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Disc golfers find respite from pandemic blues on the course

By Brian Bushard

I&M Staff Writer Fletcher Bell unloads a duffle bag of discs in the middle of the state forest. His focus is on a metal basket 200 feet away. This is a difficult parthree halfway through the Nantucket Disc Golf course.

“(Disc golf) is everything,” he said. “I’m working-class. I’m in construction. I’m introverted and this is exercise. It’s mental exercise. It’s the closest thing to competition I have.”

He lines up his shot to curve around the pitch pines. He waits for dog-walkers to move out of the way. It’s his idea of a day off work.

“It’s more than just throwing frisbees,” said Bell, whose day job is in construction.

For one day last weekend, Bell was the best disc golfer on the island, winning the 2021 Nantucket Disc Golf Bag Tag Challenge five strokes below the rest of the field.

Clinton Terry is setting up his own shot on the 14th hole, right behind Bell. Like a lot of people, Terry and Bell got into disc golf the same way: They were looking for something to do.

Bell had always known about the sport, but hadn’t tried it until Nantucket Disc Golf founder and Disc Golf Pro Tour owner Todd Rainwater began developing the 18-hole course in the state forest off Lovers Lane 10 years ago.

Terry, on the other hand, has been playing for about 20 years, starting in Vermont, then in Wash- DISC, PAGE 4B

Disc golf, because of its year-round, socially-distant nature and outdoor setting, continues to attract island players to the professionally-designed state-forest course off Lovers Lane even as the weather has become colder.

Courtesy of Nantucket Disc Golf

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ington, D.C., and later at over 100 courses around the country.

“I’ll go out of my way to find a new course,” said Terry, co-owner of The Nautilus and The Gaslight restaurants.

“Most of them are pay-toplay. This course is free and it’s stunning. It’s well-maintained. It’s professionally designed. Everything about it is top-notch.”

Disc golf, for him, has been both a competitive and a relaxing game with a friend over a six-pack of beers for an hour on the weekend.

“Here you’re just walking around the woods,”Terry said. “There are no tee times. It’s the most socially-distanced outside thing you can do.”

That message took on a whole new life during the pandemic. But it wasn’t always seen as the safest activity from a public-health perspective.

Rainwater closed the course for two months last spring out of fear a game or two could lead to a spread of COVID-19. It was a time when less was known about the virus, before studies debunking the belief that COVID-19 could easily spread on surfaces had come out.

He reopened the course before the summer. During the fall and into the winter, disc golf became something of a refuge for people looking for something to do. It was a safe break from stay-at-home orders and quarantines.

“It’s so important for the whole island to not only do something outside but something healthy,” Rainwater

said. “It’s helped a lot of people just get outside and socialize. You feel so free when you’re out there. It’s so quiet. You have the flexibility of being family-friendly, beginnerfriendly and dog-friendly. You can play a few holes or you can play the whole course.”

The course in the state forest is different from other courses around the country for another reason. The majority are built on open fields with manicured landscapes filled with water hazards, fences and grassy fairways. They have the feel of a conventional golf course.

When Rainwater and course designer John Houck laid out plans for a course on the island, they wanted something different, something that could be shared by people who want to play disc golf, and people simply looking to go for a run or a walk their dog.

“It’s built into nature, versus a golf course that feels like an artificial version of nature,” Rainwater said. “Here, your disc is your free admission for life.”

It’s always been that way for him.

“There are so few sports that are so relaxed. Other sports feel like a club (where) you need an invitation to play. From the beginning, I really pushed that more relaxed mentality because from the beginning most people create clubs and pay dues. They’re exclusive. They’re like cults,” he said.

“But it shouldn’t be that way. Disc golf should be for everybody. That way, it makes it feel like it’s for the whole island, not just for a few people. Come here and don’t play. That’s fine, too.”

The Nantucket Disc Golf course is free and open to the public year-round. For more information, visit www.nantucketdiscgolf. org.

Disc golfers on Nantucket have found the sport a socially-distant way to get out of the house during coronavirus.

Courtesy of Nantucket Disc Golf

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