- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - As a boy, Joshua Smith played disc golf before he even knew what disc golf was.

“Growing up, I liked to throw Frisbees,” Smith said. “I used to play Frisbee golf that my dad taught me. We would pick a spot where we would throw from, and we would pick a place that would be a hole, like a tree or a garbage can, and use those Wham-O Frisbees.”

These days, Smith, who is president of the West Virginia Disc Golf Association and a sponsored professional disc golf player, uses a selection of different-sized discs with names similar to golf clubs, such as drivers, midrangers and putters, instead of Wham-O Frisbees.

In lieu of a tree or a garbage can, he and his fellow disc golfers aim to toss their drivers, midrangers and putters into baskets in as few throws as possible.

And in February, even if the snow might be a foot deep, Smith and his fellow players prepared to participate in the 12th annual Fairmont Ice Bowl & Chili Cook-Off on Feb. 20.

“We like to say, ‘No wimps and no whiners,’” Smith said. “We played in a storm once. I was playing in 2 feet of snow. It was one of the most snowy Ice Bowls. It was a state of emergency, and we still played. f we can get there, we play.”

“No wimps, no whiners” is the slogan of the national Ice Bowl (icebowlhq.com), an organization that encourages disc golf events to be held in January or February with the specific goal of raising funds and awareness to combat hunger issues.

The Fairmont Ice Bowl always has been played to support the Soup Opera, an organization in Fairmont that offers a hot meal and other daily necessities to homeless people.

In 2015, there were 238 Ice Bowl events around the country - the most that ever had been held, according to the website. A total of 44,184 was raised.

In 2015, $2,408 of that came from the West Virginia Disc Golf Association’s event. Smith estimates that during the course of 12 years, about $16,000 has been raised for the Soup Opera.

Disc golf is a fast-growing sport nationwide. According to the Professional Disc Golf Association’s website, www.pdga.com/, although instances of people playing informally - as Smith did in his youth - can be found throughout the 20th century, disc golf seemed to get its start as an organized sport in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The sport has become popular in the region in part because of the Seth Burton Memorial Disc Golf Complex, which features two 18-hole courses - the Seth Burton Memorial Disc Golf Course and Orange Crush, the latter of which is in a more wooded area to make for a more challenging game.

The complex and the first course were named for Seth Burton, a Fairmont Senior High School cross country runner, said his father, Phil Burton. Seth was killed in a car accident in 1998 on the day of a cross country meet when he was nearly 18 years old.

Seth actually did not play disc golf, but he was a fan of Ultimate Frisbee, kind of a non-contact Frisbee type of football, his dad said.

The idea took shape because Phil and his wife, Rebecca, wanted to do something to memorialize their son but realized that a teen center, their first choice, was out of reach financially.

“So a friend, an avid disc golfer, suggested this would be an idea,” Burton said. “We always wanted a place to remember him and disc golf seemed to fit everything we wanted to accomplish.”

The Seth Burton Memorial Disc Golf Course was created in 2002; Orange Crush came five years later in 2007.

“It’s a continuing effort to memorialize our son,” Burton said. “The city of Fairmont owns Morris Park, and they have let us do what we wanted to do.”

The course is well-known regionally and players come from out-of-state to play in PDGA tournaments. There will be four PDGA tournaments held this year there: Mellow Day in May on May 21; Fairmont Flyers Club Championship on June 18; West Virginia on July 16-17; and the Seth Burton Memorial on Sept. 17-18.

Other disc golf courses in the area include nine-hole courses at Veterans Memorial Park in Clarksburg and at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, as well as 18-hole course at WVU Jackson’s Mill and Dorsey’s Knob Park in Morgantown.

Burton plays disc golf and, like Smith, is a member of the Fairmont Flyers disc golf league. He noted that disc golf is a good activity for all ages.

“It’s good for almost anyone,” he said. “It’s a lifetime sport. My father-in-law plays and he’s in his mid-80s. It can be competitive or it can be mostly for fun. If you can walk and throw a disc, you can do it.”

Smith got into disc golf when a course was built in his hometown of Parkersburg. Now he carries a bag that features about 16 discs of various sizes as he determines which would be the best one for a certain shot or hole.

Unlike traditional Frisbees, the disc golf discs “throw further and allow for more control and allow for different shots,” Smith said. “You can throw side hand, overhand, backhand, sidearm rollers. People throw rollers that go really far. You would be amazed.”

Smith has a job doing IT work for Pierpont Community & Technical College and also is good enough to have professional sponsors who support his play.

“There are definitely people that don’t have to work that play disc golf for a living,” Smith said.

And just like the discs take on similar names as golf clubs, so do the shots. “We use a lot of borrowed language from ball golf, from birdies to bogies to ace and hole in one.”

On that note, this year, taking advantage of that fact, another way to raise funds was added to allow players to buy as many “mulligans” - or do-overs - for $1 prior to the start of the Ice Bowl.

“It’s like insurance,” Smith said. “We’ve added $200 or $300 in mulligans every year and maybe more because people are going mulligan crazy.”


Information from: The Exponent Telegram, https://www.theet.com

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