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    Serving Spokane and Kootenai counties Saturday, July 30, 2005    


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‘Sinking a putt’ on the fly

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Stimpi Ridge Disc Golf

By  Kim Crompton

Steve "Stimpi" Simmons is a pro disc golfer, but also operates a part-time business here called Stimpi Ridge Disc Golf, through which he sells supplies.

Playing a couple of holes of a growing sport called disc golf with Steve “Stimpi” Simmons, of Spokane, struck me belatedly as being like challenging Tiger Woods or maybe Ernie Els to a scratch game of traditional “ball” golf. In other words, I was doomed to look foolish and inept.

Simmons owns a part-time business here called Stimpi Ridge Disc Golf, through which he sells discs, disc bags, accessories, and apparel, and this year also began competing professionally at disc golf tournaments.

“I play almost every day. It’s my daily exercise,” he says. He turned 50 recently, so he competes in what’s called the grand master division at pro tournaments, when he’s not hawking his wares.

Simmons sells his merchandise from a trailer that he calls his “rolling pro shop” and from a shop next to his home at 3003 W. 47th in the Geiger Heights area, where he also operates a zany little nine-hole disc golf course. To earn a living, he separately operates a longtime mobile auto-servicing business here called Mechanic on the Move.

Simmons says he started the disc golf enterprise four years ago and has yet to turn a profit at it, but he expects to do so as interest in the sport continues to blossom. “My marketing strategy,” he says with the unabashed zeal of an enthusiast, “is to sell one disc to everyone in Spokane.”

Wanting to check out Simmons’ skills, and perhaps dust off my own, having been a recreational Frisbee thrower some decades back, I asked him if we could play a hole or two on his course, which takes up most of five acres of his land.

Bad move. Simmons’ “drives” sailed straight as an arrow for long distances across the natural terrain, niftily avoiding large trees crowding the aerial lane to the target, a raised metal basket. Mine fluttered weakly on a tilted trajectory, crashing into large objects nearby.

Adding interest to the experience, though, were pieces of “yard art” scattered about the property, and shovels and spades, with their broken handles buried in the ground, on which Simmons had hand-painted information about each hole.

Though he trounced me 4-7 on the first hole, and 3-5 on the second, he showed the grace of an ambassador for the sport, offering encouraging comments and helpful advice.

Simmons says he became caught up in disc golf only about five years ago. A friend of his used to invite him to Manito Park to throw Frisbees, which would include picking targets to throw at, he says, “and then we found out it’s a real sport,” through various Web sites that are devoted to it.

He’s been pursuing it avidly since then, traveling widely to tournaments, and nurturing the interest of his 17-year-old son, who also turned pro this year and recently tied for first place at a tournament in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Simmons decided to start Stimpi Ridge Disc Golf not long after taking up the sport, when he found that retailers here didn’t carry the specialized plastic flying discs that disc golfers use.

Though his property is near a bluff that overlooks Marshall Road, Cheney-Spokane Road, and U.S. 195, he says the name of his business comes from his nickname.

Disc golf originated in the 1970s, and has spread around the world since then, but has begun to develop strongly in the Spokane area only over the last five or six years, he says. A group called the Spokane Disc Golf Association now sponsors events and manages a couple of courses here, including one next to Downriver Municipal Golf Course and another at High Bridge Park, he says.

Just as with traditional golf, events include weekly league gatherings—one is a Thursday night ladies’ league—and a number of tournaments, the biggest of which is called the Downriver Open.

Nationally, the sport includes a Professional Disc Golf Association that has more than 8,500 registered members, and—as with ball golf—there are players who are regarded by enthusiasts as “professional legends,” he says.

Disc golf is similar in concept to traditional golf in that players throw discs at above-ground targets for “par,” rather than using clubs to hit balls to sink them into a hole in the ground. Players use different discs for different purposes.

Discs designed to serve as “drivers” are constructed more like a discus than a standard Frisbee, with sharper edges that make them well-suited for fast, long-distance flight. Approach, or mid-range, discs and “putters” have slightly different shapes, and both are designed for slower, more stable flight.

The object of the game is to throw the disc into a steel basket, over which flight-arresting chains hang, in the fewest number of tosses. The most satisfying sound a disc golfer can hear, according to one of the Web sites devoted to the sport, is the “ching” of a disc crashing the chains before dropping into the basket.

Most disc golf courses consist of nine, 18, or 24 holes, and hole lengths typically vary between 150 and 500 feet. Simmons says a score of 3 normally is ‘par’—regardless of hole length—which makes it easy to keep score using just an above-par or below-par figure, rather than having to keep track of total throws.

Disc golf courses typically are set up in municipal parks, “so it’s the kind of sport you can do almost anywhere,” he says. Also, playing the courses normally is free, and discs range in price from only about $8 to $15, so the sport is much less expensive than traditional golf, he says. Among the accessories are specially designed bags with slots for lots of discs, since avid disc golfers might want to carry up to 20 discs with them at a time.

Disc golf originally seemed to attract a crowd that was mostly men between 18 and 27 years of age, but that has expanded greatly in recent years to include women, juniors, and seniors, Simmons says. Professionals such as doctors as lawyers are among those who have gotten involved in the sport, he says.

“It’s an accepting sport, it’s an affordable sport, and that,” he says, “is what’s drawing people to it from all walks of life.”

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