You don’t have to tune your flatscreen to the Masters, Pebble Beach or to any other big-time golf tournaments to see great golfers displaying their amazing skills right here in Northeastern Arizona.
What? Phil Mickelson and other top golfers in the world playing locally? Actually, no. But some of the nation’s finest disc golfers are playing right here in our midst. One of them is the popular and humorous NPC geography professor Andrew Hassard. A touring pro, witty player and an unofficial ambassador for the sport, he is one of the top 1,000 players in America, as ranked by the Professional Disc Golf Association.
If you’re not familiar with the fast-growing sport of disc golf, it’s “played like traditional ‘ball’ golf, but with flying discs instead of balls and clubs,” Professor Hassard says. The object is to throw a disc, somewhat similar to a Frisbee, from a tee area toward a distant basket. The basket is a 70-inch high metal stand with chain links. You throw until you manage to maneuver the disc inside the chain links, for each of the nine or 18 holes. Each throw of the disc equates to a golf stroke, and the low score wins. Many public parks in our area feature disc golf courses.
Professor Hassard says disc golf is an older sport started by hippies in California in the 1970s – not that he was one of them. He discovered the sport a decade later, as a college student, and gave it a fling a couple times. “By coincidence, when I moved to Arizona in 2003, I saw a course in a park in Lakeside,” he says. “I bought new discs and started playing again. It took me several years to get good at it.”
Eventually, the good professor turned “weekend pro” now plays in 5 10 tournaments a year around his teaching responsibilities. “I’m a low-ranked pro, which means: don’t quit your day job.” Hassard is actually ranked 932nd in the United States, and that’s no small feat in a sport with some 100,000 registered players.
Hassard says, “I brag up the sport because there is an unwritten rule to be nice and teach disc golf playing tips to new players. It’s a great sport, and the cool thing is you don’t have to be 6-foot-5 and muscular; you just need to be athletic. Smugly said, disc golf doesn’t give the biggest or strongest even more of an advantage than they already have. Unlike in life, disc golf favors the agile, balanced and steady over the simply powerful and brutish. Also, there is fresh air and nature, available parking, few lines or crowds and nearby places to play!”
One of those nearby places is the Snowflake Municipal Golf Course, where NPC is hosting its first fundraising disc golf tournament on August 12. Hassard and other disc golf stars are planning to compete there. The college is accepting 90 players, who will compete for prizes in addition to supporting NPC scholarships with their entry fees. The tournament promises to be a fun day for pros and novices alike. Hassard, the unofficial ambassador of goodwill for disc golf, will be one of the most entertain-ing players to watch – and hear – with his steady play and his quick and clever wit.
– Dennis Durband
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