go to www.udisc.com/courses.
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