‘Small gem’: Gov. Carney discovers disc golf at Killens Pond

Gov. John Carney receives some tips from Delaware Disc Golf member Jennifer Cable before playing his first hole at Killens Pond State Park last Friday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

FELTON — Gov. John Carney joined several others on the golf course last Friday morning, but they didn’t have to worry about driving a cart or lugging a heavy bag full of clubs, balls and equipment around.

That’s because this 18-hole golf course was at Killens Pond State Park and the ball used was a flying disc — or Frisbee, as it’s commonly referred to.

Staff at Killens Pond and members of the Delaware Disc Golf organization got a chance to showcase disc golf, an often overlooked and many times undiscovered activity that can be fun for families to play together, regardless of skill level or age. Plus, it’s much cheaper than what disc golfers refer to as “ball golf.”

Gov. Carney joined Shawn Garvin, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and others as they quickly learned that disc golf can be just as frustrating as “ball golf” while playing three holes at Killens Pond.

Gov. John Carney “drives” his disc towards the hole as he tries out disc golf for the first-time ever at Killens Pond State Park last Friday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

The governor was promoting tourism throughout Delaware last Friday when he got a first-hand look at disc golf, which he said was another of the state’s “small gems.”

“This is the first time I’ve played disc golf. It was very cool,” Gov. Carney said. “I didn’t realize that the courses went through the woods like that and it’s really a good way to see nature and enjoy the wooded areas of our state.”

Jennifer Cable, secretary of Delaware Disc Golf, was enthusiastic when she spoke about her favorite sport.

“What an honor,” Ms. Cable said. “The Delaware disc golfers have been a part of the community (at Killens Pond), but the chance to engage with the governor was such a cool chance to talk about disc golf and to kind of spread the word of getting outside and playing a fun sport at any skill level.

Vicenzo Sutlin, president of Delaware Disc Golf, offers some pointers on disc golf for the governor and other participants before they took to the course. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“I love being outside and I like the problem-solving of it. I’m kind of nerdy so it gives me a chance to look at a (disc) throw and kind of think through, ‘How do I want to take it on today?’ I like that part.”

Ms. Cable said Delaware owns a large part of disc golf history.

She said there are 10 disc golf courses in Delaware, including seven in state parks. The disc golf course at Cape Henlopen is believed to be first that was built in the state.

Besides Killens Pond and Cape Henlopen, there are also disc golf courses at state parks, including Bellevue, Brandywine Creek, Lums Pond, Trap Pond and White Clay Creek.

“All six of our original state park courses are among the oldest 30 courses in the world,” Ms. Cable said. “They’re not in their original form. I would think of them as proto-courses. They were the original 9-hole courses and now they’re all beautiful 18-holes courses, but they’re a part of history — a part of our disc-golf history, for sure.

“All the Delaware courses are different. A lot of them have trees, some of them are open like Brandywine Creek, where it’s big and wide and beautiful and open, but Lums Pond and Killens Pond state parks both have wonderful wooded courses. Every one of them is different. There are seven courses in our state parks, and they all have a different flavor.”

Much like ‘ball golf’

When it comes to playing disc golf, it is much like “ball golf.” The sport, which was formalized in the 1970s, has the goal of completing each hole in the fewest throws.

The player throws a golf disc from a tee area towards a target, which is the hole. At Killens Pond, the holes were elevated metal baskets. The course was laid out on the west side beside the pavilion near the entrance to the park.

Like “ball golf,” each hole provides its own unique challenges as the positioning of trees, shrubs, and terrain changes can make it a difficult task to get near the hole. The hole is finally completed when a “putt” lands in the basket.

Disc golf shares the same peaks and valleys as “ball golf” when it comes to the thrill of dropping a long putt into the hole or the frustration of tossing a disk off a tree and into some rough terrain off the course’s fairway.

The major difference between the two types of golf is disc golf is usually free to play, not including state park admission, and there are rarely lines to play and tee times aren’t required, much less carts.

Disc golf does offer several different equipment choices, depending on a golfer’s skill level. The sharp-edge discs travel farther and are known as the “driver.” Meanwhile, the “putters” feature smooth edges and tend to float straighter. But golfers can also just enjoy the course with a regular old Frisbee.

Ms. Cable said the Delaware Disc Golf group on social media has around 2,000 members. She estimated that the group has about 300 active members who regularly play the sport.

A sport anybody can enjoy

Vicenzo Sutlic, who was recently named president of Delaware Disc Golf, agreed that it’s an activity than anybody can participate in.

“It’s not something that’s for a small, select group. It’s for everybody,” Mr. Sutlic said. “I’ve known a lot of people who (disc golf) for physical therapy purposes, they can walk around and get out with their families. It’s something, really, for everybody. They can do as much as they want or as little as they want. It’s up to them.”

Mr. Sudlic said that his organization will be hosting a disc golf charity tournament on the grounds of Nemour’s A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington on July 28. He said the proceeds will go back to the children in the hospital.

“It’s really good to get to bring a little bit of exposure to the sport,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really understand disc golf, but we’ve been on ESPN Top 10 (highlights) many times in the past couple of years. More and more people have been discovering disc golf.”

For Rachael Phillos, park superintendent at Killens Pond State Park, hosting the governor and others last Friday was a treat. She actually played her first couple of holes of disc golf ever alongside Gov. Carney.

“It was a great opportunity for Delaware State Parks to be able to showcase some of our areas that aren’t as highly used here at Killens Pond,” Ms. Phillos said. “We’re known for our water park, but we do have a park that’s open year-round and we encourage recreation, including on our disc golf course, hiking trails, coming out to our summer concert series and visiting our nature center.

“(Friday) was my first-time playing disc golf. It’s a lot more complicated than I anticipated, but it was great fun. I think it’s an easy sport for families to get into as long as they’re not too worried about time and just have fun while they’re playing.”

Gov. Carney and Ms. Phillos did win the abbreviated disc golf match at Killens Pond last Friday, but who was keeping score?

Most were just enjoying the morning walk in the woods, the sight and sounds of a woodpecker flying high in the trees and a chance to breathe in some fresh air, all while discovering the unheralded sport of disc golf.

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