Disc golf soars in the Upstate and beyond
With rattling chains and a thunk, Gabriel Brown looks at his family and yells, “Nice!” His disc has hit the mark—the perfect end to an afternoon of disc golf. “It’s become a family event that we do,” he shares. “It’s a great reason to get out and get fresh air. We don’t measure our progress by other people’s play, just how we’re doing. As a family, we’re pretty competitive.”
Brown’s family doesn’t walk the fairway alone. Although invented in the 1960s, disc golf has caught a tailwind, soaring from a niche sport to a mainstream sport across the new millennium. There are now more disc golf courses in the US than Dunkin’ Donuts shops, and UDisc reports 1.2 million players used the app to report scores in 2022.
“It’s challenging, it’s different every time, and it’s free,” says Masen Dowden, who’s been playing for six years now. “It’s always a good time to head out with the guys, and get some exercise, and be outside.” Dowden was raised on football and basketball. He dabbles in golf but has hit his true groove with disc golf. “The two games are similar in that they both have 9 or 18 holes and a lot of the rules are the same,” he explains. “But it’s a lot less expensive and takes half the time. It’s definitely a sport you can grow with and play throughout your life. I’ve played with little kids, all the way to 60-year-olds and grandparents. As long as you can walk and move a bit, you can play at any age.”
South Carolina hosts 168 courses and 64 leagues. Brown serves as president of the Upstate Disc Golf Club, which has more than 3,000 followers on Facebook. The 45-year-old is also director of the annual Golden Grove Disc Golf Family Reunion tournament. “This year, we had 74 players in a doubles format, with 37 teams,” he says. “Competitors ranged from 15-year-olds to 60-year-olds in ladies and mixed divisions. It was a qualifier for the US Disc Golf Doubles Championship that will be in Rock Hill. The top three teams were awarded bids to that event to represent our area.”
The Michelin executive reflects back on when he first sampled the sport with his family in Oklahoma. He’s not surprised others have grown addicted to heaving discs at elevated metal baskets. “It’s something we can all do together,” he reveals. “The Upstate has dozens of places to play, and it’s not hard to learn. I like to say it’s hiking with a purpose. You get your steps in, some physical exercise, meet people just like you, and have a really good time. It doesn’t matter how many strokes it takes, you’re with your friends playing a sport you love.” As he’s known to say after a great shot: nice.
Gabe’s Favorite Disc Golf Courses
Century Park (Greer): It’s a good mix for beginners and skilled players. One of my favorite courses in the Upstate.
Timmons Park (Greenville): It’s a classic course and one of the first in the Upstate. It’s a short course that’s not too brutal for beginners, yet offers technical challenges for experienced players.
Grand Central Station (Central): Definitely one of the better courses in the state. Skilled players rate it top 5 in South Carolina.
Tyger River (Duncan): It’s premier, and you also have Pipeline Disc Golf Course right up there with it.
Beginner bags, with a driver, mid-range and putter discs, are available at local sporting stores and on Amazon, starting just over $20. Almost all Upstate courses are free to play.