Disc golfers compete in the GOATS Cabin Fever Reliever tournament at CR Farm Disc Golf in West Gardiner on Saturday. More than 100 players competed in the event. Contributed photo by GOATS Disc Golf/Dave Sage

 

WEST GARDINER — The putt was one I had made hundreds of times without a thought. Simple, straight, inside of 12 feet. No wind, no slope to contend with, no reason to analyze anything except moving on to the next tee box.

Yet, an unfamiliar feeling crept through me. It started in my calves, which was where I first noticed the numbness. Then an empty feeling walloped the base of my stomach, and a dead feeling settled in my forearms.

Nerves.

I first started playing disc golf more than a decade ago. Ironically, I did it for a story. As an outdoors writer at the time, the middle of the summer can be a challenging time. Other than fishing for bass at sundown or sunset, or  pacing the local hiking routes, there’s not a lot of traditional outdoors pursuits at that time of year. I opted to give disc golf a chance.

I enjoyed it, but not enough to play more than two or three times a summer for a few years. Eventually, for no good reason at all, I just gave it up.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out this spring, there wasn’t a lot to do safely. Or inexpensively. I found my disc golf bag, dusted it off and traded it in for an upgrade, and overhauled virtually my entire disc collection. From April until now, I’ve averaged nearly five days a week of disc golf — including one weekend this summer where I played more than 120 holes in a three-day span.

Aside from the odd round with family and friends, or someone I met out on the course, the bulk of my rounds were played in solitude — the perfect way to unwind after a day at the office. I started the spring with the goal of keeping bogeys off my scorecard and advanced to a target score of par by early summer.

By September, I achieved something I thought impossible in April. Most of the rounds I play now clock in somewhere between three and six strokes under par. It doesn’t make me a professional, but for my first real season of disc golf, it’s an accomplishment.

On Saturday morning at CR Farm Disc Golf, I took it to the next level. I entered my first tournament of any kind by playing in the first and only GOATS (Golden Oldies Anhyzer Tournament Series) event of 2020, the Cabin Fever Reliever. More than 100 players competed in the event.

The GOATS are not the World Disc Golf Championships or even a regular stop on the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) schedule. GOATS is a Master’s division tour for men and women ages 40 and over across Maine (and beyond) at all skill levels, emphasizing camaraderie and community over competition and rankings.

But make no mistake. There are scorecards and prize monies, and I felt every bit of whatever pressure I’d put on myself when I lined up what was nothing more than a routine par putt — the simple toss of a “frisbee” into a metal basket just 10 feet away — on my first hole of the 42-hole tournament.

I’d spent the summer avoiding mulligans and improved lies like the plague, knowing the tournament was looming in the fall. In no way did that strict adherence to the rules prepare me for what I would experience on the course.

I enjoyed the atmosphere, sensed the bonding over competition, even met a couple of new people with plans to join them for a round or two in the future. But I played terribly — horribly, in fact — and in my second loop registered the worst score I’ve posted since April or May, the first few weeks I’d played with any regularity.

Midway through the first round, during a wait on one of the tee boxes, one of my playing partners posed an interesting question: “So, more tournaments or no more tournaments for you?”

I told him I wasn’t really sure, and I think he understood.

I shot 2-over in my first round — respectable enough given I had no expectations — but the wheels fell off in the second. Where I thought I would have settled down and at worst posted another round in that ballpark, I instead blew up and went 15-over. I double-bogeyed two of the first three holes in the round. I was awful, I was playing to finish mid-pack at my absolute best, and I still crumbled and never reeled it back in.

More than once during the day, I talked to people who had experience with tournament play. They all agreed on the same thing — “Tournament play is a different animal. There’s no way to prepare for it unless you do it.”

Professional golfers from Tiger Woods to Paul McBeth (a multi-time disc golf world champion and the sport’s Tiger Woods) talk about grinding out bad rounds. All I did was grind myself into a knot incapable of making even the most simple throws.

It was humbling. It was embarrassing. It was humiliating.

At the same time, it was incredible.

The only fault I found with the entire experience was with my own game.

As that same playing partner said to me at the end of the day after listening to my long-winded breakdown of all I had done wrong, “That would only make me want to go back and prove myself.”

Agreed.

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