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Josh Winfrey might have had a country club taste, but grew up with a putt-putt budget.
Until he discovered disc golf, that is.
"I always watched golf on TV, but I couldn't afford to play," said Winfrey, an Anderson County resident who will be starting his junior year at the University of Kentucky next month. "I heard about disc golf my senior year in high school.
Winfrey, who had played basketball at Anderson County, got on a course in Lexington and was hooked.
He got his buddy, Jacob Spaulding to join him. A three-sport athlete at Anderson, Spaulding's competitive juices started flowing again and the duo has grown into mainstays on the UK disc golf team that finished second in the nation last spring.
"I have played golf recreationally and I had played Ultimate Frisbee, which is like soccer," said Spaulding, who had been a promising pitcher and wide receiver in high school. His biggest claim to fame, though, came on the wrestling mat where he was eliminated one match from the state tournament medal round three straight years.
If you did not know that UK had a disc golf team, you are not alone. The sport is club level, meaning it does not receive funding from the UK Athletics Association and competes in obscurity.
The sport requires four members to a team, just like regular golf, but there were only six serious about it last year in Lexington.
Playing other college and university teams can also be a bit of a problem as Western Kentucky and Louisville are the only other state schools to field teams, but the Wildcats played on, learning that the national tournament would be held at Augusta.
Yes, that Augusta.
"We heard there was a national tournament in Georgia and we thought that would be an awesome chance," Winfrey said.
But no, the tournament was not held at Augusta National. "We just wanted an amen corner there," Winfrey joked.
To say the city gave the sport a hallelujah choir would be an exaggeration but there was quite a celebration of the new game in the old one's hallowed ground. "The mayor of Augusta threw out the first tee shot," Winfrey said.
And the best college teams in the nation got down to business. Some, like East Georgia State, were small. Most, like UK, paid their own way. But some, like USC, had full support of their schools.
When it was over, not only had UK finished 26 under, eight shots behind defending champ Georgia and two up on third place Virginia Tech and Clemson.
Winfrey showed how far he had come in two years finishing second individually and being named first team All-American. "When I started, I was totally inept. I did not even know how to throw a Frisbee," he says.
Actually, throwing a the popular plastic disc is not the norm any more.
"Sometimes you still see someone out there with at Wham-o Frisbee but the technology has changed that," says Spaulding, who carries a bag of 22 discs while he plays. Different discs are used for drives, approaches and putts. There is no limit to the number of discs, which serve as both ball and club, a disc golfer can utilize during a round.
"Disc golf has seen great equipment improvement since the '70s," Winfrey said. "Discs have grown steadily more aerodynamic so they can be thrown farther with less effort and more consistency. Therefore, if you are playing a course that was designed in the 80's or even the 90's, a hole that originally called for a power shot is now a mere approach shot using the newer discs."
The pin is actually a post with loose chains hanging from the top and a basket underneath to catch shots that are on target. Most holes are par 3 averaging about 100 yards, but hazards such as trees make things interesting. However, with the advent of technological advances, Winfrey says, "Imagine Tiger Woods playing 18 safe par 3 holes and the scores he might post."
Lest someone conjure images of letting the disc fly on the beach, Winfrey warns that the sport is much more than just flinging a Frisbee. Just like the regular golfer, accuracy is at a premium.
"They have distance contests sometimes," Winfrey says, "and the ones that can throw it farthest are usually not the best players."
Winfrey says he has aced seven or eight holes in competition, but Spaulding is still looking for his first. "He is a great player, but he has just never had a hole-in-one," Winfrey says.
Both are intense competitors. Winfrey admits to losing his temper on the course when he first started but has a better handle of things now. Spaulding laughs and says that when Winfrey misses an easy shot now, "He just stares."
A typical hole involves not only navigating around hazards, but also figuring wind. "It definitely affects your shot," Spaulding says.
"As in ball golf, you never know what kind of scores might come in on a gusty day," Winfrey adds. "Fortunately, disc technology has lessened the effect of the wind to a tremendous degree but the elements still pose a threat to any golfer looking for a low score. Each year brings more and more 'overstable' discs - a frisbee term for a disc that fades in the natural direction, in other words, left for right handers and vice-versa for lefties - and seeing how a headwind pushes the disc to turn in the unnatural direction, these new discs come in quite handy."
Which is a good description of disc golf.
"You can practice anywhere," Spaulding said. "You can practice in the snow if you want. All you have to do is put on some gloves and go outside."
"I putt in the hall," Winfrey smiled. "You can putt just about anywhere."
Winfrey owns a portable "hole" and says that he and Spaulding practice locally at both Community Park and Legion Park.
And just like regular golf, hitting the disc links can be addictive. "My dad goes crazy with it," Spaulding says. "I think he would rather play disc golf than sing."
Spaulding's father, Ricky, is one of central Kentucky's best-known gospel music singers.
Jacob's grin indicates that his statement is a bit of an exaggeration. But there is little doubt that disc golf is catching on. There are several courses in Lexington, Nicholasville and Frankfort. A course in northern Kentucky, Idlewild, is "legendary," according to Winfrey.
And, there are people that make money playing disc golf, something Winfrey hopes to do. While the money would be pocket change to Tiger, Kenny Perry and the regulars on the PGA tour, Winfrey says that the top money winner in disc golf took home 43,000 last year, not counting endorsements.
But most of all, the game is simple and won't break the bank.
"You can spend as much money as you want," Spaulding says.
Getting started means just buying one disc, available at many discount stores. It's that simple, Winfrey says.
"Nine dollars and you are ready to go."