For the Love of DiscFor the Love of Disc —By Steve Mooney—

Folded neatly in between two developments, my son Ben and I find the newest disc golf course Prescott Arizona has to offer. “This must be it,” Ben announces as we tuck into what looks less like a park and more like one of those utility roads that lead to nowhere. “It’s so new, all they have are the baskets,” he says loping ahead, ready to take on the day and his Dad. “We’ll figure it out.”

Day One: Chino Valley, AZDay One: Chino Valley, AZ I’m here for a couple of days to check in on Ben, to see how he’s doing after four years almost to the day he moved here from Virginia where he’d been living and going to college. “I’m open with people when I meet them, tell them up front I came to get help. And when I do, more times than not they come right back and tell me what they’ve been through. Everyone’s got something going on.”

Yesterday, under stormy skies, Ben and I played a different course. A short nine hole course near his house twenty minutes north through The Dells, a rock formation Overview: 9 holes of ants and beetlesOverview: 9 holes of ants and beetles
similar to those in Joshua Tree. “Monsoon season,” he explains as threatening clouds again hover overhead. Prescott’s in the mountains, so the lightning I’m seeing seems closer, more dangerous. “Dustin and I sit out and watch the storms from that knoll,” he tells me pointing out the window of his Forerunner. Naturally I feel compelled to say something parental like, “Is that safe?” Granted, the weather does seem to put on a show up here with painted skies appearing a different canvas of color each morning and night. Last night no exception, my drive up from Phoenix offering indigo skies as a blue moon rose up and into my side view mirror.

Today, the rain brings cooler temps and welcome cloud cover for this second day of golf. “We got lucky with the heat,” Ben says after a morning of variable conditions. I woke up to sunrise to the east with light drizzle and a full rainbow to the west. Even if this offers me a Zen-like experience, Ben calls it’s boring because there aren’t enough young people. “It’s all retired folks,” he says. “Only one bar. You walk in and the fifty people standing around are it, are all the town has to offer.”

"Light" Breakfast with Ben Earlier, the two of us sat for a light breakfast at a favorite spot below one of the haunted hotels and talked a bit about how he will move forward with his life. Then, we made plans for a quick round of golf before I head back down the mountain. “Wheels rolling at noon and I should be fine,” I say. “And how are you feeling about yesterday?”

“I’m good Dad. Really.”

Day 2: Prescott's newest courseDay 2: Prescott's newest course The first hole is hard to gage, tucked-in with a mix of shrub trees and low lying wild grass. “See it?” Ben asks. I do, and we make out okay because the cement blocks laid for tees point the way. Yesterday’s course more squirrelly, with various holes playing back over each other. That one a par three course featuring more red ants and large black beetles than anything else. “You have to watch where you reach,” he says, and we both know what he’s talking about. Rattlesnakes and scorpions the worst of it, but I’d also hate to unknowingly land a disc on one of these ant hills.

Today’s a whole different story. Where the ground cover yesterday was the dry pebbles and sand watch where you reach! watch where you reach! Golf discs don't fly like lids...Golf discs don't fly like lids... you’d expect in the desert, today we find mud and lots of hungry green stands of tall grass just waiting to swallow our neon-colored discs. We play up a slight incline and I again bogey the first and second holes just as I did yesterday. Warming up today didn’t seem to make a huge difference, though I talked it up like it would. Golf discs don’t fly like the lids I threw for years on an ultimate field, and out here there are no receivers to make up our errant tosses. No, the trees and baskets are fixed, like some of the realities we face in our lives. Mulligans notwithstanding, we play on. 

Breaking ground togetherBreaking ground together “Thanks for making the trip,” Ben says a few times over the three days we’re together. “Of course,” I respond. He’s talked about how hard it can be living so far from home and family. I remind him he’ll never be alone. “We talk every day,” I say, and we do. Usually when he’s in the car driving to work and back. But of course, talking on the phone and being together are not the same. These rounds of golf can’t be played on FaceTime or with social media. No, we are together trudging up and down a set of baskets which are maybe a month old, before anyone’s had a chance to mark the distance or set par. We are breaking ground in more ways than we realize, focused on getting our drivers and lives to do what we want them to, all the while cursing our short game.

For most of my visit, we have been accompanied by the thunderous screech of cicadas, so loud I turn on the app on my Apple Watch to measure the decibel level. “I didn’t know a watch could do that,” Ben says, admiring the technology affixed to my wrist. “As loud as a concert,” I say of insects who arrive every four years, make a racket, and proceed to die. Some only unearth every seventeen years.

One good thing about these wonders of nature is how they drown out the constant ringing in my own ears. One learns to ignore tinnitus, or one goes insane. I choose the former. And today, I choose to ignore the noise that is life as well, focusing instead only on two things, putter and driver, even relegating my midrange back to the bag Ben’s been carrying around like a Sherpa. Two discs. Anhyzer and flat throws. Slow and deliberate. Nothing fancy.

Ben chasing a roadrunnerBen chasing a roadrunner After the front nine, I find a bit of a groove and make up ground on Ben. “You got it goin’ Dad. I was afraid you might.” I do feel better today. Stronger. A couple of good night’s sleep have helped. We’re playing all the holes like they are par threes, though a couple of them feel long. As we hike up a slight incline to the tenth tee, Ben stops and says, “look, a roadrunner.” Sure enough, the bird I thought only existed in Looney Tunes cartoons skirts along just ahead of us. By the time I have my camera out, she’s gone. “I want a picture for Mom,” I say, peering into the bushes she hid behind. But Ben reminds me, “we don’t have time.”

We have all the time in the world, and we don’t have any at all. Ben told me yesterday that once a kid leaves for college, they’ve spent ninety five percent of the time they will with their parents. He wants to be home, and of course he doesn’t. What twenty-five-year-old actually wants to live at home with their parents calling the shots? None. But still.

Dad can't putt By the time we’re halfway along the back nine, I’m shooting two under and Ben’s even par. “You’re en fuego Dad.” No, but I’ve finally got my driver to stay on course. Feels a bit like taming a wild horse—if you stay with it, are patient, the animal will come around.

To the left and the right of us are new homes, the kind we’re reading about popping up in areas where water is scarce. “Look at all this housing Ben. It doesn’t make sense.” Yesterday, he told me his own house would sell for six hundred thousand dollars. “That’s nuts,” he says. “It’s nice, but not that nice. Everyone’s moving up here from Cali., driving up the prices.” Which is probably true, especially with boomers like me retiring, and remote work as it is. We are playing right through the middle of the problem, hundreds of unfinished houses litter the road leading up to the course.

“This is a lefty hole for sure,” Ben says smiling. “There were none yesterday,” I reply. “Maybe that’s why you smoked me.” Not so today as a pair of unusually large trees creates a perfect arch to the eighteenth and final hole of our round. I throw through the arch, and he goes big, up and around. We both land in striking distance with chances to birdie.

Father and Son “Wow, Dad. Minus three. You could be good.” He says as we collect our discs and head back to the car.

This comment feels warm and I accept it knowing I will never actually be good, the pressure sure to bury me no matter how much I practice. No, I choose to be bad, and to enjoy a good round with Ben now and again when he’s looking for a shot in the arm. “I’ll be back.” I say as we hug before I jump in the car to drive back down the mountain to catch my flight home.

About the Author:
Steve MooneySteve Mooney

Steve Mooney: Lefthanded and two meters tall, many argue that Steve enjoyed unfair advantage at ultimate and darts. Others wonder why Steve didn’t use that advantage to cut deep more often. Steve chose Boston after college in 1980, not for work, but for the promise of glory in ultimate. Larry Bird arrived in Boston at the same time but chose his sport more wisely. Steve is no longer two meters tall, and still clogging around the disc.