Davich: Disc golf course family’s tribute to Portage man
By Jerry DAvich email@example.com June 22, 2014 9:28PM
Disc golf 101
Disc golf is played much like traditional golf. Instead of a ball and clubs, however, players use a flying disc, or Frisbee. The sport was formalized in the 1970s, and it shares with “ball golf” the object of completing each hole in the fewest number of strokes (or, in the case of disc golf, the fewest number of throws).
Each hole has a par to match or beat, usually ranging from three to five throws.
Disc golf has grown at a steady pace for the last 25 years through word of mouth, with now more than 3,500 courses in 25 countries. Beginner packs, consisting of a driver, putter and midrange disc, cost roughly $25. Sold separately, a decent disc costs between $9 and $17.
Source: Pro Disc Golf Association
Looking for a course?
Check out this online directory of disc golf courses: www.pdga.com/course-directory
Tips, notes and lingo
A “hole in one” is called an “ace,” and it is more prevalent than in ball golf
Getting your disc lost in the trees is called “being in jail,” and many players have scratches on their legs from retrieving discs lost in weeds, bushes and marshes
Discs are marked with the player’s initials so they can identify them while in play
The sport received a huge boost in public recognition after Tiger Woods’ Wii video game came out, including a disc golf game
Players use both a backhand and forehand throw, with forehand rising in popularity with younger players
Disc golf “putters” have rounded edges to better drop into the “hole,” or basket
Driver discs have sharper edges to cut through the wind
Some players can whip a driver disc more than 500 feet
Many young disc players didn’t excel in mainstream sports such as basketball, baseball or tennis, and many older players say their bodies are too beat up from those sports
Most players are right-handed, but there are some left-handed ones, too
Updated: July 24, 2014 6:22AM
It didn’t matter to Glen and Pat Nicholson that Saturday morning was cloudy and overcast.
“Even though the sun is not shining, my son is smiling down on us,” Pat told me at Countryside Park in Portage. “He’d be so happy.”
Glen choked back emotions, adding, “He’d be real honored with all this,” before staring blankly toward the park’s towering hill.
That’s where the “Glenn Christopher Nicholson Memorial Disc Golf Course” begins with Hole No. 1. A few disc golfers were laughing, joking and whipping their discs down the hill.
“It’s still hard for me to talk about Chris,” Glen said apologetically.
His son, Glenn “Christopher” Nicholson, died of a heart attack on Jan. 28, 2012. It was his sister Jessica’s birthday. Chris was 39.
Just before his death, he was in the planning stages to build a disc golf course somewhere in the city. He never got to see his dream become a reality. His family did it for him in his honor.
“He was a visionary and he loved the city of Portage,” his mother said, showing me a plastic wristband, “Christopher’s Dream.”
“Chris was always a dreamer,” she said wistfully. “We did this for him.”
On Saturday morning, during the kickoff of the Portage Historical Society’s annual Summer Fest, Chris’s parents, family and friends hosted the grand opening of the 18-hole disc golf course. It wasn’t a chip-shot endeavor.
“Even though the city approved it, they had no money for the course,” Pat said. “We raised $10,000 since my son’s death.”
The “holes” — actually poles with baskets — cost $7,000 alone and a few have already been vandalized. The course also needs maintenance mowing and more landscaping work (hint, hint) and the Nicholsons are hoping for more volunteer help.
“After my son’s death, we met an old-timer here, Tom Maxwell, a neighbor of the park,” Pat said as more disc golfers started the course. “Tom was a godsend to us. He loves this park and has helped us so much. We call him our guardian angel.”
Brian Cummings of Munster, who’s been playing since the Nixon Administration, was instrumental in creating the course. He spoke to the audience during the dedication ceremony.
“Chris would be very proud of this course. But he’d be just as proud how everyone came together to make this happen,” he said. “That’s the magic of this whole thing.”
Portage Mayor James Snyder also continued the visionary theme, noting, “Another dream has become a reality here.”
Snyder said the park is being expanded, renovated and opened to the north for easier public access, along with the addition of a water fountain, a walking path and other upgrades this year. The old barn there, now used for storage, also will be renovated for public programs and private functions, with design plans to look similar to the massive barn at County Line Orchard in Hobart.
“They’re working with us on this project,” Snyder said.
Chris Nicholson, a contract sales manager at Menards, was an activist at heart. He served as vice president of Portage Rebuilding Together, among other civic projects to brighten his community. While living in Indianapolis, he learned to play — and love — disc golf.
“He was determined to build a course in Portage,” his mother said. “And he did.”
“We just helped him do it,” his father added, staring away to that hill once again.
If you’ve never played disc golf, you should give it a whirl. It can be fun. It can be relaxing. It can be maddeningly competitive if you want.
The sport is harder than it looks, even for longtime Frisbee players such as me. Still, I scored a par three on my first par-three hole a couple years back, just good enough to keep me intrigued.
If you play at this new course, pause for just a second to remember Chris Nicholson.
“He would like that,” his mother said.
(Watch them explain it in their own words. Check out my video at posttrib.suntimes.com/news/davich/index.html.)