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Putting Around

Disc golf in Slater 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 Slater Park, I waited impatiently for my next day off, when I could sprint out of my Pawtucket office and spend my lunch break under the open sky.

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, overcast summer day. Nine “holes” add up to a decent amount of walking, much of it through sylvan trails. I crisscrossed the lawns and woods, following signs from basket to platform. Once a disc hits the air, it’s easy to lose, and I sometimes had to forage in the bushes. My clothes were patchy with sweat, and I chugged from my Nalgene bottle.

The real magic of disc golf is how it blends with a regular park. The Slater Park baskets are painted bright orange, so they’re easy to spot, but players leave a modest footprint. If you’re not looking for the course, you might never even notice it. School groups played games nearby; joggers and cyclists were just visible through the foliage. 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.

The Slater course is a textbook introduction to disc golf – mostly flat and easy to follow, and you can pick from three different skill levels. (After all these years, I still throw like a rookie). The only downside is that the course ends on the opposite end of the park, so you have to schlep all the way back to a parked car. Still, I felt sublime, as if I’d awoken from a deep meditation. Disc golf is great in pairs and groups, where you can gossip and cavort; yet it’s also a luxury to escape the hubbub – strolling through the park, silently assessing distance and velocity. When I returned to my car, I realized how much I’d relished the quiet, and I already started scheming my next trip back.