Disc golf takes off as Japan seeks outdoor escape

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) — Disc golf is attracting players from all walks of life in Japan, with the sport of Frisbee proving a hit with people looking for an accessible yet challenging outdoor activity during the pandemic.

The no-frills sport has become an escape for many Japanese looking to get out in the great outdoors and enjoy some of the fun aspects of conventional golf without the stuffy, rules-based atmosphere of many courses and clubs.

“You’re healthy, you make friends, and it’s a fun sport that lasts a lifetime,” said Shozo Mori, vice president of the Fukuoka Disc Golf Association.

While the sport is relatively unknown to the general public, the Professional Disc Golf Association estimates that 8 to 12 million Americans have played at some point in their lives, and around 500,000 are regular players.

Compared to traditional golf, the disc version of the game has a fairly easy learning curve. It can be played by people of all ages and abilities, and has a low cost of entry thanks to inexpensive equipment and plenty of free courses.

Sometimes called frisbee golf or frolf, the sport has much the same format as its namesake. Players throw a variety of plastic discs around a course and finally into a target consisting of a basket with chains attached to the top of a pole.

Courses are often heavily wooded, with some even effectively traversing forests, meaning players must use a range of throwing techniques to get around, over, under and through obstacles.

Disc golf shares many of the rewards offered by golf, but it is a more relaxed activity, as well as being more physically demanding, with golf carts not being an option.

The PDGA partners with national disc golf and disc sports associations in nearly 50 affiliated countries, where courses are popping up all over the place. It is very popular in the United States, Canada and Scandinavia in Northern Europe.

Players attempt to complete the course in as few strokes as possible using different drives – drivers, midrange and putters – which travel different distances and with different characteristics.

A disc golfer puts a disc in the basket at a park in Fukuoka on June 5, 2022. (Kyodo)

At the beginning of June, nine disc golfers gathered in a park in Fukuoka, one of the main tourist cities in southwestern Japan, to play.

“It feels good to throw,” said Seiji Koga, a 43-year-old office worker, one of the participants.

Rika Takaki, a 46-year-old caregiver who is a three-time national champion, was also in the group.

“A bad arm swing will mess up your throw, which makes it fun,” she said.

The Japan Disc Golf Association recognizes more than 50 courses across the country, with holes ranging from 20 to 100 meters in length.

The bimonthly event organized and run by the Fukuoka Disc Golf Association is a huge hit with families looking for a new form of entertainment. It gets them outside, gives them some exercise, and works well with social distancing restrictions.

In the United States and Europe, there are disc golfers touring full-time, some with million-dollar endorsement deals.

For homegrown players, such heights are not yet realistic, but Mori hopes more people will give the sport a boost, especially younger players.

“I’m excited about the future of disc golf. I want to develop young players,” Mori said.

Michael C. Ford